Groves Natcheva Architects has made a film. Here Adriana Natcheva argues architecture needs dramatists as much as it needs draughtsmen.
Architecture is not merely sculpture, they tell us at school, because you inhabit it. Yet our techniques of architectural representation do not go further than those of the art catalogue: drawings, pictures, models.
Life – the distinguishing feature – is rendered in bland mannequins, no less dead in their current computer-generated, “hyper-real” forms than when they were plastic. And even when done better, life appears as an appendix to the forms, a nuisance on the geometry.
A better analogy for architecture, we wish to argue, is not sculpture but theatre. A building encloses life as a stage set encloses a play. Sure, the script is not written – and it would not be for the architect to write even if it were – but the focus of attention cannot be the setting without the action. Not, at least, if you want your audience to be broader than just stage designers.
It is this idea that prompted us to make a short dramatic film, Black Ice, inside an old project of ours, now someone’s home, shaped by his particular life. The imagined drama is dark, for the darker shades of passion are more arresting, besides being kin with the particular space. It is also narratively intricate, requiring sustained attention to apprehend, for the point is not to find another vehicle for architectural imagery but to unify life and space, with a vividness and intensity, as they should be unified in real life.
To ask, “Doesn’t the drama detract from the architecture?” is to presume an artificial dissociation, to ask if living distracts from perceiving. How architecture may vitally combine with life is really the question in need of answering, in its representation as much as in its built forms.
Nor is this about the balance of passion and reason, though it is true that contemporary forms are too often addressed to a geometric sense remote from the emotional. Rather, it is to remind us that architecture derives such meaning as it has from those who inhabit it, from the lives it is designed to complement, in the full richness of their natural variety. For example, an architecture so conceived prohibits stock design moves, just as drama prohibits over-familiar theatrical devices, for when life is the yardstick crude simplicity will always fall short.
The felicity of analogies is an academic business: why should the rest of us care? Because the established, sculptural analogy, in which architecture is simple, contemplated form and life merely its audience is common enough in literal, built form, not just architectural representation. That disengagement from life needs addressing, beginning from the first move: the representation of architectural ideas. Others may adopt a less provocative approach, but a change is surely needed.
Black Ice is being screened at Groves Natcheva’s studio this weekend, September 26 & 27, from 2-7pm. Visitors should report to the studio at 6 Kensington Court Mews, London W8 5DR. Screenings will be followed by tours of the house featured in the film. The film can also be viewed here


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