17th May to 30th July 2010

The main title of the exhibition – URBS PICTUS (Urban Picture) – refers to the book Orbis Sensualium Pictus (The World Explained in Pictures) from the Czech author Jan Amos Komenský. First published in 1658, the book became widely influential in that it was one of the first printed picture books intended to educate children about the various facets of the world with the aid of illustrated tableaus in the manner of an encyclopedia. Things, phenomena, and notions are shown in descending scales, beginning with God and an inventory of the celestial realm, continuing through subjects such as geometry, natural history, botany, and geography, and concluding with the city and its architectonic constitution.

Moved by this historical precedent of viewing the world systematically, the exhibition is conceived as a spatial dialogue struck between two related scales of looking at and seeing our increasingly fabricated world – panorama & miniature. One wall presents a series of panoramic urban portraits taken by Alexandra Heese between 2003 and 2009 from Buenos Aires, Zürich, Edinburgh, Shanghai, and New York City (top to bottom). Each horizontal series presents a select view manipulated by varying degrees of intervention, ranging from calibrated desaturation and perspectival correction to eliminate distortion of the third vanishing point, to a multi-laminated layering of competing views of the same panorama. Such interventions are intended to call attention not only to the constructed nature of visual information, but also to the assembled means by which we see the world. The other wall presents a select sequence of miniature tableaus produced by Cary Siress between 1990 and 2009 that document work conducted in universities located in the respective cities from the panorama series. Each panel shows a ‘visual lesson’ that was specifically devised to teach young architecture students at early phases of their design education. These customized didactic tools dispute a convention of habit that continues to view the World passively as a natural or given ‘source’ of knowledge, and encourage instead active engagement with the world as a ‘resource’ for thinking and making worlds.

Together, the two collections work to index each other across different spaces and times. Silently spanning the panorama and miniature series is an invisible skein of relational ties between the large and the small, between city and tool, between place and practice. Although imperceptible, these ties, often short-lived, at times extended, are the non-material content of the exhibition, entangling authors, viewers, and worlds in the interminable play of looking and seeing anew.

Alexandra Heese, Germany

· Architect and Associate Director at ABH Architects GmbH, Munich, Berlin, and Frankfurt, 2009 –

· Part-time tutor in architecture design at the School of Arts, Culture, and Environment of The University of Edinburgh, 2008 –

· MBA, Strathclyde University, Glasgow, 2008

· Masters degree, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH), Zurich, 2004

Cary Siress, USA

· Architect and tenured faculty member in architecture at the School of Arts, Culture, and Environment of The University of Edinburgh, 2006 –

· Founding editor of the journal “Architecture &”, 2008 –

· Visiting Professor at the School of Architecture University of Nanjing, 2003 –

· Faculty member at Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH), Zurich, 1996 – 2006

· PhD, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH), Zurich, 2006

· Masters degree, Columbia University, New York, 1990

For a full slide show of images from the exhibition, click here.

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