Challenging The Threshold Between Image and Space
By: Image & Space_ Sven Jansse (Concept & Narrative in collaboration with Alexandra Sonnemans)
Constructing a fantastical building and a fictional narrative, the fragments are an ode to our imagination. Initiated as a response to the improvident usage of imagery by the current architectural practice as advertisements for a hollow and exchangeable built environment, the fragments celebrate the possibilities of architecture, while also appreciating the unexpected and the unknown by functioning as a mediator between a parallel universe and reality.
The New WDR Headquarters – Cologne, Germany @ ‘Inner City Highway’ – graduation studio (2013), Faculty of Architecture, Eindhoven University of Technology, Master Program of Architecture, Building and Planning
Together with the Nord-Süd-Fahrt, the archive building of the WDR (German Public Broadcast Institution) represents modernism from the time of the reconstruction of Cologne. Each building of the existing WDR building block – which defined its position in the center as a slowly but steadily growing logic in the past decades – responds in a specific way to the pre-war morphology and the current local context. Blocks like this (typified as ‘composite blocks’ by Colin Rowe in his book ‘Collage City’ from 1979), appear to largely define the city center spatially.
The four connected buildings that make up the new headquarters however, are designed in one step and will abstract the architectonic responses to the context, and at the same time enforce the ability to form interesting space with the architecture itself.
By again changing what the people of Cologne were finally getting used to, their is a risk of epistemic trauma: the new truth is not accepted or understood and people long for the known and existing. But the new design improves the relation to the city and its inhabitants by integrating public and unorthodox program within the normally closed world of the WDR. The dynamics of the city will be experienced to the fullest here, and the people of Cologne can now get used to the fact that this dynamic character is exactly what makes Cologne to the city that it is today.
To what extent do you agree with the medium is the message – how does the use of collage reinforce the concept behind fragments?
Probably the most fundamental concept behind the current work done by Image & Space, is that each visualisation should be able to generate its own value, independently of what they (appear to) represent. They are designed to tell their own story, establish a new truth and present it to the audience to evaluate. The medium is thus even more than the message; the visualisations become the project. They are no longer bound by the physical or economical limits of what they have to make understandable or try to sell, and by presenting the images without their expected context of drawings or a presentation, the spectator gains the freedom to interpret them in a very personal way. In order to stimulate people’s imagination, it’s important that one visualisation never shows the whole building, because it’s up to the audience to connect the different ‘fragments’. In this way, each visitor will ‘build’ a different building, and curate their own spatial experience.
The five images that form the series of ‘Fragments’ are like pieces of a insolvable puzzle, or a dream that falls apart after waking up (but seemed to make a lot of sense when you were still sleeping). The use of the collage-technique certainly plays a significant role in this experience. Image & Space refrains deliberately from render software, because that would give you much more ‘flattened’ images. The laborious process of making behind these images, is a large part of the whole concept and adds to the character of the collages. By cutting out every stone and every tile, the textures become as valueable as the bigger whole they are a part of. Because every pixel used to belong to a photograph of something else, something existing, it adds to the concept of recognition versus alienation.
In the near future, Image & Space will focus on making even larger visualisations (of several meters wide), so the boundary between representing something, and merely representing itself, slowly disappears. The visualisation becomes a spatial and fysical object itself: image becomes space, and space becomes image.
To what extent is the means through which you operate architecturally reflected in the images you produce?
When considering the design process, Image & Space strongly believes in the use of the ‘traditional’ tools such as drawing, the use of collages, and modelmaking. Just like the previously mentioned render software, three dimensional modeling software is deliberately kept out of the process. It gives a design so much more depth, when every spatial solution is studied in thought, drawing and models extensively – it pushes the limits of our imagination and will make the designs much more interesting. Because when you have the possibility to see every solution before you even thought about it, it will eventually flatten our ability to create interesting and surprising spaces. The boundaries of architecture will solely be determined by technological innovation, and spatial poetry will eventually die out..
Image & Space aims to show that two dimensional representations, constructed from a carefullly constructed line drawing, can still offer a lot of depth and spaciousness. Thinking about textures, layers, transparancy, light and shadows yourself, is a lot more satisfying than let the computer generate a virtual reality for you.
The ‘Fragments’ series is a special case: as an experiment and a critique to the misuse of the architectural representation in the contemporary practice, the building was never completely designed as a whole: floorplans and sections don’t exist, and just a handful of sketches were produced. The idea was to design a building starting from the image that is expected to represent the design when it’s finalized. So to achieve this, the building was merely conceived in my mind. Then, five ‘moments’ within the design were chosen to be designed further as an image and space simultaneously. This leads to each fragment being able to live its own life and tell its own story, while they are recognizable when seen next to each other.
How does your photography work influence the way you represent architecture and vice versa?
In general, people seem to have less and less attention for what happens around them, and therefor lack appreciation for the often subtle moments of magic. While my fascination for photography is growing, I start seeing the world more and more as a sequence of scenes; the built environment as decor. With my photography I try to raise awareness for seemingly random or unnoted moments; the most interesting compostions are those that were never thought of. That literally translates into my collages, where it’s not about giving an insight into the carefully thought-out program or the happy people, but to show architecture as a spatial and never ending decor, where the absurd and the daily can play both each other’s role.
If any, how has your approach to the architectural drawing changed from university to working in a practice?
At university you are trained to make your ideas and insights understandable as good and clear as possible. So the drawing and other representations don’t necessarily represent an existing, realistic project, but they represent your way of thinking, your process and your talent. So the way you represent your ideas, can be linked back to the ideas themselves directly. This process of going back and forth between image and spatial thinking (not only making a collage for the final presentation), brings in a lot of layers of meaning. Also, the projects are hyper personal, which brought me a lot of pleasure. When you get to work for an office, logically you no longer get to represent your own vision. The drawing now represents a real project and all your thinking, as well as your production work has to fit in with a bigger vision: that of the office. Because of the business side of the architectural practice and the inevitable lack of time and money, employees don’t get the time to get really personally involved with the project. Which leads to the disappearing of the dialogue between the drawing and collages, and the vision, which then finally results in flat and empty promises. To compensate the lack of dialogue during the process, the visualisation more and more gets to serve as an glamourous advertisement in the very end of the design process.
As a direct response to this development, I started Image & Space, where I hope to find this personal commitment again. By focussing mainly on producing representations of fictional spaces, I exaggerate this personal aspect: because I ignore any limitation that could be giving in by reality and any choice is merely based on my personal experience and vision, the design as well as the representation gets to be hyper personal.
How and to what extent do you engage with the drawing of architecture as an expression of art and as a symbol of cultural production?
At this moment, Image & Space consciously takes a step back from the architectural world. The current research of the visual representation of architectural space leans towards art, when it chooses to leave out a lot of context that would usually be considered to be the very essence of architecture. But exactly by making it ‘art’, I want to emphasize the importance of these very architectural representations in the architectural discourse. They should be a symbol of what we humans are capable of in terms of cultural production instead of being empty promises.
Sven Jansse (1987, Rotterdam, NL) is an independent architect and designer that graduated with honours from Eindhoven University of Technology and gained professional experience at the offices of OMA, KAAN Architecten and Powerhouse Company before starting his own design studio Image & Space in 2016.
No longer restrained by demands and expectations, Image & Space is able to operate along the edges of architecture and art, investigating the tension between spatial qualities and their visual representation. The first autonomous project ‘Fragments’ is currently travelling as an exhibition through Europe.
To be able to meander between reality and fiction as a designer, Sven Jansse uses photography to capture subtle scenes of magic in our everyday life. He was nominated as ‘New Dutch Talent 2016’ by Gup Magazine and his photos were exhibited in Amsterdam, followed by a publication. He taught graduation studio at the Architecture Faculty at the Delft University of Technology and currently holds a teaching position at the Academy of Architecture in Maastricht.