Monday, December 12, 2011

Borgos Dance: William Tozer, ‘Louise T Blouin Institute: West London,’ Detail, English edition (January/February 2007): 14­–15.

The Louise T Blouin Institute is a new privately-funded arts and cultural space in west London. The project was initiated by French Canadian Arts Publisher Louise T Blouin McBain, and designed by architects Borgos Dance.
Simon Dance and Etienne Borgos founded their practice in 2001 after working in the offices of minimalist John Pawson and the high-tech Norman Foster respectively. The influence of both practices is evident in the projects of Borgos Dance, but their work has a distinct character of its own and clearly draws from a broader frame of reference. They currently have offices in both London and Barcelona and their practice encompasses architecture, interiors, and furniture. They commenced work on the Louise T Blouin Institute in 2004 after previously designing a number of art fair exhibition stands and then offices for her publishing company, LTB Media.
The building occupies an Edwardian warehouse on a site sandwiched between council housing and a busy highway. While this location might seem an appropriately marginalised location for a gallery, this is a well-connected arts institution and its location also registers this in its proximity to the affluent areas of Notting Hill and Holland Park. Previous occupations of the site have included the manufacturing of coaches for London’s royals and aristocrats and car bodies for Rolls Royce, and more recently offices for design and advertising companies.
Load-bearing masonry piers and arches over the windows have been rebuilt to reorder the façade. This reordering is to some extent simply a rationalization of the modifications carried out to the building through its various occupations, but it could also be understood as an attempt to maximize the building’s iconic appearance as industrial architecture. This symbolism of industry is clearly a more important allusion for this new arts institute than the messiness of the intervening occupations. On the interior these window openings are treated in an even more iconic fashion, reduced to abstract shapes in the massive and planar envelope of the building. This is facilitated by the internal lining of the building to accommodate concealed insulation, air-conditioning, lighting and blinds. The traditional composition of panes to the new aluminum-framed double glazed windows further recalls the historical function of the building.
Working with Arup Engineering, Borgos Dance have removed all of the columns from the ground floor by suspending lightweight floors for the upper levels from two 27 metre long, 2.5 metre high roof trusses. The resulting free-space of the ground floor heightens the dominance of the iconic image of a factory space by enabling views from one end of the 42 metre long building to the other. Maintaining this abstract quality, a displacement air-conditioning system is concealed beneath the power-floated concrete of the ground floor, while the ceilings throughout are treated with a render system to improve acoustic performance. Triple-height clear glazing at the junction of the floors and one of the elevations heightens this sense by enabling an unbroken view of the window openings.
A grid of beams to the 10.5 metre high entry space allows for the support of large works of art. This triple-height space punctuates a visitor’s entry to the building, creating an interior space at the scale of the exterior streetscape. From this space one moves either into the 4 metre high main gallery space or into the café, which possesses something of the quality of an exterior space through its positioning outside the monolithic form of the main building and the incorporation of a fully-glazed roof. While the angled wall of the entry space functions to announce the imposition of a new function within the existing building, the curved wall of the café space seems somewhat incongruous with the geometry of the rest of the project.
Glare and black-out blinds to all of the windows are automated to respond to the sun to control lighting conditions in the gallery spaces. While each of the window sills incorporates a lighting feature by American artist James Turrell, the varying degrees of opacity created by the architects’ use of blinds also recalls the artist’s work. The abstract, massive and planar appearance of the windows and shadows and silhouette that they produce also resonate with the work of Turrell, whose work filled the gallery spaces for the opening of the Institute. The building’s plant is concealed behind a polycarbonate screen on the roof of the building, also illuminated by Turrell. This screen encloses two translucent glass roof-lights that bring natural light into the top floor. Like the roof of the café space, their sloped form and visible fixings circumvent an abstract resonance, but nonetheless this roof glazing recalls Turrell’s Skyspaces.
The sparseness of the Louise T Blouin Institute and a number of other recent gallery projects in London could be interpreted as a reaction against more obviously figured or spectacular proposals for art projects. However, to describe The Institute as a blank canvas because of its lack of overt formal gymnastics would be to exclude the possibility of more subtle forms of figure or spectacle. Like Caruso St John’s recent Gagosian gallery in London’s Kings Cross, the Louise T Blouin Institute is no less sculptural than Herzog and de Meuron’s proposal for the extension of the Tate Modern, but rather its sculptural gestures operate and at different scales. The Louise T Blouin Institute resonates particularly with the work of James Turrell but will undoubtedly also provide a provocative context for the work of many other artists. In this sense the building should not be seen as a rebuke of the importance of the architectural diagram, but rather an example of the importance of the relationship between an architectural diagram and architectural detail.

Project images available here:

Labels: , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home