[Archive] On the 2007 Mies van der Rohe Award shortlist, FAT get fit in Boxtel.
First published in the AR in March 2007
Some may be surprised to see FAT on the pages of the AR. FAT, the provocative post-modernist pranksters, in an AR issue devoted to Modernism? Even FAT were surprised, as founding partner Sean Griffiths happily revealed his not so secret ambition to feature in the pages of Outrage. Frequently described as mavericks, with Will Alsop heralding Griffiths as his cultural successor, FAT (fashion architecture taste) could be described as the happy clowns of the British architectural community, donning red noses, party hats and braces while producing their distinctive cartoonish caricatures. That was, however, until they started to build buildings, for increasingly serious clients with serious demands; time for hard hats and steel capped boots.
Describing themselves as ‘purveyors of architecture of character and distinction’, FAT’s work is socially responsive and draws on a broad range of references to produce buildings, installations and art works that have significance to those who use, walk past and live near them. Honing their taste and deriving forms, spaces and ornament from everyday types, together with the influences of Charles Moore, Robert Venturi, and James Wines (of SITE), work is playful, witty and sceneographic. Sniffed at by some, it assumes a populist position, however, as Griffiths now acknowledges, there is an argument that says maybe, just maybe, their work is as elitist in its theoretical pretensions as those of less penetrable, high-brow, protagonists of so-called Fine Art-itecture. In this project theories abound, referencing Gandy, Kahn, Van der Laan and Caulfield.
Taking all this on board as part of Griffiths’ entertaining yarn, this is undeniably a serious project, and while the beautifully crafted precast concrete pop-goth screen has enabled FAT to express their trademark flamboyance, behind the veil is a down to earth rationalisation project, albeit jazzed up with myriad vinyl transfers. Even the screen, in the context of Boxtel’s Disneyland castle, decorated gables and painted shutters, seems something of the ordinary. Contextual even. After years of ad-hoc infill and addition, the campus has grown gradually since the 1950s. With a deep plan, and warren-like corridors, it was not only hard to find your way around, but the front door and even the campus proved elusive to Boxtel visitors. FAT were asked to consider the ground floor layout, inside and out.
Unsurprisingly, inspired by a desire to re-brand led by advertising gurus KesselsKramer (who introduced FAT to the client), this project essentially applies a new veneer to an old situation; the stuff of branding and marketing. The academy’s head, however, maintains that structural changes to the buildings- breaking out chunks of accommodation to create cross routes, cutting new rooflights, and inserting a foyer and workshop- supports structural changes to teaching that has moved away from the classroom toward a seminar and tutorial system. The new foyers certainly support this new educational regime, as a hive of activity. With glazed workshops next to a casually placed baby grand piano, the campus feels like a curious blend of The Kids from Fame and the Bauhaus. As you walk through the foyers, spontaneous musical improvisations happen and fall in and out of phase with the sound of machines and tools. In accompaniment Griffiths verbalises his visions of Marilyn Man son on a band saw, and the mind boggles.
Art Acadamy, Boxtel, The Netherlands
Architects: FAT, London
Director: Sean Griffiths,
Project architect: Lizzie Evans
Design Team: Sam Jacob, Charles Holland, Demitri Kudin, Sophie Van Heyningen
Photographs: Dennis Gilbert/VIEW