Cinema Paradiso

Ole Scheeren's flotilla of dreams for Films on a Rock

Text by Masoud Golsorkhi

Photography by Doug Bruce

Standing on a floating cinema in the middle of the South China Sea, Žižek comes to mind. In particular his idea that cinema's role "is to teach you, not what to desire but how to desire". We are near the very spot in Bond's The Man with the Golden Gun, where Raquel Welch, in a skimpy white bikini desperately failing to contain her heaving womanhood, emerged from the sea and on to the beach. Holding an oversize sea shell and sporting a giant scuba knife, she fell on her knees and succumbed to Sean Connery's masculine charm. Cinema is said to be the language of dreams and, as any 12-year old would tell you, dreaming is just like floating.

When the organisers of Thailand's Film on the Rocks festival asked Beijing-based German architect Ole Scheeren to conceive of an auditorium, he was both intrigued and perturbed.

"Being taken to such an absurdly beautiful place in the world, its obviousness is the first dilemma that you're facing. When you look around and everything is so perfect that there's absolutely nothing you can do [to improve it], and everything you do is immediately nearly a crime... I thought the least - but also the most - I could do was, in a fairly gentle way, to just put people onto the water. Let people float in this amazing ocean, this dramatic space in the middle of that lagoon on Kudu Island".

In keeping with the location, the inaugural festival, curated by British actress Tilda Swinton and Thai auteur Apichatpong Weerasethakul, had a dreamy out-of-focus remit. Film screenings (thankfully all in the open) were arranged around workshops by invited artists such as Tom Sachs. There were craft workshops and other non-conventional film festival entertainments, including a bizarrely effective rain dance by a spiritual healer. On the most glorious night, the local villagers were invited to join in with a funfair and screening of a Thai silent classic with all the dialogue dubbed live by a pair of impressive actors, impersonating the entire cast.

Ole Scheeren is one of architecture's rising stars. Having co-created the CCTV building in Beijing with Rem Koolhaas during his time at OMA, he parted ways with the father figure of critical architecture and set up his own office deciding to stay in Asia where impossible architectural dreams are more likely to come true.

A wiry German with intense eyes and an intellectual approach to architecture with pop star good looks, Scheeren has found a ready made audience for his work. Winning projects against big international competition has enabled unusual traction and big budget for such a young office. He has his name on Asia's equivalent of the Eiffel tower. Projects are dotted around Southeast Asia from mainland China to Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia. The groundwork to a mammoth complex in Malaysia's capital and one of world's fastest growing cities, Kuala Lumpur, has started. A skyscraper with a difference, it is a mixed-use building that has huge sections cut into its vertical edifice in the shape of a double helix. This opens into the street and contains 12 floors of hanging gardens, creating a huge insertion of public space into what is traditionally hermetically sealed and inward-looking. The project is due to complete in 2015.

How did an architect well known for gigantism approach the comparatively microscopic floating auditorium? Sheeren decided to use local skills and materials in its realisation. After touring the islands to see what materials and method could be sourced, he came upon the local fish farmer's technique that employs plastic foam blocks wrapped in mosquito nets and tied together with strips from old rubber tyres. The 5X5 meter blocks were then fixed together to create the auditorium. "Then I created these square modules on that basis. We planked them up and basically turned them into floating rafts. The multiplicity of these rafts came connected to the central pier section, so that it had a feeling of the random, an ephemeral gathering of driftwood in the ocean. I thought it was both pragmatic and also subtle in the way it would contextualise itself in that landscape".

An architectural statement that is at once fantastical and simple to the point of primitive. There and not there. A dream that came true, even if imprecisely and ever so briefly. But perhaps not. Sheeren intends to take the auditorium on tour. It makes a perfect temporary exhibition and show space. Its simplicity of construction being the ideal candidate to dismantle and ship. Keep looking out to sea  aand you may spot it floating somewhere near you.  

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