Architecture: A new twist in fashion

The V&A's new Spiral opens in 2004, and inside things will get even more warped.

If Daniel Libeskind's proposed "Spiral" extension to the Victoria and Albert Museum is the most controversial building in Britain, its contents, when it opens in 2004, will be just as likely to provoke a storm.

Barely a wall away from Queen Victoria's wedding dress, Clive of India's sword and the ornately carved bed of Ware, will be an exhibition featuring body piercing, S & M hoods, tattooing, and strange fashions. "The Spiral", without a curve in it, is a suitably weird outfit to house "The Body", the first exhibition planned by the curators for the new museum extension.

Daniel Libeskind gets the world's most sensitive sites: the Jewish museum in Berlin; the Felix Nussbaum museum on the site of the former SS headquarters at Osnabruch - in memory of a Jewish painter who died at Auschwitz; and the V&A. Even when the buildings are completed, curators battle over the contents. Two years after his Jewish museum in Berlin was completed, curators cannot agree which of three collections should be housed there, so the museum hasn't opened.

With the V&A searching for donors and sponsors for pounds 75m to build the museum extension, the project director, Gwyn Miles, wants to keep "The Body" under wraps. And what wraps! - a Vivienne Westwood bustier, hunchbacked dresses from Rei Kawakubo, padded underwear with built-in bellies by Georgina Godley, Hussein Chalayan tubes that hold arms rigid in surgical splints, and Alexander McQueen's fishtails for mermaids. And that is just the fashion victims.

The exhibition divides into "Chameleon" and "Ergonomics". In the Seventies, ergonomics meant kitchen worktop surfaces at the right height. In the 21st century it will be translated as 18th century chairs with names like "duchesse", "bergere" and "Marquise" that demonstrate the link between decoration, gender and sensuality. Saarinen's hanging basket called "The Womb" will be there. The "Chameleon" will explore changing the body form through transexuality and prosthetics. Aids, with its impact on mens' image will be scruitnised along with ageing. Gwyn Miles admits to being "unsure".

Unlike the body which hasn't changed much since Neanderthal woman straightened up, building forms have changed completely. Daniel Libeskind is the forerunner of this evolution away from four walls supporting a pitched roof. His buildings deconstruct, which isn't another way of saying that they fall apart.

Libeskind's Jewish Museum is profoundly unsettling. Entrances and exits are skewered and floors sometimes intersect windows. The route is sometimes oppressively low, and then soars into airless vaults of grey concrete that he calls the Void. The Final Void, a dead end lit by a sliver of light 22 metres high is a powerful place. In the Garden of Exile and Emigration 49 pillars are planted in the soil, so vertiginously leaning that the museum beyond appears to topple. Even empty, it draws thousands of tourists a week.

Many find The Spiral dangerously futuristic, with its faceted face "fractiled" as the architect calls his randomly evolving computerised patterns for interlocking ceramic tiles on the outside, that is his homage to Arts and Crafts. But the critics do not move him: "If a dog pisses on Notre Dame it doesn't mean there is anything wrong with the cathedral."

There certainly is nothing wrong with his immaculately conceived Spiral. Stretch out the paper cut model of the seven storied building (and Cecil Balmond, the engineer from Ove Arup who planned it with Daniel Libeskind, does it all the time like an origami artist), and the building emerges in one long continuous strip. Concertina it up again, and the walls bite into each other. Schisms and crags burst out in such a way that detractors said it looked like "imploding cardboard boxes". No wonder councillors from Kensington and Chelsea, who unexpectedly gave the go-ahead for the building, expected the floors to tilt. In fact, they are spirit level flat.

Of course the V & A will only use this showcase for contemporary exhibits, not most of their one million objects, many of them as old as 3,500 years. The museum will have to re-invent itself in the slip stream of The Spiral. Gwyn Miles and Daniel Libeskind are visiting museums to see if they can agree on how objects should be exhibited. So far they have only been to Frank Gehry's titanium Guggenheim at Bilbao which Gwyn Miles thought dwarfed the Richard Serra sculpture in the ground floor gallery.

"The epicentre of the Spiral is orientation, education and contemporary design," Gwyn Miles explains. Seven levels - basement storage, ground floor foyer for orientation to the rest of the museum with a computer print out of individual routes, three galleries and an education gallery fireproofed for hands-on work, and roof top glazed cafes with some of the best views over London.

"The walls that lean out," Gwyn Miles tilts her hand backwards like a Thai dancer, "need textiles and costumes - we have a remarkable fashion collection. Or chairs and products. Those that lean in will have video screens of designer makers. Catwalk fashion during London's fashion week, or furniture makers during shows. People like to discover how things are made.

Fewer showcases and more screen projections are planned inside the angular building. "Sure there are corners.What's wrong with corners ? We'll use them for interactive displays to let people find out how design works."

There is always a chance that the Spiral may never happen. pounds 75m is a lot of money. "It may be called the `Something Spiral'," Gwyn Miles admits, as in "Getty" or "Clore".

The Spiral has already been turned down by the Millennium Commission for lottery funding because the building was not distinctive enough. Heritage Commission also turned it down but now the V & A hope that the Arts Council will find pounds 15m. They haven't ruled out going back to the Millennium Commission for lottery funding, despite the fact that the project has passed its sell by date for the Millennium.

Culture Secretary Chris Smith, who doubles as Chairman of the Millennium Commission, is clearly impressed by Libeskind. He told The Independent on Sunday that he "adores the proposed extension to the V & A, and would like to see it emulated across the country." He has a chance to make his mark on modern architecture by underwriting Libeskind's pounds 30million Imperial War Museum of the North. The museum, designed like broken shards on a bleak site in an industrial park at Trafford outside Manchester, has been turned down for Heritage lottery funding. The doggedly determined Trafford Council have raised money from private sponsorship and the EU, but still need Treasury go-ahead.

The adjacent Lowry Centre, by Michael Wilford, in Trafford, which opens as a theatre in 2000, will be topped out by Chris Smith on December 3. The Lowry badly needs the Imperial War Museum of the North to be built across the canal; without it,the theatre will be marooned in industrial parks, office blocks and car parks.

It is another sensitive site for Libeskind. When the council launched its plan for a war museum in October 1997, it said it was fitting that its architect should be Jewish, born in Poland at the end of a World War which ravaged both his people and his country. His unorthodox coupling of history and philosophy to create his buildings is "daringly holistic", they said.

"Conflict has been a constant factor of the 20th century as the world fragmented," says Libeskind. So he imagined the globe broken into fragments and took the pieces to form the building - three shards - that represent conflict on land, in the air and on water." From their archives the Imperial War Museum will supply news footage, inventions, from the field telephone to Enigma and the Net, and vignettes with nurses, squaddies, and generals focusing on their experience of conflict and its impact.

What's more, the doors will open in 2002, beating the V & A by two years. Daniel Libeskind's logo on his letterhead, the medieval masons' sign for architecture, of two overlapping circles known as a rhomboid with an equilateral triangle in between, carries a strong message - his buildings do get built and he really cares that they are crafted.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pedro Pascal gives a weird look at the camera in the blooper reel

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Public vote: Art Everywhere poster in a bus shelter featuring John Hoyland
art
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

TV
Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in the first-look Fifty Shades of Grey movie still

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, centre, are up for Best Female TV Comic for their presenting quips on The Great British Bake Off

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

    Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
    Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
    How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

    How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

    Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
    Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

    Pop-up hotels filling a niche

    Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
    Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

    Feather dust-up

    A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
    Boris Johnson's war on diesel

    Boris Johnson's war on diesel

    11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
    5 best waterproof cameras

    Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

    Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
    Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

    Louis van Gaal interview

    Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
    The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

    The air strikes were tragically real

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns
    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

    Britain as others see us

    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

    Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
    How did our legends really begin?

    How did our legends really begin?

    Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
    Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz