I went to an exhibition called Sensing spaces at The Royal Academy at the beginning of March 2014. The show is a collection of work from the most creative architectural minds from around the world. It gave us a new perspective on architecture and how we view space with a series of large scale installations. It’s a very interactive exhibition and relies on the participation of the viewer, during the show, we are encouraged to think about the bigger questions in response to architecture, how does a space make us feel? and What does architecture do for our lives?
In the show, commonly held ideas of what constitutes architecture are challenged, and the typical presentation of architecture in a museum setting is reimagined. Those buildings designed by Pritzker winners like Álvaro Siza and Eduardo Souto de Moura, and emerging designers like Pezo von Ellrichshausen. Kengo Kuma, Grafton Architects, and Diébédo Francis Kéré they also designed structures for the exhibition. Essential to all the work in the show is the idea that the entire built environment — not only buildings and not only those designed by famed architects — should be considered more critically by the average man. By heightening visitors’ awareness to their surroundings inside the museum, “Sensing Spaces” seeks to increase consciousness of the built environment beyond the museum’s walls.
Though “Sensing Spaces” relies on the talents of many architects, the exhibition is truly Goodwin’s idea and project. She conceptualized the show, selected the featured designers, and organized their individual contributions into a unified effort. She also kept a blog documenting the installation of the show, making much of the process open to public discussion.
Installation by Grafton Architects
Space used to be thought of as infinite, whereas spaces are defined and limited. Architecture can be seen as ultra defined space, constructions delimiting space for a functional purpose, whether for dwelling in, for carrying out rituals in, for playing in, for meeting in, educating ourselves in and any number of other uses. Exhibiting architecture is getting a new approach, looking specifically at how individuals sense spaces.
The spiritual places has been affected by – Le Corbusier’s monastic La Tourette, a convent chapel by Niall McLaughlin.
This structure is made of thin strips of bamboo attached together over spotlights resembling curling smoke.
This straw structure is truly incredible and really interactive, people are encouraged to build on what others have left behind with brightly coloured plastic straws, knitted and knotted together.
From my perspective, this exhibition is exploring :
1 What was that architectural experience and how was it achieved among visitors?
2 How do materials affect that? – soft or hard, concrete can feel warm, steel cannot. Natural materials, such as wood of course, encourage association with nature.
3 The effects of light and dark are not often made explicit – dark means the cave, shelter, night, sleep, enclosing; light is open, expansive but exposed.
4 How do we move through spaces? – walking, climbing, sitting, proscribed or random.
5 What does space itself mean? – inside, outside, the void, enclosed, open, infinite/finite, above, below.
There is of course a paradox in this exhibition – of being located in an ‘abstract’ place, ie a gallery rather than a ‘real’ place. This changes the relationship of inside and outside. It also makes the ‘architecture’ more of an art object, an installation rather than ‘real’ architecture.
The interview with Curator Kate Goodwin by Anna Kats on 28/01/14
What was the genesis of “Sensing Spaces”? How did you get the idea for the exhibition?
I’ve always been very interested in how one experiences architecture — there’s something very central about the physicality of being within a space and how our bodies respond to it. And I think that experience is difficult to communicate, so much so that often we talk about architecture through images and exhibitions. But that actual physicality of being within a space is so intriguing in architecture, and there’s something very elemental about it. I wanted to find a way of bringing that to the discussion about how spaces affect you when you are within them. One has an emotional and psychological response to that and it very much influences everyday life. But when we talk about architecture it often means practical, traditional, social trends. Its emotive power is something that is probably less commonly spoken about.
What do people stand to gain from a heightened awareness of architecture or the way in which space is constructed around them?
People do have responses to architecture, it’s just not something that is always in the foreground of our minds. We sometimes get more anxious in a particular place, but we can’t always understand the spatial element of it.
I think architecture can make you more present in time and space, and more aware of what you’re doing. It can be something very simple, like a very humble feeling that’s about comforting, about appreciation. And I think architecture can bring a great deal of joy to our lives. By being more aware of surrounding space, you also work better in that environment. You realize that buildings should be built for people, to make them feel comfortable in a space. That connection to the place you’re in, understanding the landscape — it’s a basic human need.
How did you select the architects represented in the show?
I had a long list of architects, but all the designers I eventually selected are very practically and functionally attuned. And yet, they all consciously think about how architecture might connect to the human spirit — be it through Feng-shui, a very strong sense of material, or a very strong sense of what it is to experience a place. They all come from very different places, and their diversity gives you different thoughts and perspectives, sometimes contradictory. I mean, some of these architects talk very much about architecture and objects that then become a spatial experience. And yet, someone like Kengo Kuma actively talks about anti-object. And I think if you contrast this, it opens up how you think about the nature of the architectural experience. I also thought a varied generational background — we’ve got highly acclaimed Pritzker Prize winners and also emerging practices that are used to working on a smaller scale — would open up discussion from different perspectives.
Were you inspired by any previous architecture exhibitions? Are there precedents for this kind of visceral exhibition? Or is this a reaction to the model-and-blueprint style of displaying architecture in the museum?
I have enjoyed exhibitions of architecture that use models and representations — they can be intriguing and engage your imagination. But this is a reaction to how we talk about architecture, and I think there’s a lot of value in other modes of discussing the built environment, other than models. You can talk about the sociopolitical aspect of it and so on. Instead, I was trying to think about how you can stimulate the discussion about experience and people around architecture, in a way that kind of empowers people to respond themselves to the space and their surroundings. I don’t know how they all will react, there’s no set route to the galleries — visitors are invited to explore. We’re giving them a plan, a kind of map, but I’m intrigued to find out which direction they really move in. Quite often we have reactions towards light, or towards the biggest structure. And I think it will be different for every visitor.
So no models and blueprints in this show?
None. It’s just the structures and a bit of information on iPads. I think we want to find out how people feel around buildings. The iPads have information about technical drawings and such — an optional extra for people who are intrigued by that — but the theme here is really the experience of architecture and what we might gain from understanding that.
Further Information (including architects and more images!)