30 November 2011

Forgotten Spaces at Somerset House

Forgotten Spaces is just my sort of exhibition, and I came across it by chance.

I was planning a visit to RIBA recently and found out about Forgotten Spaces on their website. I could not see it when I went to the RIBA buildings because this is being held some distance away at Somerset House, which is worth a visit by itself.

And, even better than it, the exhibition is in disused tunnels and coals holes under the cobbles courtyard that now plays host to one of London's many ice-rinks.

I would have enjoyed exploring those spaces even if there had not been an exhibition on.

To add to the amusement and sense of exploration Somerset House does not exactly go out of its way to show how to get to the exhibition, or even that it is on.

For future reference you go to the entrance nearest the river and head downstairs. There you find a world of brick and dark corridors. Think Gormenghast.


In the Stygian depths there are spots of soft light to draw attention to posters and models.

These illustrate some of the forgotten spaces of London, the theme of the exhibition.

Each forgotten desolate and derelict space has the prospect of a bright useful and sustainable future and the posters and models show how this could be achieved.

One of the nice things about the proposals is their variety. There are spaces for bees, vegetables, games, walking, resting, sleeping and working.

One of my favourite ideas, and one I really want to see built, is for an Urban Climbing Tunnel in Clapham where you climb, or abseil, down a shaft then crawl your way back to the surface.


There is something especially delightful about seeing this idea when underground. It kind of makes the point of how attractive that space could be.

One of the ideas is to rebuild the former BR station at Highgate that sits above the underground station there.

This came as some surprise to me as on my few visits to Highgate this year I've used the tube without realising that a forgotten space was there.

But that's what being a forgotten space means.

The exhibition starts in former coal holes that sit on the edge of the courtyard but then it gets braver and heads into a broad tunnel that goes right under the courtyard.

In the tunnel there are further recesses that could have been coal holes but it is more exciting to think of them as former prison cells.


Large pipes, sturdy pillars and weak lighting hark back to the tunnel's industrial past. These spaces once had a real purpose much like warehouses did before loft living was invented.

The sunken passageway around the courtyard does its best to join the exhibition by showing you how a forgotten space like this can be brought to life.

Perhaps the most positive thing about the exhibition was the number of people who were clever enough and interested enough to find it.

The place was really busy, mostly with twenty-somethings, and that bodes well for the future of all forgotten spaces, not just those on display here.

Forgotten Spaces is an exciting exhibition housed in an exciting place and it tells a positive story of regeneration and reuse. This may be the best exhibition on in London at the moment.

1 comment:

  1. thanks for the tip! Sounds like a good one

    ReplyDelete

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