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Philippe Rahm: The Anthropocene Style

As part of After Tomorrow 2018 and in a newly commissioned exhibition for San Francisco Art Institute (SFAI), award-winning Swiss architect Philippe Rahm embraces the urgency of climate change to propose a roadmap for a field eager to adapt to and mitigate our changing climate.

Citing evidence that construction and maintenance of buildings account for nearly 50 percent of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, Rahm offers a new set of questions around aesthetic choice: by what process does an architect, a designer, and even a painter or sculptor choose a material or a color for an artwork? What are the criteria for choosing one material over another, one color over another? In the context of accelerating climate change, Rahm argues that properties such as effusivity, emissivity, conductivity, and reflectivity should guide these decisions—a development that inspired Rahm to coin the term Anthropocene Style, referring to a  new decorative style specific to our aesthetic and environmental era. Philippe Rahm: The Anthropocene Style is the first solo exhibition of Rahm’s work in the United States. It manifests his ideas surrounding the urgency of climate change through an architecture and design process that takes climate, atmosphere, and physiology as its primary material. SFAI’s Walter and McBean Galleries at its historic Chestnut Street campus will become a testing ground for Rahm’s experimental new interior design ‘fabrics:’ emissive tapestries, effusive carpeting, and spectral light, all of which will be calibrated to interact with human body heat depending on external temperatures. The exhibition centers on a series of spatial and physiological audience experiences involving prototypes of tapestries, carpets, and other materials. Designed to shift the audience’s perception, the exhibition will also include didactic materials in the form of publications and lectures by the architect (video recordings of which will be projected in the galleries).

Rahm’s exhibition models a design that integrates materials such as fabrics, lighting, and patterns into interior building design, a contrast to the spare, minimalist “white cube” style of the later twentieth century. Rahm argues that minimalist Modern architecture, which in its spareness often relies on artificial heating and cooling systems that use precious resources and produce harmful elements, has hastened global warming and is unsustainable for the future. Rahm says, “Climate change is forcing us to rethink architecture radically, to shift our focus away from a purely visual and functional approach towards one that is more sensitive, more attentive to the invisible, climate-related aspects of space. Might not climate be a new architectural language, a language for architecture rethought with meteorology in mind? Between the infinitely small scale of the physiological and the infinitely vast scale of the meteorological, architecture must build sensual exchanges between body and space and invent new approaches capable of making long-term changes to the form and the way we will inhabit buildings tomorrow.” “This project represents SFAI’s curatorial commitment to addressing issues of vital concern to our community and the world, through the imaginations and investigations of artists,” says SFAI President Gordon Knox. “This is a singular opportunity to introduce U.S. audiences to one of the most progressive and vital cultural and design practices based in Europe. We believe this exhibition and Rahm’s practice is at the vanguard of thinking about the future of humanity in an era of rapid climate change.”

About Philippe Rahm
Philippe Rahm is a Swiss architect and the founder and principal of Philippe Rahm architectes, based in Paris, France. His work, which extends the field of architecture from the physiological to the meteorological, has received an international audience in the context of sustainability. In 2002, Rahm represented Switzerland at the 8th Architecture Biennale in Venice and was one of the 25 Manifesto's Architects of Aaron Betsky's 2008 Architectural Venice Biennale. He has participated in a number of exhibitions worldwide including Centre Pompidou, Paris; Guggenheim Museum, New York; Canadian Centre for Architecture, Montreal; Manifesta 7; and more. He has taught and lectured widely, including the AA School in London, Mendrisio Academy of Architecture in Switzerland, School of Architecture of the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen, Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Cooper Union, UCLA, and more. His recent work includes the new 70-hectare Taichung Gateway Park in Taiwan, which opens in August 2018. Monographic books include Physiological architecture published by Birkhaüser in 2002, Distortions published by HYX in 2005, Environ(ne)ment: Approaches for Tomorrow published by Skira in 2006, Architecture météorologique published by Archibooks in 2009, and Constructed atmospheres published by Postmedia in 2014.

SFAI’s Walter and McBean Galleries are open to the public Tuesday 11 AM – 7 PM and Wednesday – Saturday, 11 AM – 6 PM and are free.


Philippe Rahm: The Anthropocene Style is supported by Etant Donnés Contemporary Art, a program of FACE Foundation, developed in partnership with the Cultural Services of the French Embassy in the United States, with lead funding from the Florence Gould Foundation, the Helen Frankenthaler Foundation, the French Ministry of Culture and Institut Français-Paris.

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