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Arni Haraldsson:
Firminy 1999

Contemporary Art Gallery, Vancouver
Dec 7, 2001 - Feb 10, 2002


Arni Haraldsson, East Façade (detail), Unités díhabitation (1959-67) Firminy-Vert; Le Corbusier, architect (1996),
transmounted lightjet print

With his photographs of mid-20th century architecture and urban landscapes in India, Israel and his native Iceland, Vancouver-based photographer Arni Haraldsson achieved international prominence. His work has been exhibited nationally and internationally. Over the past decade he has focused on the disappearing utopian vision of European modernism. Recent documentaries like Tower of Shade, Chandigarh, India 1996 have traced the impetus and waning of the modernist architectural spirit in countries outside Europe.

Unité D'Habitation in the town of Firminy, France is an extreme example. Haraldsson's current exhibition documents this celebrated building that was conceptualized as a "floating city". Commissioned in 1959 from the famous French Modernist architect Le Corbusier, Unité is built on pillars lifting it 18 stories above ground and contains 414 housing units.

Today, as Haraldsson puts it, Unité appears "awkwardly wedged into the hillside like a cruise liner run aground". One whole wing was closed down in 1982 and the building is considered to be in a dangerous state of decay by the local municipality. At today's rates, the cost of upgrading Unité is prohibitive. Former residents have claimed the building is unliveable due to a strong wind tunnel effect, but residents of the south wing refuse to abandon their homes and even continue to keep their children in a nursery school on top of the edifice.

© Mia Johnson