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Insights > Special report


footsteps of his father and grandfather (both of whom trained as architects), Trinidad-born Kane blazed her own trail, when she was awarded a government scholarship to study in the UK. As part of the condition of the award, Kane returned to Trinidad, where she worked in the national housing unit for two years, while gathering research for her thesis on The Vernacular of Trinidad for Domestic Architecture.


When talking about the vernacular, Kane moves seamlessly between a discussion of French-Creole and Trinidadian architecture: an indication that language and building are fused in her mind. Explaining the linguistic variations between the Caribbean’s diasporic communities, she segues easily into a description of Trinidadian vernacular architecture, which was “originally a construction of earth and thatch that was brought over from indentured labourers. Over time, the use of timber became more [widespread], with the balconies and fretwork, both in the larger plantation houses, and also the smaller ones – you know, those lovely gingerbread [houses] with wraparound balconies”. Kane’s interest in the Trinidadian vernacular betrays not only her commitment to a postcolonial reappraisal of historic styles, but a deeper investment in materiality; in the building blocks of both architecture and language. In 2015, Kane designed a specific course for The Poetry School, titled ‘The Radiance of Materials: Stone / Wood / Glass’, which included a programme of tours to stone quarries, as well as saw mills and glass manufacturers. “I wanted people to look at the way the raw material transmutes into the built thing, the thing that everybody


LEAF REVIEW / www.leading-architects.com


in the world is looking at – the tiles and the surfaces.”


Both she and her partner, Michael Kane, specialise in a specific material (she in carpentry, he in welding), and received the Aluminium Imagination Award in 1999. “We were also the first people to specify Valser stone,” she adds “which Peter Zumthor later used [in the Therme Vals Spa].” A recent KMK project saw a six-storey residential block in Kennington built entirely from cross laminated timber “for environmental reasons – we’re trying to build as carbon neutral as


for the poem came from her early days as an architect, shadowing surveyors in empty buildings. “In one instance, I remember a house that had been cleared of everything. An old woman had lived there, and I could actually see the pictures that used to be there, ghosted on the walls […] I could see the traces, you know, those clues were there.”


If architecture is about materials, forms, and spaces, it is also about how we use those spaces, how we inhabit them, leaving traces of ourselves behind. The notion of dwelling has


of architecture that contains us, whatever us is.”


I ask Davies if he can offer one example of an architecture that’s poetic. “Sigurd Lewerentz's [St Peter’s] church in Klippan, Finland,” he says. “It's a beautiful church. It has very coarse brickwork, with very fat mortar joints all around as well. It’s got a rusty steel cross supporting the roof and a sloping floor to encourage people to go forward for communion. It’s completely raw and unaffected. It’s poetic in the thoroughgoing sense.”


“I WANTED PEOPLE TO LOOK AT THE WAY THE RAW MATERIAL TRANSMUTES INTO THE BUILT THING, THE THING THAT EVERYBODY IN THE WORLD IS LOOKING AT.” Fawzia Muradali Kane


possible”. When you become intimately acquainted with a material, she explains, “you start learning about the vocabulary that is completely specific, but also has a really poetic value. Seasoning of wood, we say, is simply the process of drying it, so that it has a particular moisture content. But the language is lovely.”


Informed design


An ear for the sounds and textures of words informs Kane’s poetry collection Houses of the Dead (2014), an experiment in building architectural space out of words. “Marble”, “frames of willow”, “malachite”. and “oak” coalesce on the page, “carry[ing] their rhythm beyond the house” and “making all surfaces alive”. Kane recalls that the impetus


been at the heart of the poetry- architecture complex, ever since the German philosopher Martin Heidegger wrote that “poetically man dwells”. Elaborating on this concept, architect and author of A New History of Modern Architecture (2017), Colin Davies, explains that “to be a human being is impossible without being somewhere. So being there, being in a place, immediately gives being a spatial dimension. If we say that poetry is an exploration of being”, he goes on, “then another aspect of everyday experience is interiority – we’re always inside ourselves. And the weird thing is, we can’t get out, no matter how much we try. You’re stuck in there, in an interior, every moment of your life. That’s a very architectural metaphor – in a sense, the human body is a piece


It is unsurprising that Davies should choose a spiritual site as an exemplar of poetic architecture. After all, as Lynch explains, the relationship between poetry and architecture was explicit in the ecclesiastic buildings of the Middle Ages, when “a cathedral was effectively a text, both through stained glass and through the sculptures of the saints. And when you read them in conjunction – when the light comes in through the stained-glass window at evensong, representing the second coming of Christ – then you get this transillumination onto the act of the act of the eucharist. It’s basically poetry”. Bricks may be bricks, and language may be language, but one thing is for sure; words and buildings have been speaking to each other for centuries. There’s poetry in that.


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