This experimental show proves there’s more to architecture than blueprints, detailed models and an abundance of health-and-safety red tape. Kate Goodwin, the Royal Academy’s architecture curator has invited seven contemporary architectural firms from across the globe to transform not just the RA’s galleries but also our perception of space. We often allow our daily existence to drown out what’s actually going on around us, letting the monotony of habitual practice blinker the potential for unexpected experience in our built environment.
Luckily there’ll be no chance of ignoring your surroundings in this exhibition as the architects Goodwin has chosen all dazzle the senses with their immersive site-specific installations.
The Chilean-based husband-and-wife duo behind Pezo von Ellrichshausen will transport you back to your childhood with their gigantic wooden installation. Part playground, part monument, ‘Blue Pavilion’ is a curious structure. Hidden within its four columns are spiral staircases that lead you up to a viewing platform for a rare perspective of the nineteenth-century interior. Here you get up close and personal with the gallery’s cornice decorated with gilded angels before travelling back down to ground level via a ramp.
From behind the curtains where Kengo Kuma’s work waits to amaze you, comes a faint inviting aroma. As you venture into the darkened space, you’re struck by a warm woody essence and wispy forms. Here your nose and eyes must do the work of your hands, as you navigate your way around warped bamboo to another room, where you’ll encounter a new fragrance. Inspired by the traditional Japanese ceremony kodo, Kuma’s nasal contest gives a whole new meaning to potpourri, with its sweet smell of unexpected revelation.
The West African architect Francis Kéré likes to work with materials typical to the area he builds in. For his double-ended pavilion that links two grand galleries, he’s used a honeycomb plastic that’s an integral part of London construction. Under the domes you can take stock of the show in the seating area and even get involved, like any good worker bee, by inserting coloured straws into the holes of this synthetic sanctuary.
Using a wealth of materials, the main galleries are altered by these architectural interventions that ooze dynamism and provide an alternative approach to typical customs. Hopefully the experience will stimulate your senses to realise there’s always more to corridors, lighting and the incomprehensible entity of space.
See our guide to Sensing Spaces here.
Architects featured: Grafton Architects, Diébédo Francis Kéré, Kengo Kuma, Li Xiaodong, Pezo von Ellrichshausen, Eduardo Souto de Mouro and Alvara Siza.