At a moment of social stratification and increasingly bitter divisions, a timely new exhibit at SFMOMA by Bureau Spectacular celebrates an architecture of egalitarianism. The exhibition, titled insideoutsidebetweenbeyond, showcases the studio’s drawings alongside a comic, When I Grow Up, and five three-dimensional models that explore “the communal aspect of urban life through surrealistic forms and situations.”
This is the first West Coast museum showcase for the studio, who was invited by the museum after acquiring some of the studio’s drawings in 2015. Known for envisioning architecture as a form of storytelling, Bureau Spectacular's founder, Jimenez Lai, is not only a widely-exhibited architect, but also a published comic book artist as well. Having done stints at both MOS and OMA before making waves of his own, the illustrator-cum-architect's inclination to narrativize is reflected in his architectural work.
His first graphic novel, Citizens of No Place, explored the role of fantasy and storytelling within the architectural profession in the form of Japanese manga-style storyboards. Beachside Lonelyhearts, an exhibit at the distinction-defying LA-based gallery Jai & Jai, was described by the artist as “a story remembered incorrectly, with thought fragments scatter over the walls, floor and ceiling in a desperate attempt to piece back together the fondest and most idyllic sense of warmth.” He also recently designed the new Frankie flagship in LA's Arts District, adorning the store with an evocative, trompe l'oeil façade.
In this body of work, the studio explores how architecture can be capable of rewriting sociological narratives and revealing societal values. In the way that a boxy skyscraper reflects an obsession with economic efficiency, Lai hopes to create forms striving for a “balanced democracy of creative individuals.” The models, reminiscent of his Coachella installation Tower of Twelve-Stories, could be similarly described as a cartoonish metropolis of tiny bubble-like spaces. Dr.Seuss-like cubicles are playfully stacked into towers that then become the stage for character development, relationships, curiosities and attitudes.
I am pursuing a career in Urban Planning and Design.