Mark Pimlott
Mark Pimlott (Montréal Québec Canada, 1958).

Mark Pimlott is an artist, designer and writer, whose practice encompasses architecture and interiors, art for public spaces, installation, film and photography. He has taught architecture and interdisciplinary practice since 1986. He was Professor in relation to practice in architecture at Delft University of Technology (2002-2005), senior lecturer (2005-2009) and since 2009 assistant professor in the Chair of Interiors Buildings Cities. He is the author of Without and within: essays on territory and the interior (2007), In passing: Mark Pimlott photographs (2010), and The Public Interior as Idea and Project (2016). His articles and essays have been published in numerous journals of architecture, and he lectures widely on matters of the public interior, architectural culture, picturing, and representation.

Works include Neckinger Mills interiors, London (1988; 1994); Red House interiors, London (in collaboration with Tony Fretton architects 2001; 2004; 2011; 2014); restaurant Puck, The Hague (in collaboration with Zeinstra Van Gelderen architecten 2007); restaurant Son of a Croque, Amersfoort (2016); Apotheek Van Dijck, Bree (in collaboration with Hoek en De Wit architecten 2016); Guinguette, Birmingham (2000); La scala, Aberystwyth (2003); and World, a public square at BBC’s Broadcasting House in central London (2013). Solo exhibitions include Studiolo and 1965 (Todd Gallery, London 1995; 1998); Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen, (NAi, Rotterdam, 2005) and All things pass (Stroom, The Hague, 2008). The installation Piazzasalone (in collaboration with Tony Fretton) was shown in the Corderie dell’Arsenale at the 12th Biennale internazionale di Architettura di Venezia, curated by Kazuyo Sejima (2010).

Mark Pimlott studied architecture at McGill University, Montréal and the Architectural Association, London, and visual arts at Goldsmiths’ College, University of London. He is currently writing his doctoral thesis on the very extensive or continuous interior and the case of the 1960s core of Montréal’s ‘ville intérieure’, at Delft University of Technology.
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When you were a child what did you want to be when you were older?
When I was a child, I was interested in the deep past and the possible future, in archaeology, palaeontology, astronomy, and why things were the way they appeared. When I was six years old, I was in front of my house, in a suburb of Montréal, about 100m from a service road, a regional motorway, the tracks of the transcontinental railway, all running parallel to each other, and about 2km away from the international airport. I sat in a roped-off clearing, made for the pouring of new asphalt for the driveway. I was reading a brief history of the political situation in Egypt at the time of Tutankhamun, from the exhibition I was taken to see at the Musée des Beaux-Arts. I thought all at once that in that place, seeing cars and trains and planes all on their way elsewhere, and reading this ancient history, and imagining where I sat as the site of some archaeological dig, that all times and places were connected and could be felt in the present. I wanted to hold onto that feeling, wherever it might lead. Later, my parents drove across the continent, with me in the back seat. I observed everything, everything similar, everything different; and the land, everywhere.
What was your favourite subject at school?
I don't think that I was motivated by most of the subjects that were supposed to provide us suburban, white, middle-class children with a foundation, but rather by the special qualities of my teachers, particularly those of English literature. One of them initiated a small number of us to the joy of theatre. Special teachers, regardless of the subject, opened gates to wonder. There was also a very good local library, where I immersed myself books of painting, and natural history.
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Boue, 1996, Pool, 1994, Todd Gallery, London (Ph.© Peter White/FXP)
When did you realise you wanted to study architecture and become an architect?
It had been stimulated for a little while by advance publicity material for the universal exposition in Montréal in 1967, by photographs of models of pavilions and renderings, but it was precisely on my birthday of 30 April that year, on my first visit to expo67 (I visited many times over the course of that summer), that I decided that I wanted to be an architect. Expo67 also stimulated my interest in typography, information design and photography, and in other places. In a way, expo67 confirmed my earlier intuitions regarding the connectedness of everyone and everything, and offered a view of an urban utopia in the present, which was echoed in other parts of the city. I wanted to be part of all of this, to think it, to make it.
What was your educational path?
Education consists of education proper and that you receive from your peers and professional colleagues. Mine was illuminated by many experiences and people. I studied at the school of architecture at McGill University for three years, then worked as a designer with the architect Peter Rose, where I learned much more about architecture, particularly from my colleague Erik Marosi. From there, I moved to London to study at the Architectural Association. Then, after some time working for Jeremy and Fenella Dixon, beginning to make architecture with Peter St John, and talking and teaching about art and architecture with Tony Fretton––prodigious experiences––I left architecture. I felt, impatiently, and mistakenly, that I could not address the issues of appearances and representation in a substantive way. I felt that I needed to work as an artist, so I studied at Goldsmiths College, and made art. That study, at the beginning of the 90s, introduced me to theory, and deepened my critical thinking about buildings, cities, territories, and the condition of interior constructed by ideology, normative arrangements, and imagery. Art and its discourses allowed me to connect all of my varied interests, and gave me many ways to ‘speak’.
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La scala, Aberystwyth, 2003 (Ph.© Mark Pimlott)
How do you remember yourself as an architecture student?
I was completely committed, immersed. I designed, I wrote, I edited a magazine, I worked all night. I remember a kind of cockiness in my last year at McGill, and was probably unbearable. But I was happy there, and made wonderful, lifelong friends. The AA was more solitary, and increasingly, I felt more openly doubtful about architecture and the part it played in constructing normative conditions; I was also disturbed by the remoteness of the AA scene’s soi-disant avant-garde. In art school, I was at the side of art practice, making art, yet clearly concerned about architecture and its ways of appearing and communicating ideas. I remember myself becoming a kind of observer, a critic, at that point. The lifelong friends I made there, like Brad Lochore, were those who also felt as though they stood at a critical distance.
Who was the most influential person in your architectural education and why?
Over the course of diploma years at the Architectural Association, I was taught by Rodrigo Perez de Arce, who now lives and practices in Santiago de Chile. He taught us about the metropolis, about urbanisation, and its shaping of the urban subject, and this has never left me. The designs for which he was known at the time––the re-urbanisation of Chandigarh, and proposed interventions in Valparaiso, which were all drawn beautifully––were enormously sympathetic, modest, human. He listened so very well and patiently, and gave each of us the conditions to find our own way. At Goldsmiths, Jean Fisher helped me see both the condition and the viewpoint of the Other. She was a profoundly empathetic person, and edited the journal Third Text, which featured art made by those outside the white Western canon. Both Rodrigo and Jean set me on a good course, and I am indebted to them.
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Piazzasalone (with Tony Fretton), Corderia dell'Arsenale, Biennale internazionale di architettura, Venice, 2010 (Ph.© Christian Richters)
How do you remember your first built project? How has your architectural work evolved since then?
It was a country house in southern Québec, very much influenced by the Arts & Crafts movement, and Voysey, Mackintosh and Lutyens in particular. Yet it also retained some of the specific qualities of local vernacular building (colonial, both French and English). I was just learning, and although it was a lovely house, it was an ending to a period of my fascination with precise architectural expressions of a certain kind. In what I thought of as my own practice, I wanted to make architecture that was more precisely attuned to its conditions in which it was situated: architecture that would act as a framework for for people to understand where they were in the world, and what the nature of that world was. In the project for Tokyo International Forum competition which I designed with Peter St John (1990), the buildings’ expressions were mute, and the major public space was a sheltered proscenium through which the public might view itself, components of the Forum and the city beyond––in this case, a fragment of the Ginza district––in a state of constant movement and change.

When I left architecture, I made art that deflected attention away from itself, to adjacent contexts, such as Studiolo (1995), in which the gallery appeared as a picture of itself, and each individual work was ‘weak’, its identity contingent on its immediate context, neighbouring pieces, and ideas about the constructed ‘white cube’. Films like 1965 (1997) looked at the entire built environment similarly, as a complex of contingent relations and their fictions. My ‘return’ to architecture came about through public art commissions whose aims were similar: the wish to choreograph situations in which people could be in touch with their own memories and those of others––living and past––and through these perceptions realise their own agency and some kind of freedom. Guinguette (2000), a tangle of festoon lighting under a motorway flyover in Birmingham, imagined this space as one where one might ‘leave’ the city, and enter a zone of pleasure and release similar to those nineteenth-century gardens outside the walls of Paris. La Scala (2003) was a structure added to an ensemble of buildings in Aberystwyth, designed for the University of Wales in the 1960s, which reinforced narratives embedded in the original composition. These were grouped around a three-sided plaza, one side of which looked over the town, the landscape and the sea. I was reminded of the theatre at Epidaurus, and the piazza in Gubbio, overlooking and bound to their landscapes as representations of the World under the sky. Here, a library, theatre, student union and a tower (called the campanile) stood addressed the piazza (both names used by the architects of the project and known to users today). The project, all in concrete, had accumulated that negative sentiment that much 60s architecture in Britain had: it was hated; it had come to be thought of as an imposition, rather than the product of genuinely civic ideas that had been shared by the university, its community and the designers. I wanted to reconcile the present with its own past of human hopes, by extending the ensemble. I added a small structure, an apparently freestanding stair that I called La scala that stands askew on the piazza, a counterpoint to a stair that was cut into its surface that led down to the town. The underside of the stair became a loggia that faced the student union building.
The stair itself acts as a tribune, a place to sit, to feel where one is in the great world, and consider the gathering of buildings around this place and the aspirations that had formed it. Later, I made a plaza in central London called World, at BBC’s Broadcasting House (2013), whose paving stones featured the names of other places, grouped in constellations of associations. One read these names underfoot as one walked: a litany, a concrete poem whose varied rhythms might cause one think of those elsewheres, the events connected with them, of times recent and long past, and of the lives of those who lived there.
What are the key features of your architecture?
It might be best to describe my practice as one in which architecture is a protagonist in a wider field. This is reflected in my photographs, in which places, interiors, and the conditions of architecture are shown as scenes of human life and the systems and order that surround it. I make interiors and work for places, wherein these conditions and their fictions are prominent in the perceptions of people who engage with them. I use allusion to other experiences, times and places to reinforce people’s experience and consciousness of the present. I am very interested in representation, in appearances,and arrangements, and the significance of these in architecture, in the public interior and the urbanised environment, which proposes a great ‘interior’. Each project I make has a different form and medium because each situation, each set of conditions is different.

Writing, too, is part of my practice, and I write about architecture as an aspect of how the world is thought and made, and of ideas and ideologies that have coursed through it. My commissions in architecture ‘proper’ have largely concerned the interior, the ultimate realm of the conditioning, forming and fantasy of the subject. There, I have tried to draw the subject’s attention to ideas latent in the architectural setting, and to indulge the subject’s impulse to fiction, reverie and delight, such as in the interiors of the Red House (2001, 2011), whose salon and dining room, for example, recalled the deep idea of the interior, evoked in ceilings that resembled floating fabric; and whose very private spaces were designed to invite dreams of elsewhere and mortality. In the restaurant Puck (2007), the notion of dream-worlds articulated by allusive artefacts was offered to a large public. This work in the interior is focused on the imagination, interpretations and freedoms of the experiencing subject, but directed towards the private individual.
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Red House,(with Tony Fretton) London, 2001 (Ph.© Peter Cook)
How would you define your research?
My research is concerned with the ‘condition of interior’ and the shaping or conditioning of the subject in a totally urbanised environment. My books have looked at this at different scales, connecting the territory and its colonisation to the continuous interior, as in "Without and within: essays on territory and the interior" (2007), to the allusions and analogies germane to the interior proper, from the garden to the network, in "The Public Interior as Idea and Project" (2016). I am also very interested in the matter of attention as a basis for the beginnings of the project; in empathy; in appearances and images and their interpretation as means towards understanding the essence of what is around us. For some time, I have been writing about a 1960s ‘public interior’ in Montréal, the first element of a ‘continuous interior’––and now a fragment––of allusive qualities that bound it to the ideas of the city’s image of itself, its ‘interior’, both past and imagined.
Since 2002 you have been teaching at Delft University of Technology. You taught at the Architectural Association, Royal College of Art, Oxford Brookes University, Kent Institute of Art and Design [and McGill University]. What does teaching architecture represent to you and how does it influence your work?
Teaching architecture is a central responsibility in my life, probably the most important thing that I do. It is my work to help young people understand the responsibilities they will have, the people who will be affected by their work, and the environment, which now more than ever concerns the wellbeing of the natural world. I want to help them bring all of their intelligence, from their intellect to their emotions, to bear upon what they do. My work in education includes lectures on characteristics of architecture, and issues and positions I believe to be fundamental to its making, and design studio teaching. The lectures allow a large group of students to consider these fundamental matters together, while the studio teaching allows the possibility of directly questioning how one might act as an architect, both in collective discussion and individual tutorials. Like my own teachers, I try to help them get on the path that will allow them to do and serve the best they can. I suppose that the degree of reflection that one demands of a student, their attentiveness to the conditions of their work, its precision, the independence of their thinking, the situation of their thought within the efforts and experiences of others, reminds me to be demanding in a similar way in my own work, which is not an automatic or instinctive process. One must be acutely attentive to the conditions that present themselves to one’s work.
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Red House (with Tony Fretton) London, 2001 (Ph.© Peter Cook)
Which architects have influenced you the most?
I wonder about direct influences, but I do know which architects have affected the way I think about architecture and what it can do. Alvaro Siza’s work has taught me about how architecture can say things about the conditions in which it is situated far beyond the body of the work itself, and empathy towards patterns of life. Gunnar Asplund’s work taught me about the tenderness and humanity of building that is conscious of itself. Sigurd Lewerentz’s work taught me about another, almost tragic dimension to our acts of building, significantly. Alvar Aalto’s work taught me about the possibility of a positively weak architecture, which provided linking elements between people and the natural world. Frank van Klingeren’s work has shown me the idea of gentle accommodation of human discourse and the fundamentally political character of this. Peter Celsing taught me that this kind of accommodation can have communicative form. Lina Bo Bardi’s work has taught me that that generosity can be radical. Franco Albini taught me about expressions of the present and everyday life that were continuations of the utterances of the past, and the legitimacy of the present. And Ludwig Mies van der Rohe continues to teach me that structure and proportion and their embodiment in precise forms remain significant and noble and the domain of architecture.
How do other creative fields influence your work?
The other creative fields that communicate to me, and affect what I do, are literature, poetry, photography, painting, and (mostly classical) music. In my rather old-fashioned understanding of these fields, they offer, as gifts, interpretations of the world, and my heart is completely open to them; I feel a deep empathy and tenderness through them. I feel the world through them, and in my work, I want to serve that world, and want people who are in contact with my work to be alive to the world and their possibilities within it, and to the beauty of it all. In this sense, I am a Romantic. I am not, however, sentimental. If people were all alive to the possibilities of the world in their possession, they would be free to act, and this is profoundly political.
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World, BBC headquarters, London, 2013 (Ph.© Mark Pimlott)
In 35 years of practicing, which developments/ events so far, represent the biggest challenges you have faced in your career?
Early on, the values of neoliberalism as acted out within Thatcherism offended me deeply. The ‘vision’ of neoliberalism was one in which all of the common wealth and its palpable and immeasurable assets were stripped away and replaced with the worship of individualism, celebrity and money. It had its roots in Hayek and Rand, and has had the Anglo-Saxon world in a stranglehold for forty years. Its assault on what truly had value required a response: my thought that consciousness of the world one actually occupied might liberate the imagination and lead to some kind of radical agency was initiated then. That need is unabated. We are still living with and operating within neoliberal value-systems. Associated with it is the existential crisis we all face now, which is the collapse of biodiversity and its concomitant effects on natural systems that are driving global heating. As architects, we simply need to build and accommodate and provide shelter in better ways, immediately. We also must embrace the possibility of not building.
Along the way, what is the best advice you have received, and is there one piece of advice in particular which you would share with young architects and architecture students?
Jean Fisher told me that irony and cynicism are negative strategies and should be avoided, and instead, one should pursue positive, critical and generous acts. Simple and effective. I think she was channeling Agnes Martin, whose lecture ‘The Current of the River of Life Moves Us’ continues to remind me what is at the core of what one should be doing as an artist. As for any advice that I could pass on, I wrote something a few months ago, ‘a letter to a young architect’, a part of which was: “There are many kinds of person you can be. There are many ways that you can act in the world. Now you have the freedom to act, and you must use that freedom as honestly and responsibly as you can. Being responsible means serving things and people beyond yourself, your ambitions, your desires for self-expression or your idea of personal freedom. Being responsible involves the protection and respect of what and whom you serve. In this responsibility, you will find what you have to do.”
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Neckinger Mills (with Peter St John; Tony Fretton) London, 1988 (Ph.© FLorenzo Elbaz)
Is there a book which is of particular importance to you as an architect?
This is a question I was asked recently, and my answer was that there were many books that were especially significant over distinct periods. I suppose it is possible to weigh all of these up now, and say which book has been consistently important. It was a gift, a 1958 publication of the photographer Robert Frank’s The Americans. Frank, who was Swiss, received a grant, which he used to travel across the United States, sometimes accompanied with his wife and young son, making photographs of what he saw and experienced. It is a portrait of others, of the fragile world that shelters them, of struggles for life and existence and humanity. When architecture appears, it is a fragile artefact, a setting, something that is used and lived with. It can be modest and accommodating, or bereft or crushing. The book reminds me to be true, and to take care.
A project or building you would like to realise...
I would like to restore the core scene of Montréal’s ‘ville intérieure’, the ‘promenade des boutiques’ at Place Ville-Marie (architects I M Pei and partners, Henry N Cobb project architect, Vincent Ponte urban planner, 1962; 1966). It would re-animate a moment of the city’s life, its simultaneous hope and apprehension regarding what it might be. And it would re-create an important scene of my understanding of how the interior and the territory are bound by one idea.
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La scala, Aberystwyth, 2003 (Ph.© Hélène Binet)
An instance of architecture important to you:
One in which the lessons are abundant, and deserve returning to again and again. I will only speak of the twentieth century, of my time: the Woodland Cemetery by Gunnar Asplund and Sigurd Lewerentz, the Villa Mairea by Alvar Aalto, the swimming pool by the sea at Leça de Palmeira designed by Alvaro Siza, Museo del Castelvecchio by Carlo Scarpa. There are others, of course.
A piece of art important to you:
Capella Scrovegni, Padova, Giotto di Bondone, 1303-1305;
Oggetti in meno, Michelangelo Pistoletto, 1965-66
Something you remind yourself:
Be a home to others.
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Studiolo installation, Todd Gallery, London, 1995-96 (Ph.© Peter White/FXP)
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Piazzasalone (with Tony Fretton), Corderia dell'Arsenale, Biennale internazionale di architettura, Venice, 2010 (Ph.© Christian Richters)
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Red House (with Tony Fretton) London, 2001 (Ph. © Peter Cook)
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(Bed), Pound, Boîte, Handle, Higher Ground, 1992 (Ph. © Gareth Winters)
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