6 September 2013

Richard Rogers RA: Inside Out at the Royal Academy of Arts

My ambitious plan to see three exhibitions in an afternoon started with Richard Rogers RA: Inside Out at the Royal Academy of Arts.

There simply are not enough architecture exhibitions and when they do come they tend to be part of a festival in which case they all come at once. The two notable exceptions are the RIBA galleries and the V&A architecture room both of which I visit regularly.

It was the architecture in general that compelled me to go to this exhibition rather than a specific interest in Richard Rogers, though I was obviously well aware of some of his major works.

I had been to architecture exhibitions before at the RA and while these were good they were either in the small gallery on the top floor of the main building or the even smaller space (a corridor) on the ground floor.

This was in the new building, Burlington Gardens, which backs on to the main building, Burlington House on Piccadilly. There is no walkway between the two but luckily Burlington Arcade is next door so I could walk between them without getting too wet.

The main part of the exhibition was spread over two main rooms. At first glance they were not that full but while the space in the middle with the models was quite uncrowded the walls were busy with photographs and articles.

Those photos and articles were very interesting and informative, which is why I spent so long looking at them, but one of the nice things about architecture is that it is a physical art and that means models.

The exhibition understandably had quite a lot to say about LLoyds, possibly my favourite building in London and this model in wood helped to put it in context from a perspective that you cannot easily see otherwise.

The LLoyds model is somewhat out of date now and one of the buildings that is missing from it is one of Richard Rogers' latest projects, The Leadenhall Building, which is just across from Lloyds on the other side of Leadenhall Street. This is under construction and is almost finished.

These two buildings, and a few others, were the exceptions that got built but most plans never come to fruition, that's obviously really as if you have six architects bidding for one project you get one building and five sets of unused plans.

On the plus side that means that there are more plans than buildings so there is lots of material for architecture exhibitions.

As well as the famous grand buildings there were several concepts for flexible modular homes.

Below is a suggestion for South Korea and while the houses might not look particularly remarkable, and they are not meant to be, I love the care and attention that has gone into the model, right down to the person fishing from the jetty.

Another nice thing about architecture exhibitions is the variety of material on display. Plans come in all sorts of shapes and sizes as do models. Then there are the elements of the design, such as a sheet of glass or a clever bit of steel engineering.

There were even a couple of models made out of Meccano and Lego.

This is part of a Lego model of the Pompidou Centre. It's a fascinating building and to see it represented like this was wonderfully eccentric and entirely in keeping with the mood of the building itself.

Back in the courtyard of Burlington House was an example of the prefabricated houses built in Oxley Woods, Milton Keynes designed to show case modern construction methods.

In the main exhibition there was a time-lapse film showing one of these units being built in 24 hours.

The main material is chipboard (after some clever processing) and the construction is not unlike building with Lego.

These houses, like the real ones in Oxley Woods, look fresh and modern and apparently they are very popular, the exhibition had testimonials from owners and data on the turnover rate.

The last section of the exhibition looked at Richard Rogers' involvement in the planning of London after he had been brought in as an adviser by Ken Livingstone (who understands London in a way that Boris does not).

I've chosen this map of London's green spaces just to show off how green it is around here. Ham Lands is the stretch of green along the bend in the river just to the West of Richmond Park which it touches at two points (Ham Gate and Petersham Gate).

My usual way of judging an exhibition is by how long I spent there. My detailed plan for the day allowed for an hour and I took two. There was an embarrassment of riches in the archive material (I guess architects are good at keeping records too) and it was presented in a genuinely interesting way.

To cap the visit off,I bumped in to actor Robert Benfield who I knew from several Orange Tree productions and managed a few words with him. He told me that this was his second visit there and he had gone back to read all the things that he had not had the time to read the first time. That's how good it was.

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