The exhibition Case Design. The Craft of Collaboration explores the boundaries of the traditional role of the architect. Is he or she a conductor who brings together the right instruments or rather a walking encyclopaedia that is at home in all markets? Sam Barclay, founder of the Indian firm Case Design, humbly admits that he doesn’t know everything and, above all, that he builds on the know-how of others: ‘I consider myself to be part of a jazz improvisation band in which each instrument makes an equal contribution to the creative process.’
(from 17.10.2019 to 19.01.2020 | Flanders Architecture Institute in deSingel)
After an eye-catching appearance at the architecture biennale in Venice in 2018 and a stopover in Lausanne, Switzerland, Case Design is arriving in Antwerp with an exhibition of their most recent work. The office makes one huge plea for greater collaboration and empathy in architecture. In addition, the exhibition is a clear call to engage in circular building in a more authentic way, using local materials and expertise as the principal building blocks.
The Craft of Collaboration tells the story of collective commitment, the interactive process and Case Design’s undertaking to produce work that is simple, beautiful and functional. The architects believe that regardless of the method or medium, the greatest form of sustainability is to make work of lasting value. Case Design brings together a diverse group of builders, designers, farmers, artists, craftsmen and engineers who are convinced that cooperation and empathy lie at the heart of every good project. In so doing, they build places of hospitality, social interaction, reflection, play, ritual and comfort.
"The Craft of Collaboration is the perfect stimulus for a more integrated approach to architecture in the Low Countries"‐ Sofie De Caigny, director Flanders Architecture Institute
Avasara means ‘opportunity’ in Sanskrit. Which it certainly was for the young firm Case Design when it was commissioned to build a residential school for young women in Pune, India. The design and construction process of this project would determine the office’s DNA. Founder Sam Barclay earned his stripes as project architect at the renowned design office, Studio Mumbai. When Roopa Purushotham, the brains behind the Avasara Academy, crossed paths with Barclay in 2013, it was an instant trigger for the establishment of a new office.
Barclay’s experience at Studio Mumbai, together with his natural curiosity for local craftsmanship, proved to be decisive factors in the construction of the school and the founding of the agency: ‘What I learned at Studio Mumbai was to always look for conviction in your design process. I wanted to put that to the test with the school. The agency is called Case Design because we treat each opportunity as a separate case. What is most appropriate for this particular context? And how do we link that to the budget, which is often limited? We try to design things that are simple and efficient. The process is organic but has a premeditated framework.’ This framework ensures that the architects can sometimes make drastic changes during the process, without deviating from the main objective. At the same time, they allow plenty of room for the various parties involved to leave their stamp on the final design. The result is a pure architecture that is supported by everyone as a joint creation.
"It all starts with admitting that you can’t do everything yourself, that it’s a question of bringing together the right skills. I spend more time building relationships than I do at the drawing board."‐ Sam Barclay, founder Case Design
Sam Barclay’s principal task is to bring together different areas of expertise. As an architect, he would never be able to realise his projects without the knowledge and input of craftsmen, engineers, artists and users. As he humbly admits: ‘It all starts with admitting that you can’t do everything yourself, that it’s a question of bringing together the right skills. I spend more time building relationships than I do at the drawing board.’ These relationships are extremely diverse and the craftsmanship of those involved goes beyond the narrow meaning of the word. ‘For me, a craftsman is someone who practices his skill or art with immense dedication; he may be a carpenter, but he might just as well be a genius when it comes to the latest BIM standards.’
Often, it is also a matter of meeting the right person at the right time, or in other words, coincidence. For example, the Danish artist Malene Bach left her mark on the Avasara Academy with the colour study she made at the site. Barclay: ‘We followed each other on Instagram. She sent me a message that she was interested in participating in the academy. I suggested she visit. Three days later she was on a plane to India and I introduced her to Roopa. It clicked immediately. Without her passion, expertise and enthusiasm, it wouldn’t be the school it is today.’ Working with different craftsmen and artists is evident in a country such as India and determines Case Design’s vision of a concept that is currently all the rage: ‘circular building’. Barclay explains that the country has a centuries-old tradition of circular building: ‘It’s perfectly normal to completely dismantle buildings and process the different materials into new building elements.’
"Bringing together high-technology construction techniques and people who practise a craft is just as possible here in Belgium. As long as there is a shared vision"‐ Sam Barclay, founder Case Design
Naysayers could claim that Case Design’s vision of circular construction cannot function in a Western country like Belgium, because the labour costs of skilled workers are much higher than in India. Barclay refutes that: ‘The work of the Brussels office BC architects & studies proves that it is possible. In their projects they also work with hyper local materials and know-how. The Bioklas in the fort at Edegem is a great example.’ According to Barclay, there is no reason why this methodology cannot be copied and applied on a larger scale. All that is needed is sufficient political will: ‘Bringing together high-technology construction techniques and people who practise a craft is just as possible here in Belgium. As long as there is a shared vision.’
In the context of this exhibition, the Flanders Architecture Institute also organised a ‘rammed earth’ workshop last summer in collaboration with BC architects & studies and Case Design. The results of the workshop are presented in the exhibition: stackable elements that can be used to build a peace pavilion in Pune. Says Barclay: ‘The intention is to use the knowledge from the workshop to train pupils at Avasara to make the blocks themselves and then to realise the pavilion. This is how we help the school to build up an institutional memory.’
Case Design. The Craft of Collaboration reveals that architecture is a means and not an end in itself.
Since the exhibition was on display in Venice and Lausanne it has been augmented with new artefacts from an interior project in Mumbai; a water shelter and a boutique eco-resort in Zanzibar; a farm in in Kamshet (India); and furniture, lamps and objects from the Casegoods product family. They are all the result of dialogue and of bringing together different areas of expertise.
The exhibition Architecture with showcases recent creations from Flanders and Brussels in which the social engagement of the user or client is crucial to the design. Two cases, Zinneke in Brussels (Ouest en Rotor) and De Standaertsite in Ghent (ae-architecten, Carton123 en murmuur), show the specificity of the task and engagement of the client serve as a breeding ground for carefully considered architectural choices.Exhibition | Architecture with Download press images
Case Design. The Craft of Collaboration
Flanders Architecture Institute
(Desguinlei 25, 2018 Antwerp)
from 17.10.2019 to 19.01.2020
open wo → zo / 2→ 6 pm and during evening performances until 10 pm
closed on Monday/Tuesday
opening on 16.10.2019 at 8 pm