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Gianni Botsford & Jim Stephenson's Collaborate on Film Series

5th Nov 2020

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Award winning architect, Gianni Botsford and renowned architectural photographer and videographer, Jim Stephens have joined forces on a series of films that explore movement, light and architecture. Gianni’s eponymous studio, Gianni Botsford Architecture, is renowned for the absence of a statement, the lack of an ego and the way they fit into the culture, economy and attention to detail in their projects. Jim Stephenson's work is hallmarked by a keen eye for human interaction with architecture and the built environment, be it the occupation of space or the traces left behind. His photography and films lean to a documentary style and he has cultivated a meditative process allowing for the agility to document the small, fleeting moments of people and light in architecture. A dynamic pairing, Gianni and Jim’s latest project uses the ‘House in a Garden’ (Pavillion) as a backdrop for fascinating time lapses over the summer solstice at the end of August studying the movement of light over twenty-four hours in several spaces. The result is a captivating study that we couldn’t wait to hear about in more detail from the pair. 

How did your collaboration on ‘House in a Garden’?

GB: I decided to approach Jim to collaborate with us following the making of the film called ‘Sunlight’ that Jim made about the work of my practice. Interviewed by Piers Taylor, we discussed the relationship between light and architecture, climate and context to reveal the process we have developed to create architecture of local adaptation. This film was made last December, and we discussed coming back to the house to record sunlight in the house and agreed to collaborate to shoot a series of time-lapses.

JS: Gianni and I had met a few times at various incarnations of ‘Studio in the Woods’, where a group of people came together for a few days in the forest to build experimental structures. Gianni was one of the team leaders, and I was there to document everything. In addition, we have a few mutual friends. One of them is Piers Taylor and we had been speaking about making short films about interesting architects - the first one we did was with Gianni and how so much of his work is informed by the movement of the sun.

Watch ‘Sunlight’ here.

How did your interest in movement influence your decision to explore this through time lapses?

GB: The earth is moving in relation to the sun, and its rotation and tilt create all the seasonal and geographical differences that exist. By recording this, as we have, we bring ourselves closer to an understanding of these ever-changing differences that influence architecture across the globe.

JS: Time-lapses are perfect for condensing a long period of time into something a bit more digestible. The key thing was to record the movement of the sun. We could have filmed the sun moving around the building all day, but we needed a means to put it into a 3-4min film people could watch, so this is the method we chose.

As an architect and as a photographer, you will have both had slightly different viewpoints. Did you find you approached the collaboration from different angles?

GB: There were certain aspects of the house that I knew through observation needed to be recorded in this way and I explained these to Jim. As a photographer he had to consider how to connect the various time-lapses to form a ‘whole’ for the project.

JS: There wasn’t really a lot of difference in the way we worked on the time-lapses. We set up the camera together to get the composition right, then we decided how often we wanted the camera to take a photo. After that it was just about monitoring them, changing the batteries and so on - most of which Gianni did as he lives nearby. Once we’d collected all the images, my job was to create a series of films from them, which is quite time consuming. I remember I did most of it in a hotel room in Istanbul while I was there for another shoot!

What was it about the summer solstice that interested you for this project?

GB: It is the extreme moment in our calendar when the sun is at its highest, from that moment on summer starts to become winter and the days change very fast.

You explored the change in light and movement across various parts of the house, what interesting observations did you come across?

GB: The constant change both surprised and brought the house to life. As I watched the house from above, it was reassuring to see the analysis we carried out to determine the form and organisation of the house being realised on a day to day basis bringing light into the house as predicted.

JS: One of the most powerful images from the time-lapses is the view at nighttime of the stars looking up through the oculus- this constant change and movement is harder to experience in real time but is brought to our attention through this process.

You designed the Pavilion with the intention of playing with light and movement, how did you achieve this?

GB: The original design process relied on a very careful and forensic analysis of the site to determine the optimal location of house versus garden. This was carried out using environmental software that is able to predict levels of sunlight and daylight throughout the seasons, and informed the design iterations leading to a house built where the shadow of the surroundings exist, but looking out to the places where the sun exists. Two courtyards and lightwells and the explicitly placed oculus created a range of light conditions throughout the day that negate the sense of being in such a tight urban environment.

What was your intention for this project?

GB: Our aim was to reveal specific experiences of the place and explore the relationship between time, movement and light. We have a diagram where the ‘internal spaces’ are lined in timber, and the ‘external spaces’ (which includes internal wet areas) are lined in white marble to reflect the light.

Do you have a favourite time lapse from the series?

GB: Not really… Looking through the oculus over 24 hours all the movement, the analysis, and careful thought encapsulates location.

JS: I really like the large one that focuses on the ceiling and the white wall in the living room, you really get a sense of how the sun explores the room during the day in that one!

Do you have any plans to expand the time lapse series?

GB: We think it would be interesting to expand the series to other projects we have built and have underway.

JS: Hopefully! It would be interesting to do something similar on other projects with Gianni.

A collaboration between two critically acclaimed artistic thinkers that is definitely one to stay abreast of as they continue to explore innovative, creative and exciting ways of presenting art and architecture.

You can watch the full video here.
A 'House in a Garden' is for sale, for the full tour click here.