24 April 2014

Delightful British architects exhibitions at RIBA

The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) building in Portland Place is one of my favourite exhibition venues in London. This is because I am keen on their subject matter, architecture, and because they compliment the main exhibition with other smaller ones around the building.

This time the main exhibition was The Brits Who Built The Modern World, which was also a short series of programmes on BBC Four, and this was supported by New British Works and also by a display of all the RIBA Stirling Prize winners.

But first I had to get there and as the weather was good that meant a bit of walking and I took the opportunity to revisit the magnificent Carreras Cigarette Factory building on Mornington Crescent. Changing fashions meant that it was almost vandalised in the 60's but a tasteful makeover in the 90s brought it back to its former glory.

I went up to the secondary exhibition first but that was only because it was on the gallery on the first floor which is where I expected the main exhibition to be.

New British Works, as its name suggests, showcased some modern works by British Architects.

These were shown as models with brief descriptions. There were about a dozen of them and they were all nicely weird. I love modern architecture like that.

I then went downstairs to a space that I had not been in before to see The Brits Who Built The Modern World. It was not a deliberate plan but seeing the exhibitions in that order worked for me, having seen what British Architects are building today I then saw some of the history of how modern architecture like that was enabled by pioneers.

The exhibition space was stuffed with pictures, articles, posters and more and models. The largest and most impressive was of Sir Norman Foster's Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation building.I loved this corner with its abundance of metal and straight lines.

Another Foster building on display was the restored Reichstag in Berlin. That reinforced the point of the exhibition that this generation of British architects built some of the world's iconic buildings and had an enormous impact on the directions that architecture took.

As I have come to expect with RIBA, the exhibition was rich in detail, very informative and well presented. So much so that I went around it twice.

Among my favourites were some pictures from the early post-colonial era. Among these was a photo of Dubai when it had just one tower and that was not very tall. Bringing that story up to date there was also a map of Masdar City, a new green-zone in Abu Dhabi which Foster is involved in.

Foster may be dominating this article, another accident, but he did not dominate the exhibition and there was plenty of space given over to other architects like Richard Rogers.

Once I had seen the exhibitions I wandered up to the top floor and the roof terrace to have a look across London and of the BT Tower which looked as though it was part of the exhibition.

My final stop at RIBA was to the coffee bar on the ground floor for a well-deserved latte. I managed to resist the cake.

I do not get to RIBA as often as I would like, mainly because it is not that close to any of the theatres that I go to regularly, and that is a shame as they always do great exhibitions.

One of the staff told me that they were remodelling the exhibition areas so I am expecting even better things in the future.

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