Exhibitions & Public Events

Philippe Rahm: The Anthropocene Style
Thursday, Mar 29, 2018 - Saturday, May 19, 2018
Walter and McBean Galleries

Walter and McBean Galleries
SFAI—Chestnut Street Campus

On view March 29–May 19, 2018
Opening reception Thursday, March 29 | 6–9pm


Are architects responsible for climate change?

Is our comfort within buildings negating our future on earth?

Swiss architect Philippe Rahm is known internationally for groundbreaking work at the intersection of climate, architecture, and physiological space. Rahm’s newly commissioned exhibition for San Francisco Art Institute embraces the urgency of climate change to propose a roadmap for a field eager to adapt to and mitigate our changing climate.

Citing evidence that construction and maintenance of buildings account for nearly 50 percent of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, Rahm offers a new set of questions around aesthetic choice: By what process does an architect, a designer, and even a painter or sculptor choose a material or a color for an artwork? What are the criteria for choosing one material over another, one color over another? In the context of accelerating climate change, Rahm argues that properties such as effusivity, emissivity, conductivity, and reflectivity should guide these decisions—a development that inspired Rahm to coin the term Anthropocene Style, referring to a new decorative style specific to our aesthetic and environmental era.

Philippe Rahm: The Anthropocene Style is the first United States exhibition of internationally renowned Paris-based Swiss artist and architect Philippe Rahm. The exhibition manifests Rahm’s ideas surrounding the urgency of climate change through an architecture and design process that takes climate, atmosphere, and physiology as its primary material.

In Spring 2018, SFAI’s galleries will become a testing ground for Rahm’s experimental new interior design ‘fabrics’: emissive tapestries, effusive carpeting, and spectral light, all of which will be calibrated to interact with human body heat depending on external temperatures. The exhibition centers on a series of spatial and physiological audience experiences involving prototypes of tapestries, carpets, and other materials. Designed to shift the audience’s perception, the exhibition will also include didactic materials in the form of publications and lectures by the architect (video recordings of which which will be projected in the galleries).

Rahm’s exhibition models a design that integrates materials such as fabrics, lighting, and patterns into interior building design, a contrast to the spare, minimalist “white cube” style of the later twentieth century. Rahm argues that minimalist Modern architecture, which in its spareness often relies on artificial heating and cooling systems that use precious resources and produce harmful elements, has hastened global warming and is unsustainable for the future.

In his statement about the exhibition, the artist says, “Climate change is forcing us to rethink architecture radically, to shift our focus away from a purely visual and functional approach towards one that is more sensitive, more attentive to the invisible, climate-related aspects of space. Might not climate be a new architectural language, a language for architecture rethought with meteorology in mind? Between the infinitely small scale of the physiological and the infinitely vast scale of the meteorological, architecture must build sensual exchanges between body and space and invent new approaches capable of making long-term changes to the form and the way we will inhabit buildings tomorrow.”

This project represents SFAI’s curatorial commitment to addressing issues of vital concern to our community, and the world, through the imaginations and investigations of artists. It also furthers our goal, as an educational institution as well as a producer of exhibitions, of working with international artists and facilitating cultural exchange.

As Rahm’s first ever solo exhibition in the United States, we view this as a singular opportunity to introduce US audiences to one of the most progressive and vital cultural and design practices based in France. We believe this exhibition and Rahm’s practice is at the vanguard of thinking about the future of humanity in an era of rapid climate change.


Philippe Rahm is a Swiss architect and the founder and principal of Philippe Rahm architectes, based in Paris, France. His work, which extends the field of architecture from the physiological to the meteorological, has received an international audience in the context of sustainability. In Venice, Rahm represented Switzerland at the 8th Architecture Biennale (2002) and was included in Aaron Betsky's exhibition Out There: Architecture Beyond Building (2008). He has participated in a number of exhibitions worldwide including Centre Pompidou, Paris; Guggenheim Museum, New York; Canadian Centre for Architecture, Montreal; Manifesta 7; and more. He has taught and lectured widely, including the AA School in London, Mendrisio Academy of Architecture in Switzerland, School of Architecture of the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen, Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Cooper Union, UCLA, and more. His recent work includes the new 70-hectare Taichung Gateway Park in Taiwan, set to open in August 2018. Monographic books include Physiological Architecture published by Birkhaüser in 2002, Distortions published by HYX in 2005, Environ(ne)ment: Approaches for Tomorrow published by Skira in 2006, Architecture Météorologique published by Archibooks in 2009, and Constructed Atmospheres published by Postmedia in 2014.


Philippe Rahm: The Anthropocene Style is curated by Hesse McGraw, former Vice President for Exhibitions and Public Programs at SFAI, and current principal at el dorado inc, and organized with Philippe Rahm, Katie Hood Morgan, SFAI Curator of Exhibitions and Public Programs, and Robin Beard, SFAI Chief Preparator.

The exhibition is co-presented with swissnex San Francisco and supported by Pro Helvetia, Swiss Arts Council. Philippe Rahm: The Anthropocene Style is supported by Etant Donnés Contemporary Art, a program of FACE Foundation, developed in partnership with the Cultural Services of the French Embassy in the United States, with lead funding from the Florence Gould Foundation, the Helen Frankenthaler Foundation, the French Ministry of Culture and Institut Français-Paris. The exhibition at SFAI coincides with a related version presented during del Salone del Mobile 2018 in Milan, Italy, organized by the Swiss Institute in Rome. In 2018, the publisher Lars Müller will publish a book surveying Rahm’s work over the past decade, including the exhibitions in San Francisco and Milan.

SFAI’s Exhibitions and Public Programs are made possible by the generosity of donors and sponsors. Major support is provided by Grants for the Arts/San Francisco Hotel Tax Fund.  Program support is provided by the Harker Fund of The San Francisco Foundation, Institute of Museums and Library Services, Grants for the Arts, National Endowment for the Arts, Creative Work Fund, Elizabeth Firestone Graham Foundation, The Robert Lehman Foundation, and Fort Point Beer Company. Ongoing support is provided by the McBean Distinguished Lecture and Residency Fund, The Buck Fund, and the Visiting Artists Fund of the SFAI Endowment.


Walter and McBean Galleries, SFAI—Chestnut Street Campus
Tuesday 11am–7pm; Wednesday–Saturday 11am–6pm 
Closed Sundays and Mondays



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