“Art is in the air, and on the ground”

I frequently walk by a giant placard with the above message advertising the newest development to be built on the corner of Cook and Johnson streets in Victoria.

Having just defended my master’s essay on the relationship between architecture and literature, this advertising slogan resonates with me, as it essentially makes the same statement — that art and architecture are inextricably linked, having both material and immaterial, or physical and imaginative dimensions.

Do you know the painter who inspired this development?

Soon-to-come residential building in Victoria

Think clearly-defined straight lines. Think bold, primary colours. Think squares and rectangles. Think modern. If you came up with Dutch artist Piet Mondrian, you’re right. Here are some samples of his work:

Composition with Yellow, Blue, and Red

Composition II in Red, Blue, and Yellow

de Hoog & Kierulf architects in Victoria describe the above building as “a playful composition of rectangular forms, coloured glass, and metal railing.”

I like seeing architects play with art and translate a vision of what was formerly two-dimensional into something new, three-dimensional, and inhabitable. Rather than replace or outdo its inspiration, the architect’s translation of Mondrian’s art provides another way to access the original.

In the past, when I’ve looked at Piet Mondrian’s paintings, I stare at them thinking I’m missing something (which, I should note, is often my reaction towards modern art). What is he trying to get at with this painting? It’s so simple, so geometric, so basic. Sometimes modern art seems like a trick question whose answer, if there is one, constantly eludes me.

But seeing Mondrian’s art literally constructed in the present context in the city I live, I appreciate its strong, simple lines, its clear shapes, and its bold colours. I appreciate its definition. I appreciate its order. Order is a difficult word in architecture as it can swing both ways, creating either tedium or pleasure (to borrow Alain de Botton’s phrasing). In this residential building soon to come in Victoria, we see the pleasure of order in its conciseness, recognizability, and readability.

The Pleasure of Order

This building also brings clarity to a section of a literary text I recently read –urban critic Jane Jacobs’ influential The Death and Life of Great American Cities, where she talks about the necessity of dynamic borders for a city’s public life. Railway tracks and streets adjoining two neighbourhoods shouldn’t be dead zones that act like barriers to divide the city and the people in it. Instead, they should be seams where one segment of life spills into the other, creating a vital and very much alive space.

Mondrian’s paintings portray this urban idea in art. The most exciting spaces of the canvas are at the edges, where our eyes are drawn and where we’re left hanging, wondering, and waiting for something to happen, something unexpected, something significant because we know the colours and the lines don’t stop just because our eyes can’t see any further. These edge spaces animate the canvas, and have the potential to do so on the urban one as well.

Composition 10

Apparently de Hoog & Kierulf architects haven’t been the only ones inspired by Piet Mondrian.

Mondrian dress

“Mondrian” day dress by Yves Saint Laurent

All things Mondrian