What the architects Herzog and de Meuron call 'the waste products of a thought process' are set out on tables and stacked against walls at Tate Modern until 29 August (the transformation of the Bankside power station into Tate Modern was Herzog and de Meuron's work). A video projection gives you a notion of what it is like to walk round and through a number of their finished buildings. For the rest, you are offered chunks of roughly carved foam, models in cardboard, wire-mesh or wood, samples of wall finishes, etched concrete slabs, glass light-fittings, drawings, photographs and so forth. The things on show were created to assist the visual exploration of architectural ideas. Unlike professionally made presentation models, which are detailed, often flimsy and tend to play down sculptural qualities, most of the models here are sketches in three dimensions: solid, simple reductions of complex structures, things which try out an idea rather than represent a building in miniature. Some samples of materials and mock-ups of details (the biggest is a section of the web of girders that will enclose the National Stadium in Beijing) are life-size, so the scale of details and the texture of surfaces - the hardest thing to model convincingly - are registered. The whole affair is exhilarating; these 'waste products' take you close to the processes of the trial, error and tested variation which carry an architectural idea forward from its beginnings on the back of an envelope to its final realisation.
LRB 21 July 2005 | PDF Download