Art & Architecture  - Celebrating Twentyfive Years

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Celebrating Twentyfive Years

An independent association Art & Architecture provided an open forum for a cross-discipline exchange. For twenty-five years, A&A debated and influenced the role of art, design and building, ever since its inception at a landmark ICA conference in 1982. Rallying and empowering practitioners, it advocated joined-up thinking, from a time when architectural debate was exclusively for architects, and art was much less accessible than it is today. In all A&A presented over two hundred open talks, sixty journals and a website database placing practitioners in reach of commissioners, a considerable achievement for groundbreaking volunteers.

The aim was to make a meaningful and sustained contribution to the community as a national resource towards a vibrant art, design and architectural culture. In this spirit, A&A attempted to transcend boundaries and to promote a collaborative approach to achieving a better quality built environment and natural landscape. In the early years there were real concerns being expressed about the brutal state of the public domain and in particular the quality of inner city existence. Disenchanted with bland modern construction and an under-valued creative community A&A was established to raise awareness and to re-engage artists in mainstream building programmes. As the first of its kind involved in public art, A&A operated over three decades to provide a platform for critical debate on the relationship between art and the environment.

Through its website and events A&A offered an informal practitioners network encouraging partnerships and sharing mutual aspirations. It celebrated diversity and the integration of skills encouraging artists to participate more fully in the ways and means of reconstruction. The object was to stimulate a lively discourse consistently challenging in order to maintain the desired levels of interaction to influence the quality of future building renewal. Easing access for all and rising above restrictive practice, A&A was overlapping boundaries encouraging artists to engage in the public arena. The troubled years of the early eighties now seem like the dark ages and so much has happened since to equip artist to present creative endeavour and human scale to the urban fabric

Spanning the cusp of the century Art & Architecture continued to support the creative involvement of artists within architecture and building development. Applying the principal of art practice at the forefront of innovation, A&A promoted the collective approach as the vehicle to new challenges such as a low carbon society and "restorative" ecological design. To such ends later subjects for public discussion featured Design for Climate Change, Architecture for Humanity, Arts & Ecology, Critical Modernism. Speakers included Charles Jencks, Ken Shuttleworth, Michaela Crimmin RSA and Sunand Prasad former President of the RIBA, A&A had embarked on a voyage of discovery across the edges and intermediate spaces into the emerging terrain of art media.

Speaking on his Vision at the Next Generation Forum in the Tate Britain organised by A&A Jon Rouse, the chief executive of CABE claimed: “There is a growing danger, in the midst of modern procurement processes, that the delight factor in architecture is being suffocated by measurement methods that favour only tangible impacts. The artist and the architect are in the vanguard of the small number of troops still looking for space to create surprise, excitement and reflection within our built environment.” 

As a founder member and director since 1983 the author had the honour of chairing Art & Architecture for fourteen years from 1994 to 2008. In the formative years he assisted on a number of conferences including the Crafts Factor in Architecture and Working to a Percentage. Held at the RIBA in 1986  Working to a Percentage was opened by the Secretary of State for the Environment. Widely reviewed in the architectural press the new NMB Bank in Amsterdam took centre stage, demonstrating how admirably artists and architects could work together from the outset.

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