Here’s a really interesting, strange project we’ve come across: birdhouses made to look like Dictator’s Palaces. We’ve got examples of Stalin’s Palace of Culture and Science in Warsaw, Mussolini’s Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana, and Ceausescu’s Palace of Parliament. What the hell is this, exactly?
First, what I took out of it: I like the sly idea of diminishing the self-important, repression-founded architecture of dictators by making such work into birdhouses. That said, the original pieces these birdhouses are based on aren’t automatically horrible or despicable just because their commissioners were. A lot has been said about Albert Speer and the fact that inherent within a kind of ‘Nazi Architecture’ is the inescapable idea of Nazism, which thereby invalidates the architecture. You can make the point, but then you have to make a different version of the same point about slaves and the Coliseum, for example. Within the spectrum of 20th-century architecture, there are actually some examples of fascist architecture here in Rome that I appreciate on a certain level.
But there’s always something (intentionally) brutal and cold about those buildings–a feeling amplified when walking around the rest of Rome and encountering some of the most comfortable, humane, welcoming urban spaces ever constructed. So I like the transposition into a nature reserve, attached to trees, fit only for the birds.
Secondly, it’s a comment on the style of birdhouses. While I’m sure very few people care about why birdhouses are usually modeled after cute little cabins or cottages, constructing birdhouses out of the exact opposite–a bunch of dictator palaces–makes us think about our normal birdhouse design: the country cabin full of friendly little animals, and why we consistently use that model in miniature. It’s kind of like making a child’s dollhouse in the form of a prison, in order to make us wonder about the ubiquity of the tiny little 3-level Victorian when it comes to that segment of the market.
Finally, it’s just fun design, taking these overbearing examples of state power, wrapping them around trees, and waiting for a series of little birdies to come along and make them into a home. If you’re up near the King’s Wood conservation area, check them out.
All photos are by London Fieldworks 2008. Their official text is here:
SUPER KINGDOM can be viewed as a social engineering experiment for animals – a new community in the making referencing despot’s palaces, gated community developments such as Alphaville in Brazil and the fortified exclusivity afforded to the wealthy and super-rich – all designed to keep urban reality at bay.
London Fieldworks propose SUPER KINGDOM as a series of site-specific interventions within the ancient woodland environment of Kings Wood, Challock in SE Kent for exhibition in autumn 2008 and will include the construction of show homes for animals. The show homes will be available for animal occupancy and will also function as a film set for a new video and animation work to be shot over winter 2008/9 for exhibition in spring 2009.
Considered as an enclave, a demarcated and protected area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, King’s Wood is an environment surrounded by encroaching urban development. Desire for new housing and increased local infrastructure is pitted against fears that the Stour Valley will be ecologically damaged by the unprecedented growth planned for nearby Ashford. The environmental ramifications of massive new development in the ecologically sensitive Thames Gateway are also a concern. This contention has focussed interest on the parallel story of changing habitat and shifting animal populations in King’s Wood, within the larger context of mass migration, porous borders and current speculation that for the first time the world’s urban population is about to outnumber its rural one. .
SUPER KINGDOM is a Stour Valley Arts commission supported by Arts Council England, Henry Moore Foundation, Arts and Humanities Research Council and London Southbank University in collaboration with Consarc architects, Webb Yates Engineers and Setsquare Staging Limited.