3 December 2011

Building the Revolution at the RA

First a clarification, this is not about a revolution at the Royal Academy (that is not going to happen).

Rather it is an exhibition there on, to give it its full name, Building the Revolution: Soviet Art and Architecture 1915-1935.

The main exhibition at the RA is on Degas and there was a long queue for this but my interest is architecture so I headed to the top floor of the Sackler Wing where the exhibition is being held in one reasonable size room that is divided up to make more walls to hang things on.

Those things are mostly photographs of buildings though there are a few sketches too. The geometric drawings did interest me a little and they helped to set the scene for the time that the buildings were designed but it was the buildings that drew me around the room.

The buildings were grouped by type, e.g. housing, industry and leisure, and were accompanied by just enough text to inform and cause a reasonable pause.

The buildings were chosen for their architectural merit and were mostly modest unassuming buildings that you could easily walk past without noticing that was anything special about them.

Unless, like me, you do not walk past buildings without noticing their style and features.

The leisure section revealed a sumptuous retreat on the Black Sea. It's a little worn now but I'd still like to go there.

Perhaps it will be restored when the Winter Olympics go to Sochi in 2014.

I have a weakness for industrial buildings and there were lots of them in the exhibition.

One was a large power station, another was a bakery and others were a mix of light and heavy industries.

A particular favourite was a garage with a large circular section to represent a wheel.

Sadly I was unable to get a picture of this as photography is not allowed in the exhibition and there were always two or three red shirted guards patrolling and the opportunity to bend the rules never arose.

So here's the Central Institute of Aerodynamics and Hydrodynamics instead. This building also helps to prove the point about the subtlety of architecture as a casual glance would miss the curved walls, the tall window with the round window above, the roof balcony, and all that's just in one corner.

Building the Revolution is a near-perfect.

The subject matter is a nice mix of mainstream (architecture) and unusual (Soviet) that makes it approachable yet stimulating.

The photos (all by Richard Pare) are bold and tease out the point of the building.

The words tell you what the building is, where it is, who designed it and a little about the concept, and that's it. No poetic twaddle here.

These elements produce an exhibition that turns a room in to a captivating experience that swallows an hour or so of your time with practised ease.

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