Having missed out on an afternoon in London when the trains weren’t working the other day, it was good to have an opportunity to catch up on the exhibition I’d planned to visit. Arriving in good time for our weekend of fun, we made a bee line for the Royal Academy on Friday afternoon, finding a somewhat startling structure in the courtyard when we turned the corner: Cornelia Parker’s Psychobarn.
With so little historical knowledge at my fingertips, I can never resist the chance to show off the few bits I can remember. As I caught sight of the back I just had to reference “Potemkin buildings” then. (I hope you are impressed - but please, don’t ask me any other historical question, will you?)
This was the exhibition we’d come to see. Architectural drawings fascinate us both - plenty of straight lines to admire and the greatest skill of all, the ability to capture a three dimensional concept on paper in a way that can be interpreted and understood by others.
The minute I went inside the gallery - on the first floor of the “new” extension of the old, repurposed Museum of Mankind - I loved it. Light, airy and filled with interesting arrangements of models, sketches, technical drawings, sample components and photographs. The “drawing tables” allowed us to sit and pore over the detail, of which there was plenty.
Most of the projects were familiar to us both: The Centre Pompidou in Paris for example. But there were clever, smaller structures too, all with that imagination and flair that makes them so distinctive.
We were grateful that there was just a handful of other visitors and we had time to sit and read about the principles on which ideas were based. Here, the thinking which underpins the designs for Kansai International Airport: “Plans and sections are based on making a passenger’s route through the airport as logical and self evident as possible”. So obvious and yet the skill of achieving that together with all the engineering challenges, the aesthetics, the materials available and the inevitable budgetary limitations - wow.
I particularly liked the early planning stages of the new Whitney Art Museum in New York. Built on a site adjacent to the High Line in “old” New York, the initial shapes and spatial concept was taken from the skyline of roof structures and water towers, translated into broad shapes and three dimensional spaces.
As I admired the personal scribbles and sketches, I began to look more closely at the architectural drawings too, finding some fun details in there. Who are these people? Surely they are representative of actual personalities - here, IBM colleagues, I assume, since this was a project for a travelling exhibition pavilion for the company.
The label on the drawing was fun too - a bright and quirky injection of personality in a world of precision.
We finished with more recent projects - the Shard and others which are still under construction. All equally impressive and absolutely fascinating.
A bit more solid than the Psychobarn as well.