Tony Ray Jones,  Pepys Estate, Deptford, London: children playing on a raised walkway , 1970. Credit: Tony Ray-Jones / RIBA Collections

Tony Ray Jones, Pepys Estate, Deptford, London: children playing on a raised walkway, 1970. Credit: Tony Ray-Jones / RIBA Collections

The latest exhibit at the Wellcome Collection spans both their temporary gallery spaces with an extensive look into our relationship with buildings over the last two centuries. The works on display brings to light the physical and psychological impact our built environment has on us and the innovative ways designs have been altered to achieve maximum wellbeing.

That is just half of the exhibition. The upper gallery space is dedicated to an open call architectural submission piece that responds to the urgent and adaptive health care designs being used in remote locations. Here we see architects Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners (RSHP) and engineers BuroHappold and Chapman (BDSP) work with Doctors of the World to create 1:1 scale structures that can be easily transported and set up in any given scenario, with strong and sturdy capabilities and use of waterproof materials stretched over them for shelter and much lacking private space that such current conditions cannot provide.


Rab Harling, still from  Inversion/Reflection: What Does Balfron Tower Mean To You?,  2014. Credit: © Rab Harling

Rab Harling, still from Inversion/Reflection: What Does Balfron Tower Mean To You?, 2014. Credit: © Rab Harling

Living with Buildings, like other Wellcome Collection exhibitions, draws together science and art to explore our relationship with our constructed world. Starting with London’s slums from the end of the 19th century with a draft preface for Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens, in which he declared that “nothing effectual can be done for the elevation of the poor in England, until their dwelling places are made decent and wholesome”, we see the concern with living conditions already being drawn on by creative minds of the time. And the exhibition continues as such, with special commissioned pieces by Giles Round, whose work here explores colour and light and their role on health; Joe Kerr, who invites the public to timed/self guided tours “through the radical histories of Somers Town and King’s Cross”; and Ian Sincalir’s book ‘Living with Buildings and Walking with Ghosts’ which is published by Wellcome Collection and explores the relationship between sickness and structure.

There is a remarkable collection from RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects) scattered around and one that really stood out was Ernö Goldfinger’s design propositions and eventual construction of Balfron Tower. This was designed in 60’s brutalist characteristics with a few distinguishing key elements in mind such as placing waste disposal areas separate from living areas, connected with a bridge, and the notion of bringing high rise style of homes to Britain placed in green environments. Goldfinger transferred this architectural style onto his later Trellick Tower. What is most curious about Goldfinger and Balfron was probably his decision to move into the completed building that he designed and live among its inhabitants.

Andreas Gursky,  Paris Montparnasse , 1993. Credit: © Tate, London 2018

Andreas Gursky, Paris Montparnasse, 1993. Credit: © Tate, London 2018

And of course, Andreas Gursky’s Paris ‘Paris Montparnasse’ makes an appearance in this exhibit about buildings. Constructed as a large scale photograph in 1993 of a high-density apartment building, this 2.1 x 4 metre piece allows details of people’s homes to be clearly portrayed up close by the viewer to ultimately be overwhelmed by the close living quarters of the inhabitants when contemplated from further back. This work visually communicates the realities of urban living.

The first floor gallery space above explores the project Global Clinic created in response to Wellcome Collection collaborative commission from Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners and BuroHappold and ChapmanBDSP to aid Doctors of the World, an independent humanitarian charity operating across the globe with emergency care as well as long term training. The simple idea behind the winning design from this open call recognises the current situation of remote health care and has responded with a flexible, robust and easily transportable plywood pieces that connect together to make a basic but sturdy structure in which to safely practise healthcare. The engineering behind cutting the plywood is programmed by a CNC (computer numerical control) which can be adjusted in shape and size to adapt to preferred requirements. 

An example of this Global Clinic project’s potential is on display in the space with a 1:1 scale model which will be deployed to a location in need by Doctors of the World after the closing of the exhibit.

Living with Buildings run until March 3rd and is free to the public, with timed guided tours that alternately highlight parts of the exhibit. Works on display also feature that of Rachael Whiteread, Marther Rosler and Cathrine Yass. In addition, particular case studies are presented on hospital design and wellbeing as well as a look into the recent architectural flaws behind the Grenfell Tower fire.

The Wellcome Collection is a free museum with the self appointed motto of being the museum for the “incurably curious”. It encourages learning and challenging human health through events, exhibitions and its vast collection acquired by Sir Henry Wellcome, which amounted to some 125,000 medically related objects and artefacts by the time he died in 1936. His legacy has had a very successful history starting from the formation of a charity as his last will. Through this Wellcome Trust, research has been amongst the leading in the world.

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AuthorNazy Raouf