Newcastle Station Clock

Newcastle Station Clock

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Tiago Barros: Architect, Visionary... Comedian?

We've all been there. Someone says something, and if they're joking then it was witty and funny. If they're not joking, then the person is ignorant, abrasive and unpleasant.

Well, I've found the architectural equivalent of this: Introducing Tiago Barros.

If the conceptual projects in Barros' online portfolio are genuine, or even partly genuine, then the man is foolish and even dangerous. However, if you look at the portfolio as an ironic meta-commentary on modern architecture, then the man is a comic genius - his caricature of the modern architect has all the wit of Monty Python's or Smack the Pony's sketches about architects - but with even more insight and subtlety.

So let's take a look at these projects shall we?

1 - Cross-Wind Bridge

A fairly simple idea - a bridge for both pedestrians and cyclists, which uses both the prevailing wind and the wind generated by passing cars to generate electricity. But here, the idea of simplicity ends. Instead of a small number of power generating elements, the bridge is designed with hundreds (or perhaps even thousands) of very small spinning plates. Each of these is a generator at a very small scale. Not only does this dramatically increase the complexity of the wiring, I expect it would also decrease the efficiency of the whole system, as more wiring=more resistance=less useful electrical output. The detail of the plates themselves also seems dubious to me:

Now, I may be a few years removed from A-Level Physics, but I'm pretty sure that's not how electrical generators work. Or magnetism.

So what stereotypical traits are being mocked by Tiago Barros here?

Needlessly complicating existing paradigms: check.
Reducing efficiency to benefit aesthetics: check.
Complete lack of understanding of the basic science behind a concept: check.

2 - Shattered Crossing

The design itself of this combined bridge and tunnel is probably fairly sound. Such an extreme angle is probably difficult to achieve, but not impossible. As such, the issue here is about how Barros talks about it: "This object is composed by a steel structure that makes a 25 degree angle with the surface of the Earth, defying gravity". It does not defy gravity. At best, it could be claimed that it appears to defy gravity.

Desiring and claiming to achieve impossible feats: check.

3 - High Speed Car Ramp

"Why change the route of pedestrians and cyclists?"... a valid question. A ridiculous answer:

Barros plans to give pedestrians priority by diverting cars through mid air. Apparently, the ramp "acts as a bridge", which begs the question as to why he did not design a bridge. The ramp will also increase tourism, increase fuel consumption (the project was sponsored by a fuel company)... and increase hospital admissions.

Needlessly complicating existing paradigms: double-check.
Totally bat-shit insane: check.

4 - On Edge

A tiny studio apartment with a 'diving board/chaise longue' projecting from the edge (swimming pool not included). This apparently explores the concept of the boundary between open and enclosed spaces. I'm not sure why this needed exploring.

The imagery used to sell the idea is strange as well: the image above may look dynamic and exciting - but if you think about it that ghostly little silhouette has just committed suicide. Maybe because he lives in such a tiny apartment.

Totally bat-shit insane: double-check.
Misleading/confusing imagery: check.

5 - Passing Cloud

Apparently, the judges for this competition were expecting competition entries for a high speed rail network... probably because the competition is called "Life at The Speed of Rail" and calls for designers to "envision the cultural, environmental and economic impact of a new high speed rail network in the United States"... Can't think why this might be unexpected.

The design reconsiders our attitude to travelling by creating a mode of transport which has no predetermined route or departure times; it floats about on the wind. This slows down the pace of travelling and apparently allows us to enjoy it. Never mind the fact that our style of travelling is determined by our hectic lifestyles (and not the other way around as implied) - and never mind the fact that there is already a method of transport that does exactly this, the Hot Air Balloon, and it hasn't proved popular among commuters.

The construction is based on the zeppelin, in that it has a steel structure, covered in a fabric and filled with a gas. However, brief research on zeppelins tells me that: a) it wouldn't float, because zeppelins had airtight bags inside the exterior structure; the helium/hydrogen would quickly leak through the nylon fabric b) if it did float, there should be a mechanism which allows the pilot to control the altitude which has not been included in this design; therefore you would never be able to land c) the load has been placed above, not below the structure and there are no fins for stability, meaning there is nothing to stop the structure tumbling over in the wind and tipping all the people off.

Finally it deserves a mention that I discovered this project on Dezeen, where Tiago Barros himself claims that "Although it wasn't one of the winning proposals, Passing Cloud reveals a strong conceptual approach that is worth noting".

Completely ignoring rules and guidelines, whether explicit or implied: check.
Needlessly complicating existing paradigms: triple-check.
Questioning things which have obvious reasons: check.
Ignorance of precedent: check.
Complete lack of understanding of the basic science behind a concept: double-check.
Shameless arrogance and self-promotion: check.

So as we have seen, Tiago Barros so comprehensively encaptures every possible stereotype about an architect that I struggle to believe that he is serious. I am convinced that his work as an individual is actually one ongoing project to subtly and insightfully parody other modern architects. And when I say 'convinced', I mean 'hopeful'.

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