Flesh Wounds

This study of the façade of Tate Britain, London, involved the measurement and contour mapping of moments of damage created as a result of WWII bomb blasts. Carried out in 2006, and part of a wider investigation into the unplanned, accidental and unauthorised marks which accumulate during the life of a building. A study of traces, patinas and mark-making, this case study explored the idea of the incision – the mark which penetrates the surface.

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Built in phases since the 1890s, the Tate art gallery (now Tate Britain) was twice damaged in World War 2. The building retains the scars of these events on its western elevation. Becoming aware of Tate Britain’s markings becomes a matter of the way of seeing. Architecture is a social art, and there is no such thing as an “authentic” version of any building – only an evolving record of modes of occupation.

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Interventions (authorised and unauthorised) and traces of occupation accumulated during the life of a building can speak powerfully about a place; aside from the broad statements of the architecture itself, some buildings reveal themselves in surprising ways by looking closely at post-completion details, traces and marks. These post-hoc markings can affect the life of a building and provide insights to anyone careful enough to notice them. To what extent can the accidental, unplanned history of a building become an important, integral and legitimate part of that building’s essence?

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Is there a way in which unforeseen, perhaps even mischievous, amendments can be accommodated within the “purity” of the original structure? Is there a way in which buildings can be re-imagined and the wounds and scars picked up during their lifetimes can become assimilated?


Lead: David Littlefield
Location: London, England