If you give people nothingness, they can ponder what can be achieved from that nothingness.
The wall. That grey concrete mass that separates the bus and tram lines from the so called oasis that is the unkept lawns of Piccadilly Gardens, where people lie uncomfortably and awkwardly on vaguely sunny days, either staring up into the empty pods of the wheel , or across to the grey concrete wall that houses a few chain cafes and restaurants.
Tadao Ando, who designed the wall, is a self taught Japanese architect. His style is often seen as a visual “haiku” emphasising nothingness, and empty space to reflect the simplicity of beauty. To those who made the decisions to sign this off at the beginning of the millenuim, I suspect it was meant to be a place of reflection and contemplation of post war, post IRA attack Manchester. And to bring peace into an area that may have had a turbulent history with not only devastating destruction, but also of petty crime.
The simplicity of his architecture emphasises the concept of sensation and physical experiences, mainly influenced by Japanese culture. The religious term Zen, focuses on the concept of simplicity and concentrates on inner feeling rather than outward appearance. Zen influences vividly show in Ando’s work and became its distinguishing mark. In order to practice the idea of simplicity, Ando’s architecture is mostly constructed with concrete, providing a sense of cleanliness and weightlessness (even though concrete is a heavy material) at the same time. Due to the simplicity of the exterior, construction, and organisation of the space are relatively potential in order to represent the aesthetic of sensation. (more here)
The Manchester weather has warped the concrete structure into some sort of living creature, with veins and paths that connect between the imprints of bolts on the surface of the concrete. To most, this is not charming, but an embarassing introduction to one of the busiest spots in Manchester, and give a fairly lukewarm welcome to those who have travelled by bus, tram or train to get into the city.
I would like my architecture to inspire people to use their own resources, to move into the future.
Upon reflection, I find the idea of simplicity and weightlessness to be beautiful and wonderful, but what is the point of public art if it is not accessible to the people that walk past it everyday. To those who experience it daily and absorb its overwhelming energy, opposed to those who contextualise and intellectualise from a distance. And is the wall even accepted as art, or an abstract concept? Or just a sound barrier for the gardens that lie so close to it? Ando’s architecture (which he only gave his blessing to, and never actually came to visit Manchester) is far removed from the tactile, everyday workings of this city which is proud in identity and heritage.
Either as abstract public art or vast yet functional sound barrier, the Mancunion public have made their voices abundantly clear, condemning it an ugly waste of money that has no right to be in one of the busiest spots in the city. Its discreet beauty appreciated by a small handful is outweighed by the outcry for pre-2000 Piccadilly Gardens – a lush, green space that for those who remember it, a much better use of public money. Through the wall’s nothingness, and celebration of empty space (intentional through Ando’s inspiration from the teachings of Zen) – the people of Manchester have responded, to replace this concrete wall of nothingness, with a much more vibrant energy that represents the vibes of this crazy, and very NOT zen city. And quite rightly so.
Articles I like out the wall here, here, and here. Also worth reading is this fab article on public squares and our need to “reaffirm our commonality, our shared sense of place, and our desire to be included”.