Other Space Odysseys 14.07.10


Zeno and Aldrin Meet in Riparbella, collage by Alessandro Poli, 2008

Radical architects think about space and conjure a swirling universe of ideas in this dreamlike, inspiring show, says William Willes

Very few people have actually travelled into space. But many thousands have been involved in the space programmes of the various powers, and hundreds of millions more have experienced space exploration as spectators, and as consumers of media and culture saturated with the Apollo experience. This swirling universe of imagery and ideas is the growbag for Other Space Odysseys, a strange hybrid exhibition of architectural thinking at the Canadian Centre for Architecture in Montreal.

This fragmentary and dreamlike show is a collaboration between American architects Greg Lynn and Michael Maltzan and veteran Italian avant-gardist Alessandro Poli, a former member of radical 1970s architectural collective Superstudio. Poli's contribution heads the bill – he has gathered together a large number of collages and mixed-media sketches contemporary with the Moon Landings. These include a very Superstudio project for a direct link between the Earth and the Moon, and sundry monuments and projects for the Moon's surface. As soon as the capsule had set down, he was planning memorial structures. It's a provocative comment on how quickly the media output from Apollo started to be recycled, turning around and around in the tumble dryer of culture and coming out as myth. Perhaps Poli is yearning to add something solid to an enterprise that was intangible – so far away, and so fragile, men in a bubble of air, a wavering signal on the TV screen.

Poli's other contribution takes a little time to come into focus, but is superb in conception. It's a collection of tools hand-made by a self-sufficient Italian peasant called Zeno – hanging an astronaut's suit behind this unusual assortment, Poli contrasts the technology keeping peasant and spaceman alive. The excellent book that accompanies the exhibition (published by Lars Müller) fleshes out the idea with an imagined dialogue between Zeno and Buzz Aldrin.

Greg Lynn's imagination and ambition pairs up nicely with that of Superstudio. He proposes a number of vast space habitats – the most exciting of which is New City, a floating urban entity structured to correspond with the interconnections we make using social media – a virtual "neighbourhood" made into a fantastical real shape.

Michael Maltzan, by contrast, exhibits his entirely practical plans for a very real building: new quarters for NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. This is more conventional architectural fare, offering a look at the arrangement of work space for people whose minds are in outer space.

Other Space Odysseys promises an architecture of ideas rather than anything physical, and it broadly delivers. An exhibition that seems at first somewhat insubstantial leaves inspiring traces in the memory, like dusty footprints on another planet.

Other Space Odysseys is at the Canadian Centre for Architecture, Montreal, until 6 September



William Wiles

quotes story

Poli is yearning to add something solid to an enterprise that was intangible - so far away, and so fragile, men in a bubble of air, a wavering signal on the TV screen

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