We received Tom Emerson of Studio 6a for a lecture a fortnight ago. He showed this image, and I’ve been thinking about it for a little while now.

 It’s Picasso’s Head of a Bull (1942), and it’s formed from a bicycle saddle, and some handle bars. Tom was explaining how it fascinated him as an example of abstraction, collage and reuse. We think about these as ideas in architecture a lot in our studio. 

 I find it fascinating for other reasons too. The manufacturing processes involved in tubular steel bending and saddle form pressing were quite new at the time (the bending process was also celebrated by Marcel Breuer’s Wassily Chair), so there is something inherently technological, or new, about it. But there’s something else going on here. The simple lines remind me of cave art. It’s skeletal- like a piece of archaeology. And by being mounted on the wall, it feels like a trophy of the hunt. It feels very primitive. So as a thing, it’s both very “past” and very “present”.

I like the idea that a very contemporary thing carries with it an understanding of us at our most primitive (although we meet them better, our simple needs haven’t changed that much over the last few thousand years!). Things with these qualities (it seems to me), strike a deeper, more meaningful chord within us. There is a critical lesson for architecture in this. It’s one the SPAB understand when they talk about “new layers” within historic fabric, but it’s an idea I’d say needs to be advocated a bit more…



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