Artist and architect Jason Sargenti has recreated a series of iconic buildings, both real and fictional, as birdhouses, and his work is about to go on show in Chicago. We find out what inspired the project and the thinking behind it.
Beautiful buildings inspire us, positively impact our mental and emotional well-being, contribute to the cultural identity of a society and can become iconic symbols that represent a region or a community. But some of us city-dwellers walk past them so often that they start to become invisible, and we start to take them for granted.
That's why The Architect's Birdhouses, a fun exhibition by artist and architect Jason Sargenti at PHX Gallery, really hits home for us. As Funko toys do with pop culture characters, these delightful creations distil famous buildings (some real, some from movies) down to their bare essentials, reminding us just what we like about them so much.
Each of the eight birdhouses is a totemic embodiment of architecture, design, or pop culture icons, including the 1989 comedy movie Beetlejuice, Philip Johnson's AT&T building, Hans Hollein's brass palm trees, and Memphis's Flamingo side-table. There's even one inspired by the legendary Manchester nightclub The Hacienda!
Interestingly, Jason created these birdhouses during the lockdown in 2020 using only materials available to him at the time. As the old saying goes, 'necessity is the mother of invention', which certainly was in this case.
"The motivation for making these birdhouses came from a desire to provide some contrast in my surroundings," the artist explains. "Initially, I would purchase ugly birdhouses and renovate them. My plan included distributing them to open fields around my rural Upstate New York community to provide homes for songbirds."
Eventually, though, the locals stole or used his renovated birdhouses as target practice. "The proceeding iterations, made during quarantine, were less for distribution to a hostile community and more to maintain my own sanity," he explains. "The resulting constructions are fantasies, speculations and inspiration that continue a discourse in speculative design."
Jason is a New York State-licensed architect with a body of built work in the private and public sector, an experienced university educator, and an expert generalist with skills in project management, building technology, historic masonry restoration, site planning, and sustainable design. He holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from The New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred University and a Master of Architecture from Rhode Island School of Design.
His initial entry into the creative world, though, was a little unusual. "My formative years were split between New York City and Florida in the 1980s and 1990s," he recalls. On weekends during the school year, my mother would drag me around South Florida, documenting the beach homes of money launderers and narcotics importers for a popular design magazine.
"During the summer, I would follow my cooler older brother around SoHo as he delivered 'fashion' to celebrity photo shoots. Like many who create things, I attended design school, where I was told my colourful creations were unrelatable and just plain terrible. My faculty was unwilling or unable to provide context for what interested me.
"It was only in the last several years that I began to piece together the historical context that exerted so much influence over me, that which people label generically as the '80s. My perspective is less a longing for the return to the age of decadence and more a feeling that there is fertile ground to mine for ideation."