Architettura Povera exhibit by OBRA Architects, RISD, Providence, Rhode Island
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Architettura Povera
Wall of Lessons

Providence, Rhode Island
March 2004

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Between March 20 and April 9 of 2004, OBRA was invited to exhibit at the BEB Gallery at the Rhode Island School of Design. The gallery is approximately 20' x 40' with 9'-8" ceilings. The four walls of the room have doors along the main central axis of the space, and three large columns obstruct views of potential exhibits. The geometry of the room is irregular, with two corners protruding into the space at 45 degrees on one side. The ceilings are low and made of low-quality acoustic tile. The artificial light falls harshly down from incandescent spot lamps. RISD has agreed to pay for minimal exhibition expenses and to provide student labor to help install the work. The exhibit is to be entitled ARCHITETTURA POVERA in the spirit of the guiding principles of experimentation unhindered by tradition, complete openness towards materials and processes, and the rejection of a defined style which characterized the "Arte Povera" movement of the late 60's and early 70's in Italy.

Three recent projects are included: Viviendas Acueducto in Guanajuato, Mexico; Nine Square Sky in Chile; and Freedom Park in Pretoria, South Africa.

The work is surrounded by an eight-foot Wall of Lessons constructed of 3/32" thick luan plywood interlocking units. The units have been shipped in boxes from New York and assembled by RISD students. To compensate them for their work, we have etched each unit with a brief "lesson." In this manner the physical effort of assembling the wall is itself an educational experience. The "lessons" provide a glimpse of accumulated thoughts and ideas pervading the place of architectural creation to help describe the general mood in which the works were created. Handmade lamps constructed from lampholder taps with extension wiring hang from existing track fixtures, brought down to the level of the museum table on which the works are displayed . The table supports are made from additional luan units extending from and interlocked with the wall, and carry thin luan plywood tables. The perforated surface allows light and sound to escape, encircling and demarcating the space while casting shadows on the walls beyond. Luan plywood has been chosen for its low cost, lightweight and structural behavior, its color and texture, and its material nature unadorned by ornamental pigmentation or surface finish. Its low density also facilitates the speed of lasercutting technology which is affected by both thickness and density of materials. The pieces have been lasercut by us for speed, precision and economy, the burned edges revealing the quality of congealed energy, the nature of all things.

The exhibit took place in the context of RISD's bi-annual symposium: Social xCHANGE: Architects Committed to Social Change, held April 9-10 in Providence, Rhode Island. We_presented a lecture at 6:00 pm on April 9, addressing the issues underlying Architettura Povera and the conceptual underpinnings of the included projects and efforts. The pedagogic nature of the exhibit's setting presented a special opportunity to explore an ethical alternative to the current dominant trends in architectural "education" and "practice." Arte Povera's disdain for added artistic gloss and pretentions of conceptual superiority resonate with the idea of an architecture that, while oblivious of stylistic trends and superficial embrace of technologically determined programs, tries to transcend the limitations of the utilitarian conscience of contemporary society. Architettura Povera seeks to shed light on the mysteries of perceived reality, lifting the veil of objectification that weighs on all things to reveal their substantial vitality. The work aspires to be an architecture that can bring "inert" things to life.

The contents and media of these architectural proposals: the red dirt and conical baobab tree trunks of South Africa, the rain creating mud at the edge between the natural and the man-made in Mexico, and the southern sky framed by the spontaneous architecture and rudimental functionality of the houses in Chile, seem like fitting elements in a laboratory of Architettura Povera.

Our participation in this exhibit is consistent with our continuous effort to try to contribute to society in a meaningful manner without frivolity yet with enough humor (vitreous) to keep our vision unclouded. The low budget nonprofit nature of the exhibit translates into a perfect chance to be free from the constraints of commercialized construction, of budget and function, by allowing an experimental exercise distanced from many constraints of an 'architectural' reality. As such, the work can reach for the transcendental in a simple way.