On November 3rd, the AIA UK Chapter in conjunction with RIBA re-launched the Annual AIA/RIBA Keynote Lecture. Since its inauguration, the AIA/RIBA Keynote Lecture series has brought renowned architects, including William Pedersen, Antoine Predock, Peter Eisenman, and Ricardo Legorreta, to the UK.
This year’s event, organized by Lester Korzilius, AIA, RIBA, and Amrita Raja, Assoc. AIA, took place at Jarvis Auditorium at the RIBA Headquarters, and featured a talk by Tod Williams and Billie Tsien. Their eponymous firm, TWBTA, is known for site-sensitive and well-crafted buildings, encompassing a wide range of types and geographies, from a single family residence in Long Island, NY, to a technology campus in Mumbai, India. Their work has received numerous awards and international recognition, most recently earning the RIBA International Fellowship (2014) and the AIA Architecture Firm Award (2013) - and even achieved infamy, when MoMA’s 2014 demolition of their much-loved American Folk Art Museum, less than 20 years after its completion, had the architectural community up in arms.
After introductions by Brianne Hamilton, AIA UK Chapter President, and Stephen Hodder, RIBA Past-President, to whom the AIA presented a Certificate of Appreciation for his support of our chapter, the architectural duo took the stage, leading the the audience on an introspective journey, from private residential interiors to significant cultural work. Beginning with an investigation of their own New York apartment, Williams/Tsien expressed their growing interest in interiority and the effect of light on spatial perception. In their early work, they discovered an affinity for the handmade, and for inverting relationships between the building and its natural context through the use of light and captured landscapes.
During the second half of the lecture, Williams/Tsien presented their projects within this framework of light and interiority. Of the many works shown, two stand as exemplary of their architectural ethos, the Cranbrook Natatorium and the Barnes Foundation. Both projects generate their own interior landscape, kept hidden from the exterior, a surprise for guests to discover. The Natatorium, engulfed by conifers, contains a jewel of a space, where above the pool, lightwells with operable roofs open up to bring the outdoors in, from rain to the scent of the adjacent forest. Likewise, the Barnes’ stone exterior reveals nothing of the light-filled volumes within. There, strict constraints required them to reproduce the collection’s existing sequence of rooms. In inverting the concept of ‘gallery in a garden’ found in the collections original context, to ‘garden in a gallery’, Williams/Tsien inserted two voids within gaps in the visitor narrative. Each houses a meeting space connected to the landscape via a lightwell, creating a new interior context for the collection.
The duo’s camaraderie was evident on stage, as they took turns elaborating on the work and making a few choice ‘revisions’ to the other’s interpretation of events - generating a few laughs along the way. The lecture concluded with a few questions from the audience, and the conversation continued in the adjacent room over glasses of wine. The evening was an inspirational insight into the work of two formidable architects. Many thanks to Tod Williams and Billie Tsien for coming to London to share their exceptional work, and to the team at RIBA without whose hard work this event would not have been possible.
Author: Amrita Raja