Prada Poole. The Perishable Architecture of Soap Bubbles

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The literary magazine El Urogallo devoted its first issue of 1974 to a collective reflection on the contemporary human dwelling. One of the most thought-provoking articles in that publication was “La arquitectura perecedera de las pompas de jabón” [The Perishable Architecture of Soap Bubbles] by José Miguel de Prada Poole1. In it, the architect defended a new type of architecture, where the material of which it is made determines the duration of its own existence. The use of the word perishable in the title, as opposed to ephemeral– the most commonly used term in architecture for a short-lived structure—is a significant detail: the ephemeral does not last long, but the perishable collapses when its constituent material does.

Prada Poole’s text gave several reasons for why he saw the existing urban configuration as too rigid. In his view, economic and social structures made it

“last too long”,

rendering the city incapable of adapting to new, ever-changing needs.

Working from this premise, which encompassed the factors that shape the city and its buildings, Prada Poole constructed a narrative about the city of the future, based on what he called

“the three rungs of non- existent architecture”.

In this vision, the traditional city would undergo successive transformations and mutate into an intangible, momentum-less city, where instead of solid buildings there would be masses of foam that

“appear and disappear, joining and separating as needed”.

Each building would become a “bubble” defined by the physical and atmospheric conditions best suited to its intended use. The city as we knew it would give way to an

“intangible reality permeated by stimulatory waves”.

This evanescent, shapeless metropolis may sound like a chimera. However, perhaps Prada Poole’s narrative should be seen, not as a naive description of architecture, but rather as a poetic manifesto of his own work projected into the future, from where we look back on it today.

Antonio Cobo Arévalo

Prada Poole. La arquitectura perecedera de las pompas de jabón

La muestra del Centro Andaluz de Arte Contemporáneo toma como punto de partida el período comprendido entre 1968, año de las revueltas sociales de mayo en París, y 1973, cuando tiene lugar la primera crisis del petróleo. Es un periodo también significativo en el trabajo de Prada Poole marcado por las grandes obras de arquitectura neumática, una etapa que inició en el año 1968 con sus proyectos de investigación en Estructuras Neumáticas de Respuesta Variable (Smart Structures) y que terminó en 1974 (fecha también del artículo que da título a la muestra) con la construcción de la Pista de Patinaje sobre Hielo de Sevilla (Hielotrón), pues después ya no volvería a construirlas.

Tomando como referencia este arco temporal y teniendo el futuro como tema presente en la mayoría de los proyectos presentados, y que es recurrente en toda su carrera, los grandes apartados de su obra van configurando este período de trabajo que se complementa con algunos proyectos anteriores o posteriores:

1. Technological Optimism: An Open Perspective (1968).

As the tenets of the Modern Movement came under fire, Prada Poole developed his first architectural projects in an extremely polarized context. On one side were the architects who believed change was necessary but could not completely sever their ties to the past. They opted for a postmodernism that left the past behind but did not abandon it entirely, using it as a benchmark or springboard. On the other side were those who preferred to forget the past altogether and place all their trust in technology, convinced that it held the definitive solution to architecture’s difficulties with fitting in or adapting to society.

By that time, Prada Poole had already grasped the future implications of computing for the discipline of architecture. Unlike most of the architects who took an interest in computing in its early days, he did not see it as a mere design aid or tool. He believed that computing should be integrated in the building and become a part of it, as just another architectural element. It should serve to generate a new “computer architecture”, not merely designed with computer tools but a computer in itself. In this type of architecture, there should be fluid communication between the computer-building and its surroundings; the structure had to interact with the environment in a constant exchange of information.

2. Social Revolution: A New Idea of Collectivity (1971 y 1972).

In the latter half of the 1960s, numerous underground movements that took an intensely critical view of traditional life emerged throughout the Western world, primarily in France and the United States. All the various movements grouped under the “underground” heading had one thing in common: they were inspired by so-called “irrational philosophies”. Urban planner and writer Luis Racionero, guru of several underground movements that made a timid appearance in Spain at the time, claimed that these philosophies were merely different from, not contrary to, rationalism, and therefore just as structured, coherent and effective. In an increasingly technified world, surrounded by machines capable of automating most industrial and domestic tasks, people found themselves with more free time to consider new existential and philosophical questions.

This gave rise to a need for extraordinary events and new forms of freedom, laying the foundation for a revolutionary era. In this “new time”, some embraced a different concept of architecture: the shorter its duration, the greater its value. That handful of individuals began to view architecture as an event, celebration or festive happening, where the project was defined by the particularities of each place and moment: an apparatus of constant change, in which the architect was merely one of many agents involved in its configuration.

Prada Poole. Instant City. Ibiza, 1971
Prada Poole. Instant City. Ibiza, 1971

3. Energy Crisis: Inhabitable Apparatuses (1973).

In 1973, the world’s increasingly interconnected and interdependent social, economic and production structures were found to have a fearsome Achilles’ heel: energy sources. This weakness was revealed when the embargo proclaimed by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) caused fuel prices to skyrocket, triggering the first major energy crisis in history. The dependence of modern society on oil and economic structures called for an urgent revision of humanity’s relationship with architecture, and of architecture’s relationship with the environment. Prada Poole’s projects already saw architecture as a mediator in that relationship.

His proposals were not mere figures set against a backdrop, but apparatuses that interacted with both users and the surrounding environment in a constant give-and-take of energy. The Seville ice rink, better known as the Hielotrón, is the project that best illustrates this dialogue. That inhabitable apparatus had to maintain a tremendous thermal difference, subject not only to oscillations in outdoor temperature but also to internal fluctuations depending on how many people were inside the structure at any given time. The experiment succeeded, as the structure’s maintenance required less energy than any other ice rink built up to that time

Prada Poole. Hielotrón, Sevilla, 1973-76
Prada Poole. Hielotrón, Sevilla, 1973-76

4. The Visual Form of the Universe.

In several of his works, Prada Poole reflected on form as a general problem of knowledge. Wondering if it could be assigned a form, he imagined a flat, graphic universe, finite yet unlimited. To this end, he created various geometric and conceptual analogies based on a consensus about the large-scale isotropy and homogeneity of that world. Translated into visual language, this universe would look the same from every angle and in every direction.

In mathematical and geometric terms, its greatest implication would be a mathematical continuum and perfect symmetry. Tackling the problem in a systematic, orderly way, he began exploring a Euclidean model of the universe, bearing in mind that the material world, unlike the mathematical world, is discontinuous by definition. With this model as his starting point, he created a series of images of how the universe should be seen in ideal conditions, if it were truly as homogeneous and isotropic as possible. Those images were based on the assumption that there is no single representation, regardless of the chosen model, as it depends on the orientation of the axis of symmetry and its randomness or lack thereof.

Prada Poole. Palenque, Sevilla, 1992
Prada Poole. Palenque, Sevilla, 1992

Prada Poole. The Perishable Architecture of Soap Bubbles
Opening: March 28, at 20:00 h.
Dates: March 29 – September 1, 2019
Curator: Antonio Cobo
Space: South Cloister
Produced by: Centro Andaluz de Arte Contemporáneo (CAAC) and Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Castilla y León (MUSAC).

Notes:

1. José Miguel de Prada Poole, “La arquitectura perecedera de las pompas de jabón”, in El Urogallo, nº 25, january-february 1974, page 72-78.

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