Sculpture, architecture and nature. For some, disparate concepts, but for me ideas that should more often be spoken in the same breath. While you may think I’m going cuckoo trying to draw comparisons between, say, a marble statue, a skyscraper and a potted plant, instead let me take you on a journey.
Francesco Borromini, one of 17th century Italy’s most important architects and the man who basically built Rome as we know it, approached his designs of the most ornate churches on a tabletop scale, carving and moulding and melting blocks of wax which resulted in buildings which were both intimate and organic. He was only the latest in a long line of church builders dating back to the Medieval times, when people looked around in awe of nature and decided to do their very best to mimick God’s creation by creating towering pillars of buildings that stretched to the sky, believing they could bridge the gap between heaven and earth.
Of course these epic efforts were not limited to religious buildings alone, and after centuries and centuries of focussing our best intellectuals on the task, we finally realised that organic forms had it right all along. These days, its common for starchitects like Zaha Hadid to design buildings that look more like water than tower blocks.
From the macro to the micro, the plywood installation by architect student James Donegan currently dominating the foyer of the Manchester Craft & Design Centre forms part of that narrative. While SEED may be significantly smaller than Hadid’s madder creations, Borromini’s churches and the Medieval Gothic cathedrals, it still creates a unity between the natural, the sculptural and the architectural. It has aspects of all of those things and is more than the sum of its parts; it is clever, and it is beautiful.
Most importantly, it encourages interaction. Don’t get me wrong, this is certainly not an invitation for children to treat it like a climbing frame (although not necessarily a bad idea when it comes to sculpture, as Henry Moore demonstrated). However, signs around SEED invite people to stand within what is best described as the ‘bud’, see the light filtering through the lattice work, gaze up to the centre’s skylights in the same way that Donegan’s intepretation of a plant also strains towards the sun.
Of course, all of my pretentious descriptions are nowhere near as effective at getting people to actually stand inside the thing as MCDC’s approach, which is simply to install a sign in the centre of the installation which says ‘take a SEED selfie here’.
Afterall, what is art not seen through the lens of a smart phone?