Framing of Exhibitions in Contemporary Architecture

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In contemporary architecture the episode of framing how an idea or element is shown to an audience, is incredibly important to the profession of architecture as it allows the architect to fully express his idea through re-focusing attention onto the most successful part of the project. This can clearly be seen in the “Parallel Nippon” exhibition, which has purposely framed its content through the use photo panels, video footage and architectural models. The travelling exhibition which features a vision into the most influential Japanese architecture during the period of 1996-2006, which was a dynamic changing decade in Japan as it transitioned from the “bubble” to the “post-bubble” era, as its economic model failed and thrust the economy into recession, which led to a more simpler, rational, and social type of architecture in contrast to the previous business led model. Additionally the framing of architecture can also be seen in the organisation of exhibitions, where the exhibition organisation and design is used to attract and keep the viewers’ attention.

The worldwide exhibition which is currently touring Australia, and presents 112 significant architectural projects in Japan and across the world by Japanese architects; through the use of 112 photo-panels with accompanying text, 15 videos, and a few architecture models to scale. The major questions that the exhibition attempts to answer are “What is a city? What does it mean to live in a particular place?”, which is an extremely relevant question to Japan as due to economic troubles in the 90’s, they have transformed their cities from “restrained, business-like homogeneity” into an aspiration to provide comfort, fulfilment and traditional cultural destinations. The main driving forces of this movement is to combat a declining birth-rate, an aging population, increased social awareness and urban migration from traditional small towns and rural spaces to the large mega-cities that characterise japan. The Japanese government is achieving this transformation through the creation of public spaces in these declining towns to attract businesses, people and the vibrant cultural life to return. Therefore, the exhibition strives to show contemporary Japanese architecture, through influential examples showing how Japan has evolved from the “form-obsessed, materialistic and ornament” buildings of the prosperous 1980’s and early 90’s to the simple, rational forms which are presented.

To begin analysing this exhibition one has to observe the participants of the exhibitions, to analyse if any bias has been afforded in the choosing of the architecture to feature in the display, as bias choosing of participants may taint the real picture of contemporary Japanese architecture. The architecture was chosen by a team of architectural university professors from the Graduate School of Media and Governance in Keio University led by Riichi Miyaki and supplied by the Architects Institute of Japan. Thus, as university professors are taught to be unbiased, and the Architects Institute represents all Japanese architects it is fair to say that it truly represents the best of what is currently out there in the contemporary Japanese landscape instead of a singular opinion.

Firstly, the content of the exhibition has been vastly framed by the exhibition to ensure only the best and most representational views of the selected building are seen to convey the implied message. The idea of framing a photograph can be clearly seen in photographs of the Fagus Factory, a modernism masterpiece built in 1911, where the façade that is always photographed features the modern elements of cubic form, glass and unclad corners. Although on the same building the back façade features the mechanical systems of the building and is frequently framed out in favour of the main modernist message conveyed by the front façade. Thus framing is important to analyse as an “object will always be encountered in a concrete situation” in the photographic panels. The exhibition uses framing intensively to only show the most important aspects of the design, as can be seen in the analysis of the “Big Palette Fukushima” building which features simplistic architecture covered by a massive roof that obviously affects the surrounding environment. Although the documentation of the building in the exhibition fails to show how the massive structure blends with the surrounding landscape and architecture. The issue of the framing of one view however is less of an issue in the other media presented in the exhibition, being the models and videos as it provides a moving picture that allows you to see a larger portion of the building through the use of movement. Thus framing of photographs is used extensively in this exhibition and the architectural profession to convey the architect’s idea’s instead of trying to view every relationship the building has with the environment.

Secondly, the content of the exhibition has been further framed through the exclusion of detail from the representation of the architecture, through the wide view presented by the video and photographs and the scale of the model. This deliberate framing although it allows the exhibition to be easily viewed by a large variety of people, limits observation by architecture enthusiasts who are keen to discover the intricate construction details which Japanese architects are famous for implementing. Although as Waterson states in her review, an exhibition can “offer but a taste and only encourage one to undertake an international quest”, which is one way to support the necessity of framing out detailing in the display of architecture in an exhibition. Additionally, it was the exhibitions intention to show the spaces and innovative forms created by the architecture, hence the move to a view which is further away from the element being recorded. Thus, the deliberate exclusion of detail elements from the exhibition allows for a greater audience to recognise the ideas expressed in the exhibition.

Thirdly, through the framing of the exhibition content has also been emphasised to support the exhibitions main themes of showing new and innovative contemporary Japanese architecture to show contrast from the previous form based business buildings. This allows the exhibition to focus its recording of the architecture through the use of one large photo which shows a sweeping general view of the building, and three to four smaller photographs on the same panel to show unique techniques, finishes and views of the interior and façade. These photographs show a general, highly planned and thought out view of the building, which excludes the less aesthetic qualities and the less alluring parts of the building. Thus, through this emphasis the exhibition aims to display the best qualities that exist within the building to display the general idea of the architecture to capture a viewer’s attention and generate interest in contemporary Japanese architecture. The video footage that accompanies the panels displays the function of the buildings with calming Zen music played in the background, and is framed specifically to display the use of the building. This framing is important in the context of the main idea of the exhibition to create more cultural and social interaction in the cities across the country, which has been lost through urban migration to dense cities. The architecture models that also accompany the panels emphasise the form of the buildings conveyed to provide a three dimensional view of the building, to understand how each space relates to one another. Therefore, through the framing of each form of media, it allows the message of the exhibition to be emphasised and displayed very clearly to the audience.

The organisation of an exhibition is also an important aspect to frame to ensure the most amount people are attracted, in “Parallel Nippon” it is displayed in a minimalist manner to allow it to be easily viewed by the audience and to allow easy assembly and dismantling, which is important due the transitory nature of the exhibit. The exhibit is arranged through photo-panels arranged on the walls of the plain exhibition space as well as on rows of basic stands, with models and video footage scattered throughout for the corresponding building. The exhibition is then further organised through the identification of two main current styles of Japanese architecture, and a relationship through an architectural element, and are thus organised around the gallery space in pairs to clearly show comparisons of the two different approaches. The two current styles of Japanese architecture are said to be the “white school” which features a precise, machined aesthetic and the “red school” which features visceral, handmade qualities. The framing of the presentation of the exhibition is just as important as the content within as it allows the audience to easily interact, be educated and keep interested in the exhibition.

In comparison to other architecture exhibitions, “Parallel Nippon”, is a very simple way to frame the exhibition of architecture, compared to other architectural exhibitions like “FLUX” which displays parametric design through the creation of one parametric twisting structure which displays the panels and models as it twists in accordance to a parametric modelling formula. The form is both eye-catching and relates to the exhibitions purpose of displaying parametric design and thus is a very effective framing for the exhibition. Another innovative way of framing an exhibition can be seen through “Instanbul: The City and the Sultan”, where a protestant church is covered with artefacts and Turkish fabric patterns, filled with Turkish artefacts and Turkish sounds, which are played throughout the building to resemble a mosque. This type of framing of the exhibition creates an immersive feel, which is much more effective at displaying ideas than a plain room full of photo- panels. Thus the framing of the subject matter is extremely important in the design of exhibitions as it allows the audience to be drawn into the representation of the building instead of being set out in rows of photo-panels like in “Parallel Nippon”.

In Conclusion, the episode of framing how an idea or element is shown to an audience is incredibly important to the profession of architecture as it allows the architect to fully express his idea through re-focusing attention onto the most successful part of the project. This can easily be seen in the framing of the exhibition “Parallel Nippon”, where framing has led to carefully considered photographs, videos and models that show and fully support the intention of the exhibition. Additionally, the organisation of the exhibition has been framed to ensure clearness, although there are better ways to frame exhibitions that draw the visitor in through sculptural forms and immersive qualities. It is of extreme importance to frame content to ensure the intended meaning is delivered to the audience, although should the framed content be directly proportional to reality or abstracted to act like it was a superior idea.


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