Sensing Spaces

The Royal Academy in London has brought together seven architects around the world to transform its main galleries into a multi-sensorial experience. Although the exhibition has its strengths and weaknesses, it achieves its aim of making visitors aware of the different spaces they are walking through, feeling their limits and multiple qualities, taking pleasure in moving around different scales, densities, textures and grades of light. Grafton Architect`s installation is arguably the most celebrated by the critics, possibly because their approach is through the manipulation of light, and light is the architectural material par excellence, or as Le Corbusier put it in 1923: ‘Architecture is the masterly correct and magnificent play of volumes brought together in light’. However, in my opinion, the installation is deceptive and disappointing. On one hand, the materials used pretend to be something they are not, and the illusion of concrete is not even visually achieved. On the other hand, as the sunlight that filters through the gallery skylight seems to be not enough to provide the dramatic effect on the dark surfaces, clumsy supplementary artificial lighting has had to be installed alternatively. Accepting the limitations of not being real architecture, the rest of the installations prove to be much more compelling. My favourite installations are ‘Blue’ by Pezo von Ellrichshausen and Li Xiaodong`s beautiful snowy forest. ‘Blue’ is a massive pine structure that represents the essential elements of architecture: columns bearing an entablature. The visitor can walk inside the columns and, through spiral stairs, rise all the way up to the neoclassical cornice of the gallery. This impressive installation is a brilliant piece of temporary architecture. Real material, real structure, real feeling. Another awe-inspiring design is Li Xiaodong`s maze, made of twig walls and LED panels glowing on the floor, that really evokes the sensation of being disoriented in a still, isolated, silent place similar to a snow-covered forest at night. From my point of view, all the architects invited to the exhibition, to a greater or lesser degree, have succeeded in creating a certain atmosphere, an intangible controlled environment, which is what architecture is all about, except for Ávaro Siza and Eduardo Souto de Moura. They have designed a kind of tribute to the column and the doorway respectively but they have failed in their attempt to evoke any of the powerful and mesmerizing impressions and emotions they convey in their excellent architecture.


Diébédo Francis Kéré_02

Diébédo Francis Kéré_01



Pezo Von Ellrichshausen_01

Pezo Von Ellrichshausen_02

Pezo Von Ellrichshausen_03



Souto de Moura_01

Souto de Moura_02



Kengo Kuma_01



Li Xiaodong_02

Li Xiaodong_01





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