Sunday, November 21, 2010

Counterpoints and foils

click photo to enlarge
Counterpoint (v2) - 3. To set in contrast; to emphasize a contrast between (two things) by juxtaposition...
Foil (n1) - 6. Anything that serves by contrast of colour or quality to adorn another thing or set it off to advantage.
definitions from the Oxford English Dictionary

I often think of the shrubs, trees and other plants that accompany much modern architecture as the natural, random "counterpoint" to the man-made, clean, angularity of the buildings. It is no exaggeration to say that some contemporary structures do not succeed without the foil of foliage. Architects have long recognized this. The eighteenth century Palladian mansion with its light-coloured, sharply cut stone was often sited to be glimpsed through trees as the visitor approached, and Victorian villas are inconceivable without their surrounding laurels and conifers. But it is the architecture of the Modern Movement and later that most relies on the counterpoint and foil of trees and shrubs. Imagine what would be lost if Mies van der Rohe's "Farnsworth House" was stripped of its surrounding trees. And think how much better Norman Foster's "Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts" would look for some closer planting!

On my recent visit to London I came across a new building where the architect had seen the value of placing green leaves against the high-tech sheen of his construction. The City of London Information Centre by MAKE Architects replaces a booth of early 1950s vintage sited near the south transept of St Paul's Cathedral. It consists of a sharply folded stainless steel envelope made of 220 panels, a steel frame and glazed walls. There is little planting nearby, a "city sized" tree being the largest natural specimen. However, on one side, very near the perfection of the wall where it comes down to earth, is a closely cropped line of shrubs. The juxtaposition of this clipped, undulating natural form against the architecture not only worked very well in terms of the building and location, but made - I thought - a suitable subject for a photograph.

photograph and text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Canon
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 175mm
F No: f5.6
Shutter Speed: 1/60
ISO: 500
Exposure Compensation: 0 EV
Image Stabilisation: On