In an article for the Washington Post, Philip Kennicott argues that "technology has scrambled the lines between public and private." He questions whether, in an age of "radical individualism" spurred on by our fascination with solitary communication, our collective understanding and appreciation for the public, civic space has been diminished. Kennitott foreshadows that "one thing is certain: We will live in more crowded spaces, and we will increasingly live indoors, cocooned in climate-controlled zones with a few billion of our closest friends" as rapid urbanisation merges with the changing climate.
The Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A), named after the Queen and Her Consort, has its foundations in the Great Exhibition of 1851 amidst the wealth, innovation and squalor of the Industrial Revolution. Britain was flooded by prosperity which allowed for the development of major new institutions to collect and exhibit objects of cultural significance or artistic value. The institute’s first director, Henry Cole, declared that it should be “a schoolroom for everyone,” and a democratic approach to its relationship with public life has remained the cornerstone of the V&A. Not only has it always been free of charge but it was also the first to open late hours (made possible by gas lighting), allowing a more comprehensive demographic of visitor.
Their latest exhibition, which opens today, seeks to realign the museum’s vast collection and palatial exhibition spaces in South Kensington with these founding concepts. The interventions of All of This Belongs to You attempt to push the V&A’s position as an extension of London’s civic and cultural built environment to the fore, testing the museum’s ability to act as a 21st century public institution. To do this in London, a city where the notion of public and private is increasingly blurred, has resulted in a sequence of compelling installations which are tied together through their relevance either in subject matter, technique, or topicality.
In The New Yorker's latest Postcard from Rome Elizabeth Kolbert talks to Renzo Piano in his Senate Office at the Palazzo Giustiniani, just around the corner from the Pantheon. Piano, who was named a Senator for Life by Italian President Giorgio Napolitano in September 2013 (when he was 75 years of age), immediately "handed over the office, along with his government salary, to six much younger architects." He then "asked them to come up with ways to improve the periferie - the often run-down neighborhoods that ring Rome and Italy’s other major cities." Kolbert attests to Piano's belief in the power of museums and libraries and concert halls. For him, "they become places where people share values [and] where they stay together." "This is what I call the civic role of architecture."
"The works of our artists, architects, and preservationists provide us with another language of diplomacy. A transcendent language that allows us to convey values that are at once uniquely American yet speak to all of humanity. Increasingly in this world, art and architecture help us maintain our sense of openness and liberation." -- Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, April 12, 2010
An embassy is much more than a building or a work of architecture; it functions as a symbolic representation of countries' relationships to one another. It represents the universal language of diplomacy - "communicating values and ideals, extending well beyond any moment in time". An embassy has the difficult task of representing two diametrically opposed concepts: security and openness. The former typically overpowers the latter in importance, which is most probably why when we think of foreign embassies, it conjures up images of stately monolithic buildings surrounded by tall fences and menacing guards or "bunkers, bland cubes, lifeless compounds", according to Tanya Ballard Brown of NPR's All Things Considered.
More after the break...