The question of whether architecture is art haunts architecture universities around the world. At one end of the spectrum, architects consider themselves the very embodiment of the artist; at the other, architects will embrace their creative and problem-solving attributes, emphasising their more practical, engineering purpose.
This debate became further polarised this year when the 2015 Turner Prize, an art award, was given to a collective of architects known as Assemble, without even a building to display.
It all started when the collective took on a commission from a group of residents living in Toxteth, Liverpool. Toxteth is perhaps best known for the 1981 Toxteth riots; for this reason, and many others, low occupancy had become an issue in the area. The council had purchased a number of houses, which was putting pressure on the remaining residents to move; however, the residents’ approach was one of resistance rather than surrender. They began to paint the abandoned buildings and plant wild gardens in the spaces vacated by the demolished houses. With this in hand, they called on Assembly to drive their vision forward.
Art for art’s sake
Building on this model, Assemble produced a viable and coherent plan for the future of Toxteth. This project, known as Granby Four Streets, became successful by concentrating on the area’s architectural and cultural heritage. The group produced plans for regeneration and gave the community a sense of purpose and value. The Turner Prize judges concluded that Assembly has generated interest and public involvement in the regeneration project through its work.
Presenting a future
As the Turner Prize is an art prize, regarding a community project as a work of art is a difficult subject. To be eligible for the prize, the group also had to provide an installation that could be housed in the gallery for judging; however, much of its work exists only in the future. To present this, the group relied on 3D architectural visualisation, which is available from companies such as http://www.redandgray.co.uk, to communicate its vision to the judges.
Whatever your opinion on this matter, the awarding of the Turner Prize to a group of architects has certainly reignited the debate. Most people agree that architecture is art and engineering wrapped into one package, but this is little consolation to the runner-up.