The secret life of building sites: the show that puts cranes and cement-mixers centre stage

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The secret life of building sites: the show that puts cranes and cement-mixers centre stage
Model for the Portable Enclosures Program in Cedric Price’s McAppy report / © CCA
The secret life of building sites: the show that puts cranes and cement-mixers centre stage
Model for the Portable Enclosures Program in Cedric Price’s McAppy report / © CCA

From Portugal’s all-female bridge-builders to eye-popping behind the scenes glimpses of David Chipperfield’s Neues Museum, Building Site is the star turn of the Lisbon Architecture Triennale

A sleepwalking Olive Oyl steps nonchalantly between swinging steel beams in a 1930s Popeye cartoon, performing a death-defying aerial ballet high above a skyscraper construction site. On the adjacent screen, a Soviet animation from the 60s shows characters leaping on to a prefab concrete panel and being whisked up by a crane into the clouds, floating over a scene of mass workers’ housing down below.

The video diptych continues in frenzied jump-cuts, one screen continuously depicting the presence of steel beams thrusting into the frame of American films and cartoons of the 20th century, the other showing the ubiquity of flying concrete slabs in their Russian counterparts. It is a mesmerising sequence, opposing beams to panels, riveters to welders, skyscrapers to housing blocks. In both, the structural system plays a heroic role as the saviour of the mechanised modern world.

“We wanted to show how construction sites became places where national ideology and imagination were combined,” says Pedro Ignacio Alonso, who made the short film Choreographies with fellow Santiago-based architect Hugo Palmarola, on show as part of the Lisbon Architecture Triennale. “In the Khrushchev era, when prefabricated concrete-panel construction took off, these films were made to show people that panels were the bedrock of the new society, while in the US, the steel frame is depicted as the tool to build the country out of the Great Depression.” […]

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