Sunday, 23 March 2014

Sensing spaces at the Royal Academy

I spent an enjoyable couple of hours in the rarefied atmosphere of the Royal Academy of Arts last week at the Sensing Spaces: Architecture Reimagined exhibition. Seven distinguished, international architectural practices were set the challenge of giving us, the viewer, a new perspective of architecture. The result was a number of large architectural installations designed to make us ask questions about space, light, structures, textures and materials – things we generally take for granted in our daily lives and don't ever think that architects need to answer when they are designing buildings.

You can see some very good photographs of this exhibition at Join the big picture blog which conveys an excellent impression of the installations. I found it great fun moving from one installation to the next and slowly immersing myself in each different experience be it moving from shadow to light, or climbing up a tower and then walking slowly downstairs via a ramp. Inhaling the smell of pine and pretending to be in a forest. Entering a darkened space lit only by spotlights shining light onto wavy twigs felt quite hypnotic and adding a plastic straw to an experimental sculpture made me feel part of the process not just an observer. On the way towards the exit I appreciated the film where the different architects explained the reasons behind their design decisions.

Entering Canary Wharf underground station
I thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience but then I began to wonder if I really needed to visit an art gallery to have my eyes opened to the built environment. I often travel around London from Canary Wharf underground station which is like a cathedral to concrete. It was designed by Sir Norman Foster and opened in 1999 and it was voted the 'most loved' tube station in a poll in 2013 which suggests I'm not alone in my admiration of this station. Once you have reached the ticket hall you then descend as far again to the platforms. As you walk through these vast spaces you can't help but be physically affected by the way the series of giant pillars relate with the soaring ceiling and contrast with the gleam of the floor and the matt qualities of the concrete walls. I find it all quite soothing so for me this station has all the qualities of an art installation while at the same time being something of great practical use.

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