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Lecce, Italy – Steven Holl’s exhibition shows he’s a man on a mission

The fruits of Steven Holl’s labour go on display in an Italian castle

Trying to arrange a meeting with Steven Holl is tricky business. Twice when the AR was in New York, the 62-year-old American-born architect was engaged with clients in his scruffy yet productive Midtown Manhattan studio. Chance encounters have been the only opportunity to spend time with him; once sharing a tour of Ginzburg’s Narkomfin apartment block in Moscow in spring 2004 and again later that year when stranded in China at the ill-fated inaugural Beijing Architecture Biennale. On this occasion, while most overseas architects steered clear of the event, Holl stuck to the programme, showed willing, maintained momentum and most crucially took the opportunity to bolster important client relationships with Chinese developers. We met when Linked Hybrid was a seed of an idea, six years before that celebrated Beijing building became a reality.

Holl is clearly no slouch. The sort of architect who sees genuine opportunity in on-the-ground engagement, this show demonstrates the fruit of his outbound missions. Su Pietra is an exhibition of recent projects in Europe and China, on display at the Castle of Acaya in Lecce, Italy, until January 15, 2011. It illustrates Holl’s design method, from conception to form, documenting the collaborative process of model making, drawing and animation. Projecting videos on to the castle’s 16th-century walls, the exhibition draws out distinct qualities from Holl’s response to each region’s context.

‘While the Chinese projects - the Horizontal Skyscraper (AR June 2010), Linked Hybrid and Nanjing Museum of Art and Architecture - explore the macro scale of cities through the lens of architecture,’ he says, ‘the European projects show a vision of the preservation of natural landscape.’ These include the Herning Museum of Contemporary Art in Denmark (AR October 2009) and Knut Hamsun Center in Norway (AR September 2009).

Not wanting to miss the opportunity to initiate an Italian collaboration on site, Holl also created a series of sculptures to complement the exhibit’s projections, with sculptures manufactured from stone by local craftsmen, rendered from digital files sent from New York.

The Lecce exhibition neatly coincides with the announcement that Holl has won the 2010 Jencks Award: Visions Built by the RIBA, which is bestowed in recognition of an individual’s contribution to both the theory and practice of architecture internationally. Announcing the prize, Jencks made specific mention of Holl’s methodology, describing how ‘colour, light and phenomenology also inform his city buildings and, together with his domestic architecture, writings and watercolours, form a consistent body of work that is as rare as it is impressive.’ The prize will be presented at the RIBA in London on 30 November, followed by a public lecture by Holl, with Charles Jencks as chairman. Perhaps we’ll meet again?

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