26 July 2012

Four more exhibitions at RIBA

My visits earlier in the day to the Royal Academy and the Wallace Collection were mere appetisers for the main event, another visit to RIBA.

As with previous visits there was specific reason for going, there were two exhibitions that I wanted to see, but RIBA exceeded itself and provided four different and equally interesting exhibitions.

The first one was in the Library and covered the history and restoration of  in Brno.

I was disappointed to find the villa mid-reconstruction when I was in Brno in 2010 having walked out of town and climbed up the hill to find it. The display at RIBA almost made up for that.

The main display is in the Library itself and this is complemented (as the Library exhibitions usually are) by two display panels outside. And these tell you most of what you meed to know.

The four photos above show different aspects of the exterior of the house, there is the modest view from the road, two views from the garden that show how the house follows the slope down the hill and, finally, a view from the terrace area on the roof.

Other photos, like this one, show the immaculate interior.

The exhibition inside the Library tells the chronological story of the house from commission, abdication, desolation and now restoration.

The story is told through a series of period photographs with accompanying text. The two work together delightfully and the story flows like a story should and delivers a lot of information along the way.

The only down point is that photography is not allowed (they have a book to sell) and the Library was far to busy for me to accidentally forget that rule. I thought that I might buy the book instead, assuming that it would be little more than the collation of the photos and text, and while it was more or less that it was also about £12 so I left it alone.

I shall get back to Brno one day and next time I'll get a proper look at Villa Tugendhat.

Moving down from the third to the second floor, the spare landing space is used to tell us something about the legacies of major events in an exhibition called "After the Party".

Here the exhibition puts more emphasis on the words and each of the display boards has much to take in.

One of the facts that leaped out of me was that the Millennium Dome had 6.7m visitors in the year that it was open and was considered a failure and now, as the O2, it gets 2m visitors a year and is considered a success. That's the British media for you.

Elsewhere I learnt about bridges, arches, parks, regeneration, stadia and roads.

Among the stories told  was that of Crystal Palace. It's a story that everybody knows bits of and it was nice to be reminded of all the details, despite the unhappy ending.

Rounding this expedition off were maps and models of the London 2012 Olympic Park and surrounding area. This is a part of London that I do not know at all, the furthest east I have been is Canning Town and that was bad enough,so it was good to see hoe the main stadia relate to each other and to put that in the context of the Lee Valley.

The surprise exhibition was in the dinning room on the first floor.

Last time it was a display of Norwegian architecture and this time it was the Swiss who got a chance to show off.

This small exhibition is meant to be consumed casually by people with food and drink on their minds so we get lots of large photos and a few quickly read words.

The photos do what they are meant to do and that is grab your attention.

This is Alpine country and a lot of the architecture is suitably rugged, like this restoration of a chalet. Another scheme was a visitors' centre coloured white to match the snow that surrounds it. Inside the benches and tables are made from what look like unvarnished railway sleepers in recognition that all the visitors will be wearing ski boots and carrying skis, neither of which are particularly friendly to furniture and furnishings.

The one proper exhibition space, also on the first floor, held Design Stories. This told the story of the London 2012 stadia and was the main reason for my visit to RIBA.

I've come to expect a lot from RIBA exhibitions and this one was just as good as all the others, and for the same reasons.

They just get the level of detail and the mix of models, pictures and words right.

The centre of the room was filled with models of the main stadia and the boards on the walls provided further information.

On display are the fairly obvious Olympic Stadium, Aquatics Centre and the Velodrome, and these are joined by the Basketball Arena, Handball Arena, shooting venue, water polo venue and Eton Manor.

These are all individual buildings united in purpose and colour. Their designs vary greatly, however, as each sport has unique needs for the games area even if the supporters and services can be addressed in the same way.



One attention to detail that I liked was the use of Olympic Pink for the stands. This colour is now familiar on the underground and at railway stations.

The display boards had a common approach with each outlining the brief that the architects had and describing how they approached it.

The two recurring themes were legacy and sustainability. In some cases the legacy is to dismantle the stadium but even in this case the designs allow a lot of the parts to be reused in another building later on.

In some cases legacy means re-purposing, such as with the main Olympic Stadium whose future has yet to be determined.

One that is enduring in its current form is the Velodrome that manages to combine perfection of form internally with a sleek exterior.

And the display board gives you an idea of how they managed to do that.

So that was how RIBA managed to enrich a couple of hours of my life. They were four quite different exhibitions and each was curated expertly according to the content and the message that had to say.

I liked all of them and the Villa Tugendhat was marginally my favourite because I am a big fan of Mies van der Rohe - I have a Barcelona sofa in my living room. But the point is not that one exhibition was better that the other, it is that all four exhibitions work together to make an afternoon at RIBA something special.

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