OBRA Architects Exquisite Corpse
Architecture is primarily perceived by the public as a finished object, for instance, when it is used as a kind of mirror to reflect different levels of perception: for users as appropriation and for viewers as enrichment. For architects, however, as the building’s creators, its completion is the end point of a long process involving intensive confrontation with the location, the building assignment, and the conditions of its implementation. A building’s design incorporates countless other findings as well, from experiences gained from the development of previous projects to critical considerations on general architectural issues. The latter are particularly important, since architects are involved in a permanent process of cultural reflection. Documenting this process in a sketchbook is a centuries-old tradition. This collection of associative and documentary entries often culminates in the emergence of one’s own conceptual universe.
It is this issue in particular that OBRA Architects have made the focal point of their exhibition. With their abundance of drawings and notes, sketchbooks can be read as a critical commentary on the architectural projects they address. Pablo Castro and Jennifer Lee take this a (crucial) step further: instead of customarily showing single open spreads, they take apart the sketchbooks and rearrange the pages into tableaus. This enables visitors to make a myriad of associations – similar to the cadavre exquis (“exquisite corpse”) technique that Surrealists adopted to introduce chance in the creation of texts and images. With their symbolic act of dismantling, the architects reveal both the continuity and the occasional discontinuity of their thought processes. The wooden frames that hang from the gallery ceiling not only function as bespoke “easels,” they also lend rhythm to the gallery space as a well-considered architectural statement.
OBRA Architects was founded in 2000 by Jennifer Lee and Pablo Castro in New York City. Among their many highly recognized projects are the BeatFuseBeatfuse! summer pavilion for MoMA PS1 in New York City (2006) and the Villa of Captured Distance in Ordos, Inner Mongolia, China (2008). They are currently working on the Sanhe Kindergarten building in Beijing, China. Pablo Castro has taught and lectured widely at institutions such as Universidad Torcuato di Tella, La Sapienza, Roma Tre, Cranbrook Academy of Arts and Rhode Island School of Design. Jennifer Lee has likewise taught at various institutions, such as The Cooper Union in New York City and Korea National University of Arts in Seoul.