‘For me, architecture is primarily about people, about asking questions such as: who is the user? What is going to happen here? How can I respond to the users’ needs?’

Diébédo Francis Kéré

Following on from my last post – describing the interventions of two Parisian architects, helping the local populace interact with and re-claim their own environment – ‘Sensing Spaces:  Architecture Reimagined’ is a perfect counterpoint to this discussion.

The exhibition, held at London’s Royal Academy endeavours to highlight ‘the sensation of inhabiting built space, rather than the purely functional or visual aspects of architecture.’  Similarly to Petrescu and Petcou’s work (http://ameliacarruthers.com/2014/02/12/co-producing-the-city/), it’s people’s relations with architecture and space, rather than the buildings themselves which are the focus.  All seven architects, invited to participate, strove to remove the distance between body and space – reintroducing ‘physical exploration’ into the viewer’s interactions.

 ‘Space for an architect does not exist, so we design the limits that give the impression of space’

Eduardo Souto de Moura

I think the RA, and the architects involved, were extremely successful in this attempt.  The exhibition did change the way I thought about and experienced spaces around me, both in the gallery setting and then ‘back out’ on the London streets.  It was incredibly effective at promoting active participation and excited discussion – the quiet, reverential and timid gallery user was a thing of the past in these spaces.  Diébédo Francis Kéré (Burkina Faso and Germany) as well as  Pezo von Ellrichshausen (Chile)  actively encouraged viewer participation, dialogue and play; inviting the user to actively change and explore their spaces. Li Xiaodong (China) went so far as to create a maze; a cross between a Chinese forest, home and library to work your way through.  Some of the installations, especially Grafton Architects (Ireland), created entirely overwhelming spaces, awing the inhabitant at the sudden juxtapositions of light and dark, oppression and space.  This intervention created the most lasting impression; a complex and shifting environment, with a strange vibrational hum throughout the dark room, suddenly broken up by aggressive shafts of light and concrete as the viewer moves on.

 ‘There is a sense of pleasure in moving from darkness to light or vice versa because as human beings we’re cyclical.  How light reflects and how light is contained is the stuff of architecture.’

Grafton Architects

‘As well as enabling us to find greater pleasure in the spaces we inhabit, this exhibition will perhaps heighten our awareness of the sensory realm of architecture and thereby encourage the creation of a more rewarding built environment.’

Grafton’s space did just this – I was forcefully reminded of the beautiful spaces of my home city’s library.  Designed by architect Charles Holden in the early twentieth century, this too focused on the contrasts between space and light; open city streets – moving the user into a dark cloistered and shimmering entrance hall, and then on again, upwards round a bright white airy staircase to the upper levels.  I will certainly think again on the buildings, the ‘ever-present backgrounds’ which I inhabit. (For Bristol library, see: http://ameliacarruthers.com/2014/02/09/this-is-all-owned-by-you/)

‘As architects, we are always building in relation to something else.  What we create is not an isolated object but transforms and is transformed by what already exists.’

Álvaro Siza

A reoccurring theme in the artistic, architectural and academic events I write on, is a plea for ‘ownership’; encouraging viewers and participants to claim their own space.  Nowhere has this been more practically evident than in the responses to the RA’s architectural structures.  These involved, communal spaces instigated inherently personal and individualised reactions.  Consequently, I would merely like to offer the images which I captured on this day, and encourage anyone reading to visit and experience these spaces for themselves.  It is a thought provoking, at times disconcerting, but always exciting exhibition.

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