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Art & Architecture
The Synergistic Relationship Between Architecture and Art
Image of James Turrell’s work in Pace Gallery, London. Photo by Von Chua.

Pace Gallery in London, United Kingdom recently held an exhibition for James Turrell’s new pieces which I had the opportunity to view and experience before the global pandemic hit us. I was intrigued by Turrell’s work and viewpoints of the synergistic relationship between art and architecture. Although art has been present in my life since I was a child, coupled with my continuous development as an architect to integrate art cohesively for design schemes, it was interesting to read how Turrell and leading artists view the importance of space with their work.

When I prepare walls, I make them so perfect that you actually don’t pay attention to them. This is true of the architecture of form I use: I am interested in the form of the space and the form of territory, of how we consciously inhabit space.- James Turrell

For another artist, Olafur Eliasson, who finds parallels between his work of art and architecture, he said “what interests me in general is the production of space – be it in an exhibition, an art installation, on a stamp, inside someone’s head, or in a building or bridge” which is an understatement to the level of complexity that his work presents. Artworks often sit within an architectural environment, and the great artists mentioned above also describe how their work interacts with architecture, how do we design for the role of art within architecture?

“…the potential I see in architecture, to create a space that is hospitable, generous, and gives the visitor a feeling of being welcome.” - Olafur Eliasson

From the amateur art enthusiast to the serious art collector, understanding a collector’s liking in art which could range from movie posters, to oil paintings or even sculptures, does in fact influence the architecture and especially so with interior-focused projects. In the high-end residential property sector, interior designers often work closely with art consultants to source art or procure artworks to deliver a cohesive scheme for their clients. However, whether it is from a cost perspective or working with architects and designers who deliver schemes with art in mind from day one, the majority of people will not have access to this. The introduction of art from an early stage of a project can influence the atmosphere of a space from day one, so if your architect and interior designer does not ask or mention integrating art, tell them about your interest in art and desire to have an art collection on display. There are a large number of emerging artists in the world, so this can be done tastefully without a large budget.

With my experiences working on residential developments in central London, developers are often keen to engage site-specific artwork. Often, this becomes a signature piece at the entrance lobby. Although this may occur more commonly in high-end residential projects, there is no reason why architects and interior designers cannot deliver a scheme with a selection of artworks on display to complement an architectural space. Whether it is understanding what a client already owns in an art collection, or a large-scale art procurement for a project, taking art into account from the early stages of a project is thinking about a project holistically.

Creating the right setting for art through architecture and interior design

From providing sufficient wall surfaces for a collector’s collection size, to the right amount of lighting, listening to a collector’s preference is key to delivering a successful architecture and interiors project that puts art at its core. Below are a few key considerations:

What is the size of the art collection? Are there plans to expand the collection?

Understanding the size of an art collection, the desire to display some or all of it at any time, as well as any anticipation to increase the number of pieces are key to understanding from a collector. Are you providing sufficient wall surfaces to meet the collector’s demands? Does the walls have pattressing to allow large pieces to hang off the walls?

Source of sunlight

Depending on the collection, some types of art can withstand sunlight, but others such as watercolours and photography are more vulnerable to fading. Therefore, the placement of artworks depending on its medium should be carefully planned to determine where in a space it should be displayed. Architectural elements such as windows, skylights, and orientation are key considerations in the process of designing a space to create the right setting for the art to shine and maintain its value.

Type of artificial lighting

In addition to artificial lighting’s function to light up a space, it is also important to choose a lighting solution that protects an art collection. Some artificial lighting such as halogen bulbs can slowly deteriorate paintings. Opt for lighting solutions with UV filters or LED bulbs instead.

If the collector often move artworks around, track lighting is one of the best solutions to provide flexibility. Professional galleries use it as they offer maximum flexibility to be moved around to suit the space and varying exhibitions.

Humidity level

High humidity level is a great threat to artwork’s protection. Learning from Tate Modern and the international loan standards for art, a relative humidity between 40 – 65% and a temperature of 18 °C to 25°C (64.4 °F to 77°F) are optimum conditions to display and store artworks. If a space holds a significant collection of artworks, the means to control the humidity as well as temperature are key requirements to discuss with the project’s mechanical, electrical and plumbing engineer.

Colour and Finish

The choice of colour and material finish for the space artworks are presented in is a huge backdrop to support an art collection. Many galleries opt for a white wall, making the gallery walls adaptable to multiple displays of collections. A home gallery can however be painted to suit the dominant colours within an art collection. Is the collector drawn towards neutral tones, or drawn towards bright and contrasting colours?

The material choice can also enhance an art collection, eg. a large photograph collection may work well with unpainted raw concrete walls.

As James Turrell explained how he prepares the walls within the space that host his artwork, his perspective as an artist resonates to me as he has the vision of what it takes to allow his work to shine in its best form.

Furniture

The selection of furniture for a space can also elevate and complement an art collection. Whether an interior designer chooses to stick to an era’s work, or focus on colours present in both art and soft furnishings, the end result can be complementary to deliver a pleasant space to be in. When the style, proportion, colour and texture of furniture are truly considered with art in mind, the result has the effect to evoke powerful emotions.  

Art has the ability to transform a space. If the incorporation of art is balanced, the end result will be impactful; where architecture acts as the perfect blank canvas to support artworks, and the artworks chosen enhances and heightens the sense of space. Artworks should feel like it belongs in the space and not an afterthought. This may look easy but to have art, architecture and interiors combined cohesively requires an architecture or interior design team with good planning who have a vision of what a space will look like after it is built or renovated, including the artworks within the project at completion.

Written by Von Chua. First published on ADF Web Magazine on 01/04/2020. If you would like to further discuss about the relationship between architecture and art, please do not hesitate to contact me via email at von@vonxarchitects.com

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