An unconventional truth
About Ila Beka and Louise Lemoine and Living Architecture Series
Today’s architecture films may be all montage and fast pace but they convey an increasingly static concept of architecture, whereas Ila Bêka and Louise Lemoine’s films (now collected in the Living Architectures series) narrate space in slow time, making us live the moment when the architecture fully takes on meaning. They have a fluid rhythm and create the image of a new, different and anomalous beauty that dialogues with an expanded time. This serves the narration of the space and makes it accessible. Paul Virilio quotes René Clair in his Critical Space essay: “The art that is closest to cinema is architecture.” Architectural representation no longer concerns just one aspect but different ones simultaneously, all the angles of observation, all the frames and all the players-spectators of the constructed space. In other words, all those who live or rather experience the emission of the architectural form-image live. Bêka and Lemoine’s work is a construction of this critical space produced by the overlaying of forms, materials, people and movements. It is a highly unusual art form that seeks not to portray architecture but to lend it concrete form. Every film is accompanied by a book that completes it. Together, these stage a constant and ongoing dialogue between the architecture and its user — with words that, like a written text, refer to the space in constantly different ways and with the directors’ voices that guide the characters, taking them by the hand and tracing the line around which all the meaning of the study is concentrated.
The characters who become custodians of these works — a priest, a caretaker, a cleaning lady and a climber-window cleaner — are metaphors for the architecture that we pass through day after day without really understanding it, often allowing ourselves to be fascinated by the form and not by the way people appropriate the space, live it and transform it with their stories. These are critical, intelligent and only seemingly irreverent films. I cannot hide the fact that Guadalupe the cleaning lady sometimes seems to mock the architect’s work, but then I realise that her vision completes the building and makes it real. All this conceals a great love for architecture and perfectly conveys that fine line that exists between what you see and is real and the architecture’s hidden potential. Louise Lemoine argues that a building cannot be photographed and remain unchanged; if it is alive, it must alter over time. The choice of buildings is not random but I believe this is the key to an unconventional way of thinking about architecture. If we are to speak of architecture today, it has to be universally recognisable. Ila Bêka and Louise Lemoine do not gather interviews with everyday people for the mere fun of finding a way to question the archistars. They want to understand without judging and pursue the approach of the narration. They know very well that a building is also a set of stories and that by putting many buildings together you can, in a way, create a map of contemporary architecture. That is why every film should be seen as a different chapter of the same book. Bêka and Lemoine are good at finding characters, following them and talking to them. The architecture is secondary to the main story and then, as in every great novel, the roles are reversed and the architecture becomes the central player or, rather, the tool that draws the stories around it. Who would ever have imagined that there is a lady in suburban Rome who records every phase of a building site with almost manic obsession, then narrates it and tries to understand it; or that a climber suspended 50 metres above the ground would battle desperately with a speck of dust; then, of course, there is Guadalupe, who has over time come to embody Koolhaas’s Bordeaux Villa in many architects’ minds. With this motley array of characters, the directors reconstruct a nonobjective story of architecture based on parallel stories, an open work on the world of architecture that only an independent company could risk producing and distributing. The faces, materials, buildings and cities change but the actions and spaces tell us that, at last, the architecture is no longer alone with itself in these stories.
Originally published at www.the-booklist.com.