RIBA West Midlands had previously worked with Aedas, holding events at their Colmore Plaza offices – from strategy workshops with the RIBA President to LEGO workshops and drawing exhibitions as part of Love Architecture Festival 2012 – and I had always been a fan of their art programme ‘Aedas Presents’ that Kate Eagle ran with Charlie Levine.
Still, why Thrift? It’s a great chance to bring something unique and special to a public audience and is at the same time utterly relevant and every-day, touching on themes of art, investment and architecture.
While architecture occupies a fascinatingly ambiguous place on a sliding scale somewhere between art, culture & design, and construction & the built environment; aesthetics and commerce, its commonalities and symbiosis with ‘art’ and ‘culture’ are hard to overlook.
Just like arts and culture, architecture makes a crucial contribution to people’s experience of a city, the happiness and connectivity within communities and overall influence on aspects that make cities tick: social cohesion, crime, health, well-being, visitor economy.
But just the same, these major impacts are often invisible or intangible, and especially in cash-strapped times like these it’s fashionable to question expenditure on things that are often perceived as luxury, such as the arts, or good design – even if they are in fact part of the solution.
Thrift Radiates Happiness touches upon all those themes in one masterstroke.
It opens a central landmark in Birmingham City Centre, right at the heart of one of its cultural centres – alongside the Symphony Hall, the REP and the New Library – that has previously been closed to the public. By doing that it not only breathes life into a piece of urban fabric that has somehow become invisible to passer-bys, but also illustrates the opportunities that these empty gems can hold: they can be concert venues, galleries, theatre stages, film screens, dance floors, debating chambers.
It thereby alludes to something that is key to what architecture is in part about: being a purposeful, well-designed frame to be used and enjoyed by people through how they utilise the building and in turn shaping their lives. It shapes the experience of the space itself and whatever is happening within it, forms memories in a place that gives identity and character to a city and its inhabitants.
And even more, Thrift Radiates Happiness gives us food for thought on a very current topic: what is the worth of money, what do we invest in and why, how can we keep providing for arts and our environment despite the economic circumstances through partnerships, and which role do art and architecture play in providing meaning and shaping the every-day reality we live in?
Carina Schneider, RIBA West Midlands