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Big Ideas Stuffed Into Small Buildings at the Victoria & Albert

From a Mumbai hovel to a Rural Studio woodshed, it’s real, live architecture at the V&A.

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Architecture
is a tricky thing to convey in museums, because it’s usually resigned to photos,
blueprints, and weird little models. Which can be about as
interesting as watching paint dry. So London’s Victoria & Albert asked architects to throw up
structures in the museum itself. The result: 1:1 – Architects Build Small Spaces
displays seven real, live mini-buildings that, as the press materials
tell us, “push the boundaries and possibilities of creative practice.”

The theme is refuges. That’s obvious enough in Sou Fujimoto Architects’s acrylic cube (top), an abstraction of a tree that looks like a giant princess-cut diamond, and one of Terunobu Fujimori‘s whimsical teahouses (an old example below, and then video of the new project being built).

Helen
& Hard Architects
axed ash trees from a forest
in their native Norway to make this exuberant pavilion, which
references both Norse folklore and British garden folly from the 18th
century (back in those quaint, pre-InterWeb times when putting odd crap in your backyard counted as high entertainment).

Not
everything’s a refuge in the strict sense of the word, this being
architecture about “pushing boundaries and possibilities.” Consider the contribution from Studio Mumbai Architects. It’s the cast of a sliver of a hovel
that’s tucked into a narrow corridor behind the firm’s offices and
peopled by a family of eight. Sounds more like a domestic war zone than a
sanctuary, but according to the project description, unauthorized dwellings
of this sort “offer intelligent design solutions” in a place, where
scarce land and skyrocketing real estate prices conspire against the
city’s poorest residents. “As well as shelter, they provide spaces
for refuge, contemplation and worship,” we’re told.

Representing
Team America is Rural Studio, the Auburn U architecture
program that lets schlubby college students cobble together buildings in
the backwoods of Alabama. Here, they built a woodshed that would only
look like a refuge in, well, the backwoods of Alabama.

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Whatever, there’s a cool idea at play. The
shed’s made of thinnings, the smallest, weakest trees in a forest,
razed to let stronger trees thrive. They’re a key, if
non-intuitive, hallmark of sustainable forestry management, and they have
some promising applications in architecture. This pavilion will host
improv jazz sessions. So you can watch woodshedding in the woodshed.
Get it?

We’re refreshed
to see actual buildings in an exhibit about buildings (even though it isn’t the first to do so). For diehard architecture
nerds, it’s a refuge own right.

1:1 – Architects Build Small Spaces
opens tomorrow.

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About the author

Suzanne LaBarre is the editor of Co.Design. Previously, she was the online content director of Popular Science and has written for the New York Times, the New York Observer, Newsday, I.D.

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