The second MANIERA exhibition took place in Hôtel Wolfers, a modernist, semi-detached town house in Brussels built by Henry Van de Velde in 1929. As well as being a beautiful example of this renowned architect’s late work, the building provides an appropriate setting to reflect MANIERA’s interest in architects who operate on a wide range of scales, ranging from objects to urban planning. Famous for the rounded edges of its façade as well as in its interior, Hôtel Wolfers takes the boundaries of the corner plot and recedes elegantly in terraces over three storeys.
The building has been kept in the state it was found in in the seventies by its current owner, an art collector who prefers to treat the spaces like art works, not intervening with face-lifts, transformations or renovations. As a result of this attitude the house has been allowed to age in its full grace and originality. As such, an undisturbed emptiness is provided for the interior objects that MANIERA exhibits in its 3rd and 4th series of limited edition furniture, designed by the Brussels-based artist Richard Venlet and the London-based architectural practice 6a architects respectively.
Since the mid-nineties, Richard Venlet’s oeuvre has been built upon his profound interest in objects, sculpture, spatial interventions and exhibition spaces, as well as reflections on other artist’s works, historical research and references. As an artist who deliberately intervenes in the architecture of an exhibition space, Venlet moves further into architectural production through regular collaboration with architectural firms.
A recurring element in his installations is the notion of the ‘platform’, to which he gives different roles.To name just a few, in the woods at Monnikenheide in 2001 it defined an open room without walls, for the ‘Image Bank’ exhibition at Jan Mot Gallery in 2005 it provided a large background for a small room of photo-booth proportions containing a TV monitor, which thus becomes a one-man cinema, for the ‘Museum for a Small City’ exhibition in 2013 a tiled platform became the flexible stage for several artworks from the archives of the SMAK in Ghent, filling almost the whole exhibition space.
For his designs in MANIERA 03, Venlet has worked on the theme of Hôtel Wolfers. He proposes a daybed, a rest zone on a human scale that echoes the shape of the building plot on which the house stands. The furniture can be read as a platform raised slightly above the floor. Upholstered with sheepskin, it creates an immediate intimacy; a comfort zone to rest and to reflect upon its surroundings.The piece is reminiscent of Venlet’s installation ‘Sertificate’ in the Galleria Estrany de la Mota (Barcelona, 2014). As a tribute to the historic Joan Prats Gallery in Barcelona, remodelled by the iconic Spanish architect Lluis Sert in 1976, Richard Venlet reconstructed Sert’s original floorplan on a scale of 1:1 in the gallery. A wooden platform in the shape of the plan was laid on the gallery floor. The sculptural, architectural volume was a fictional space within a real space.
In addition to the duplication of the site for the daybed, Venlet also makes use of a lost decorative feature of Hôtel Wolfers. During his research he detected in old photographs that the doors of the dining room, main hall and music room were originally plated in white gold. Richard Venlet reconstructs one of these doors and leaves it as a permanent intervention in the space. The addition of this lightreflecting architectural element to the silently ageing interior gives it a certain autonomy and hence makes it to a self-aware object.
To MANIERA’s understanding, 6a architects’ design approach shares common interests with Henry Van de Velde, who often designed objects as part of his architecture. In his architecture, furniture and fittings are not additions, but are inseparable from his spatial designs. 6a architects operate with a similar attitude. Examples of this are the door knobs and the balustrades in their project for Raven Row Gallery in London, which are self-evident yet essential items of their architecture.
The firm is deeply rooted in ‘making’, their office being partly a workshop where they craft objects, mock-ups and furniture with collaborators who share a similar passion. This attitude, being rather unusual in the computer-dominated world of contemporary architecture, puts them in a position that allows aesthetic decisions to extend further than decorative additions to their architecture. In this regard the cast iron panels of the façade of the Paul Smith shop, also in London, refers to a familiar material tradition in the city and the serious craftsmanship involved. Here the architect’s interest is focused on developing the ornament through the process of making rather than initiating pure decoration.
In MANIERA’s 4th series, entitled Dust Free Friends, 6a architects re-examines the long tradition of selfbuild that has shared the journey through modernism with industry and craft. A lot has happened since Enzo Mari opened the field of designer furniture to the user with his ‘autoprogettazione’. Affordable lifestyle consumerism has more or less ousted messy and old-fashioned DIY from our homes. Apple and Ikea have replaced amateurish tinkering with pleasure and promise sealed inside immaculate capsules. However, today’s portable power tools, such as the cordless drill, the self-tapping screw and the dust-free Festool have also revolutionised our vernacular. The world of self-made furniture has reopened with unprecedented speed and ease.
The architects take a raw plywood panel as the basis for a catalogue of domestic furniture, ranging from tables (in three dimensions) and stools to folding privacy screens, all derived from their needs and their experiences of objects which adapt themselves to different uses in the domestic environment. The plywood, always a good servant to new tools, is decorated with wallpaper, that other dinosaur of Sunday afternoon domestication. Hand-painted papers applied to plywood are then cut and reassembled, creating new arrangements of colour and pattern with wood surfaces and neat fibrous edges. Craft and colour, paper and wood, maker and user come together in a new series, which it is hoped can and will be infinitely extended with the help of our dust-free friends.
Text by Asli Çiçek