Built en valise

Built en valise

Later this month the Denver Art Museum will present Case Work: Studies in Form, Space & Construction an exhibition of 17 architectural sculptures along with dozens of drawings and sketches created by Brad Cloepfil and Allied Works Architecture. The show is crafty, abstract, and tactile at a time when much architectural representation prides itself on slick realism. Visitors will move through an installation designed and built by the firm that highlights model-like sculptures made out of wood, porcelain, resin, and concrete.

Curated by Dean Sobel and organized by the Clyfford Still Museum and the Portland Art Museum, Case Work makes an argument for process and ideation. The show is on view in Denver through April 17 and then will be shown in Portland from June 4 through September 4, 2016. AN’s West Editor Mimi Zeiger spoke with Cloepfil about the works and how they defy today’s image-driven design culture.

The Architect’s Newspaper: Tell me a little bit about your exhibition Case Work. What was the impetus? Why display this work now?

Brad Cloepfil: We’ve been talking about this show for close to five years. We often work with art museums, where curators and directors would see our concept models and sketches— output of our process—say, “You should have a show.”

So, I was inspired to finally get my act together and pull the pieces together into a show. That’s really it. It’s nice to show the byproducts of creative industry. Architecture in this particular moment is so much answer an image. It’s resolution focused, so Case Work is a kind of a counterproposal. It is asserting another position.

What would you call that position?

BC: The architecture is about the exploration of ideas, not the search for a salable image—not the branding of a practice as an image code.

Are these objects the output of a series of processes? Each one seems tied back to individual projects, yet each one has a conceptual name, such as Quilted Landscape.

BC: We also named one Stairway to Heaven and we’ve named others after rock songs, too. The title paraphrases the search and the element of the search. Because that’s what they’re all for, they’re searching for a kind of spirit—the essence and spirit to what the building is pursuing.

When did this kind of work enter your practice?

BC: It’s been there all along, going back to the Clyfford Still Museum. We do more of them and use them more as tools now than before. At first they were just incidental to the search and now they’re more intentional. I think that we produce them as markers of the process. You know, architecture is so goddamn hard.

Yeah, no kidding.

BC: Because it’s just so hard, and getting a building built is a four-to-six year process…. Things get so diluted just by the nature of architecture. So, having these crystalline reminders of moments in the pursuit help reference you. They’re reminders of what we’re doing.

They inspire us, actually. Because at their best they are pure, pure thoughts. It’s almost like making a piece of art that is pure and saying, “How close can we get to that in the building?”

That’s a pretty tricky position to be in, to operate between art and architecture. How do you feel about being there? Is it comfortable?

BC: I love this, this is good. This is kind of what the show is about, by the way, right here, this conversation. They’re pure, creative acts—buildings are much more complex. My goal is to try to get as close to those goddamn models as possible; not just because they’re beautiful sculptural objects, it’s that I want that purity of the idea to get built. That’s all.

And where did the inspirations for each of these pieces come from? I see some mid-century art resonances in the forms and materials.

BC: I’m an architect and I’m a maker, so the materials chosen are generated by the ideas we’re pursuing. Whether it’s glass or porcelain or wood, they’re just whatever we can use to search for the idea and express the idea.

More and more today architects produce a “summary image” and then tweak it along the way. Our process is certainly a counterproposal to that in that we really don’t have a summary image until way, way, way, way into the process—to the discomfort of many clients actually.

How do clients react when you present them with an object instead of a traditional model or drawing?

BC: [Our process] pushes people, it pushes clients. There’s no question about it. We ask clients to go on this journey with us. And frankly, not every client wants to go on the journey. A lot of them want to know what the damn thing’s going to look like, which is not unreasonable.

We’re searching for these ideas and we’re searching for this building, and we’re trying to identify what the building serves from a functional point of view, from a cultural point of view. Any building can house functions, right? We’re trying to figure out why a building needs to exist.