CCAE, Douglas Street
As part of the Working with Fragility lecture series, CCAE welcomed British Architect Tony Fretton to speak at our Douglas Street campus. Working alongside James McKinney, Fretton is the principle of Tony Fretton Architects, a London-based design practice established in 1982.
Presenting to a packed audience, Fretton began by speaking about the event’s poster, which bore an image of the Lisson Gallery in London. He explained that, like many architects, he is most often concerned with recent projects and had not spoken of the building for several years. Bearing this in mind, he began the presentation with some of his earliest works.
However, rather than beginning as expected with a built project, Fretton spoke of a period of collaboration with a local performance group. Joining the project – with the expectation of working on set design – he soon found himself on stage, acting in the role of an architect. This strange twist unveiled a connection between these creative fields. Despite being quite different there was an overlap, as each in their own way made use of the same building blocks.
Occurring at a time where he admitted to feeling frustrated with architecture and its relationship to other art forms, this interaction appears, to the observer at least, to have had an impact on the way Fretton would view the world in his later works.
Over the course of ninety minutes and a staggering number of projects (twenty-eight in total), one word came to mind in each case; sympathy. Across numerous sites and programmes, each building manages to exhibit this common theme. The smallest details are considered in a way that exhibits a deep understanding of context and usage, and their relationship to the built and natural worlds.
While speaking on the British Embassy in Warsaw, Fretton drew our attention, not only to the preparations required by the embassy and the diplomats’ entrance, but to the building’s public entrance at the rear. Instead of a grim and functional alley, the space is covered by a canopy as a smaller reflection of the front entrance; both equally pleasing to the eye. The public are guided to the entrance through a garden route, bringing them around the structure and allowing them to experience the building’s exterior before entering.
From the rear entrance of the British Embassy to Faith House at the Holton Lee Centre for Disability in the Arts. The spiritual core of the centre, Faith House provides spaces for assembly and contemplation, with a strict nondenominational consideration. To use Fretton’s own terminology, it has a ‘calculated ambiguity’ which leaves it open to interpretation. The contemplative space, the ‘Room with Trees’, exhibits this. It stimulates the mind without carrying inherent meaning, allowing the viewer to apply their own significance. Set back from the rest of the building, it removes people from view, drawing nature back into the space.
At the other end of the spectrum lies Tietgens Ærgrelse, Copenhagen; set in the Frederiksstaden district against a backdrop of classical apartments and a grand church. Intended to complete the square designed by the original architect, the building is forced to mediate between two different periods and styles of construction. To do this, the new structure maintains the same materiality across its facades but alters the glazing proportions to blend in with the existing urban fabric.
Even after the lecture had concluded, it was these considerations that remained foremost in my mind. Across the breath of his work, Fretton has highlighted the importance of small architectural gestures and the effect that they have on our experience of the whole.