Soft Architecture

Katrina Beekhuis, Claudia Dunes, Richard Frater, Samer Hatam, John Ward Knox, Jeremy Leatunu’u, Shannon Novak, Jeena Shin, Sarah Smuts-Kennedy, and Julia Teale

Inaugural exhibition for Malcolm Smith Gallery, UXBRIDGE Arts & Culture

13 June – 16 July 2016

A building is more than a sum of its functions; it is an ideological edifice. By way of its presence, its architecture and design, a building communicates values and a vision. As the primary context within which we experience communal life, architecture profoundly impacts what is possible in its space—what it is that we do and how, the manner in which we socialise, and the way we contribute to wider socio-political conditions and contexts.

But what has softness to do with architecture? The Gallery’s façade, after all, is a concrete matrix. The term ‘soft architecture’ is expansive in meaning. It not only describes material qualities, but also evokes character traits. Like the wearing in of leather shoes or the shaping of aluminium foil, a soft something is receptive and yields readily to touch. Or like an inflatable out at sea, softness is sensitive and depends on its surroundings. From soft power to software, the notion of softness is counterpoint to permanent, inflexible and hard systems. In this way, and with an expanded definition of the architecture, soft architecture refers to responsive, malleable and transient structures. Indifferent to monumental gestures and skyscrapers, the softer side of architecture is attentive to social networks and enables responsiveness.

Architects imagine compelling futures and enjoy a particularly social role. It may even be said that theirs is an intrinsically social art form. Malcolm Smith Gallery is named after the late local architect and community stalwart. As a founding member of UXBRIDGE, Malcolm Smith envisaged a centre for his hometown that would be a beacon for the art and ideas of its day.

With a nod to its namesake, Malcolm Smith Gallery opens with an exhibition of artworks comprising of architectural references. Soft Architecture focuses not on architects or buildings, but rather concerns art under the curfew of architecture, of this Gallery’s architecture in particular. Some artworks are explicitly architectural, while others are speculative and performative; some play with the spatio-temporal qualities of the building, while others explore the building’s social mission. The artworks are deceptive in their simplicity, but the apparent restraint or lightness of touch belies their rigour. Taken together, they demand our presence and tune us into the often unnoticed physical context of any gallery show. Bringing our minds home to our bodies, and drawing us into the Malcolm Smith Gallery, Soft Architecture asks us to critically consider the ideas attached to this site.

This exhibition is an introductory, and by nature incomplete, catalogue of soft systems within local art practice. To be sure, it is intended not as an exegesis of the idea, but rather introduces soft architecture as a conceptual tool with which to think about our buildings differently. Curated for the opening of Malcolm Smith Gallery, the exhibition reviews the Gallery’s possibilities, its values and its vision. In the end, and by way of Soft Architecture, our aim is to offer a space for East Auckland with a sense of connectedness. As a gallery that is responsive to its local conditions, communities and contexts, we hope to actively contribute to wider intellectual, socio-political debates, and become part of a global conversation on contemporary art.

Thumbnail: Richard Frater, Anne, 2012.



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Soft Architecture
Edited by Balamohan Shingade, with contributions from Katrina Beekhuis, Lucinda Bennett, Emily Cloete, Claudia Dunes, Richard Frater, Samer Hatam, John Ward Knox, Jeremy Leatunu’u, Shannon Novak, Jeena Shin, Balamohan Shingade, Sarah Smuts-Kennedy, and Julia Teale. Designed by Helena Willes, and published by Malcolm Smith Gallery, 2016. Edition of 500
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Public Programmes

Eastern Art Express: Waiver, Flash, Deviate
Hana Pera Aoake, Matilda Fraser, and Olivia Blyth, curated by Taarati Taiaroa and Bridget Riggir-Cuddy
Produced in collaboration with Te Tuhi



Edward Hanfling, Art New Zealand, issue no. 159, Spring 2016, p. 47

Lana Lopesi, ‘Scepticism and Community: Considering Howick’s Malcolm Smith Gallery’, Pantograph Punch, 12 July 2016. Read online

Melanie Kung, ‘Waiver Flash Deviate at Eastern Art Express’, #500Words, 29 July 2016. Read online



For more photographs, visit Artsdiary

Balamohan Shingade