- Performing Architectures: Projects, Practices, Pedagogies ed. by Andrew Filmer and Juliet Rufford
Performing Architectures stages a productive encounter between two disciplines fundamentally concerned with the assembly of bodies and the structuring of action. As the book’s title suggests, architecture, as presented here, is not merely a vessel in which performance might take place, but also something that performs and is performed: architecture, like performance, is temporal as well as spatial. The volume’s lucid, accessible introduction maps the collision course of performance and architecture by tracing the spatial and performative turns of theatre studies and the evental and performative turns of architectural theory and practice. Crucial to this endeavor—and foundational for several of the collection’s essays—is the work of architect Bernard Tschumi, who positioned movement and action at the center of architecture with his concept of “event-space.” Editors Rufford and Filmer translate Tschumi’s architectural theory into the language of theatre and performance, suggesting that architecture also layers possible worlds onto physically present ones. “The disciplines of performance and architecture,” they argue, “are fundamentally interested in ‘world building,’ imagining and structuring shared spaces of event and action” (14).
The essays in “Projects,” the first of the book’s three sections, assemble an array of theoretical frameworks for the study of theatre architecture. Dorita Hannah investigates Friedrich Nietzsche’s disappointment in Richard Wagner’s Bayreuth Festspielhaus in order to develop a Nietzschean theory of architecture as an environment “in a state of active becoming” (33), an ongoing event rather than a passive, completed object. Evelyn Furquim Werneck Lima considers architect Lina Bo Bardi’s designs for two São Paulo theatres, the SESC Pompeia Factory Theatre and the Oficina Theatre, in relation to Bo Bardi’s engagement with the ideas of Antonio Gramsci and Paulo Freire. She demonstrates that these thinkers’ political commitments are made manifest both in Bo Bardi’s working process and in the structures themselves, which frame action so as to implicate the audience in the theatrical event and implicate the theatrical event in the world beyond the theatre walls.
By constructing a theoretical framework from Walter Benjamin’s writings on the modern city, Klaus van den Berg analyses how performance spaces such as Peter Latz’s Landschaftspark in Duisburg, Cesar Pelli’s Winter Garden in New York, Rem Koolhaas’s Theater Center in Dallas, and Jean Nouvel’s Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis “generate a new type of urban site dramaturgy” (52) that intervenes in and comments upon the processes shaping global city-regions. Himanshu Burte productively shifts critical focus from spaces of theatrical presentation to spaces of rehearsal and residency: in this case, the five-acre residency of Atul Kumar’s Company Theatre, three hours outside Mumbai. Adopting a dialectical approach to space inspired by Henri Lefebvre, Burte persuasively argues that the site of a creative residency is itself a work in progress that responds over time to the shifting needs of practice.
If the case studies in the first section are primarily theatre buildings, the essays in the second section, “Practices,” take up specific examples of theatrical events, with the necessary caveat that, for the contributors to this volume, a building is an event. Cathy Turner and Mike Pearson’s postmortem of Welsh company Brith Gof’s 1996 production Prydain reminds readers that interdisciplinary collaborations are not always comfortable or successful; an architectural approach to theatre-making must take care in its structuring of experience not to reduce bodies to movable objects. In his analysis of two productions by National Theatre Wales, Andrew Filmer argues that by conceiving of the performance as an event-space occupied or inhabited by the audience, theatre-makers create opportunities for nonprescriptive audience participation. David Roberts explains how he brought together reenactment, oral history, and archival research as part of a methodology for studying London public housing. His collaborative, engaged research practice offers a welcome challenge to prevailing methods of architectural history and to dominant narratives of the housing crisis that depict postwar social housing as an unmitigated failure...