AAJ Press
Architecture & Design, Art & Public Space, Exhibitions & Events, Health

Imperfect Health: the Medicalization of Architecture. Canadian Centre for Architecture (CCA), Montréal. 25 October – 1 April 2012

Imperfect Health presents photographs, publications, art and design projects alongside architectural models and drawings to consider how architecture acknowledges, incorporates and affects health issues. The exhibition includes projects and ideas with a range of programmes – mostly non-medical – that nonetheless engage issues of health in ways that suggest new strategies and constitute an argument for the urgent ‘demedicalization’ of architecture.

Social and political discourse across the globe, finds increasing resonance in an architectural debate that is becoming medicalized. Problems in everyday life are increasingly treated as medical issues and defined in medical terms. Within architecture this medicalization largely takes two forms: spaces themselves are being described with language such as “sick” or “healthy” and architecture increasingly incorporates solutions from the medical field to address issues of health.

Modernist projects often saw a deterministic relationship between the environment and health; they tried to be curative by making radical, ultimately damaging interventions. Their history of unexpected consequences is one of the sources for the nuanced and more complex notions of health in some contemporary projects. Rather than aiming to eradicate or avoid negative factors, certain projects now actively incorporate such issues as dust, garbage, and disease management.

The exhibition includes specific architectural projects and studies that reflect different strategies of engaging issues of human health and disease. The 2008 design by Rem Koolhaas and OMA (Office for Metropolitan Architecture) for Maggie’s Centre for cancer treatment in Glasgow, Scotland, provides an alternative to cure-oriented hospitals. Other projects promote beneficial behavior in their occupants, as seen in Morphosis Architects’ Cooper Union academic building in New York City. The building’s design encourages physical activity, with stairs as the primary means of circulation, supported by skip-stop elevators that serve only select floors.

Another strategy for improving the health of cities is to conceive buildings that actively enhance the quality of the surrounding urban space. François Roche’s conceptual project, Dusty Relief F/B-mu, intended to improve the air quality of the city by attracting dust to the building’s skin. While the interior would be immaculate, the building’s exterior would be perpetually growing with accumulated dust and dirt. Philippe Rahm’s Public Air engages related issues by taking advantage of natural air movement to pull in clean, temperature controlled air from custom-built, adjacent public spaces.

Pig City by MVRDV is an architectural study and conceptual project in response to the rise in animal diseases resulting from mass food production. Free-standing, full-scale paper sculptures of a cow, pig, and chicken by artist Andy Byers illustrate the unexpected and growing role of animals in the incubation and transmission of diseases.

Strategies for aging populations, such as the Sun City retirement community of the 1960s are contrasted with contemporary designs of houses for the elderly by SANAA, B.I.G., and McLaughlin. Rather than creating an isolated district for old people, the recent projects aim to minimize the effects of aging and to keep the residents integrated in a mixed society.

“With Imperfect Health, we feature architectural projects that acknowledge and engage with – if not always successfully – specific health issues. The exhibition neither promises an ideal solution nor even suggests its possibility; instead it illustrates the complexity of the relationship between human health and architecture, and how this changes over time.”  Mirko Zardini, curator

Imperfect Health is curated by Mirko Zardini, Director and Chief Curator of the CCA , and Giovanna Borasi, CCA Curator of Contemporary Architecture.

Imperfect Health: the Medicalization of Architecture. The Canadian Centre for Architecture (CCA), 1920, rue Baile, Montréal QC, H3H 2S6 Canada. 25 October 2011 – 1 April 2012.

A book accompanying the exhibition will be published in Spring 2012 by CCA with Lars Müller. Edited by Mirko Zardini and Giovanna Borasi, it includes essays by Carla Keirns, David Gissen, Hilary Sample, Linda Pollak, Deane Simpson, Margaret Campbell, Sarah Schrank, and Nan Ellin.

Images: 1. Installation view with Chicken by Andy Byers, Canadian Centre for Architecture. 2011. Photo © CCA.

2. Henry Dreyfuss Associates, designers, and Niels Diffrient, Alvin R. Tilley and Joan C. Bardagjy, authors Link Measurements 1b. From Humanscale 1/2/3: A Portfolio of Information. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1974 
Collection CCA © Henry Dreyfuss Associates.

3. R&Sie(n) (François Roche, Stéphanie Lavaux, Jean Navarro), architects. Dustyrelief F/B-mu François Lauginie, photographer. 
Collection FRAC Centre, Orléans © R&Sie(n), architect.


About jeh

Jeremy Hunt is Director of the AAJ Press (Art & Architecture Journal / Press) – a writer and consultant on art and public space


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