For their first major exhibition of the year, the Royal Academy has opened its doors to seven architects and architectural firms to redesign the interior of its main galleries. With their creativity and imagination let loose, the results are truly overwhelming with each room completely different to the ones either side.
Eduardo Souto de Moura has gone with simply replicating the gallery’s famous arches in reinforced concrete while the Chilean firm Pezo von Ellrichshausen has created a huge wooden sculpture that visitors can ascend either via a ramp or spiral staircase. Once at the top, the walled platform forces you to focus on the gallery’s impressive ceiling – something we’ve never really looked at despite being here countless times.
The Diebedo Francis Kere installation encourages interaction by providing coloured straws to insert into a honeycomb structure – a work that will continue to evolve throughout the exhibition. Grafton architects have chosen light as their theme creating rooms where a border of darkness encourages people to step into the light at the centre. Their two rooms are both revelatory and foreboding depending upon your state of mind.
One of our favourites is the delicate bamboo structure of Kengo Kuma that appears to weave and reach for the ceiling. The scent infused bamboo is soothing and this installation will encourage visitors to close their eyes and drift into a meditative state.
Our other favourite is a Li Xiaodong’s giant maze made from wooden branches with a contrasting brightly lit white floor. Navigating the maze reveals hidden alcoves and eventually a Zen Garden where the contrast is inverted with a stone floor and mirrored walls. It’s a constant journey of discovery and it’s a shame that it has to end.
This exhibition is a bold direction to take for the Royal Academy and the contrasting styles of the architects makes for an amazing experience. This is a remarkable show and an early contender for exhibition of the year.
Sensing Spaces: Architecture Reimagined is on at the Royal Academy of Arts until 6 April. Tickets are £14 for adults, concessions available.