Brilliant! Sensing Spaces at the Royal Academy

Sensing Spaces - Pezo von Ellrichshausen

If you’re thinking of going to see the new architecture exhibition at the Royal Academy, Sensing Spaces (opening this Saturday), but aren’t sure if you’d like it, hesitate no more – just book a ticket and go. It’s one of the most enjoyable exhibitions I’ve been to in a long time. It’s about the human experience of architecture – how we react to it and how it makes us feel. It explores these things through a series of installations by seven architects, each one with a different take on the spaces architecture creates, and all of them challenging the imagination in different ways.

I’m not going to try and cover all seven architects in the space of a short blog post, I’m just going to concentrate on my four favourites; Li Xiaodong from China, Pezo von Ellrichshausen from Chile, Diébédo Francis Kéré from Burkina Faso and Kengo Kuma from Japan.

Sensing Spaces - Li Xiaodong

Li Xiaodong gives us neon-lit paths through a labyrinth built out of twigs. When you go in it’s disorienting; you can’t see the way out, nor how big it is (it’s pretty big), nor understand where you’ll end up.

Sensing Spaces - Li Xiaodong

You just keep on going, passing little rooms like monk’s cells along the way.

Sensing Spaces - Li Xiaodong

In fact you end up in a zen garden of rocks and mirrors and odd windows with strange vistas. It’s an unfolding story, like a Chinese scroll and it’s lovely. I went round it twice.

Sensing Spaces - Li Xiaodong

Sensing Spaces - Li Xiaodong

Almost as good is the installation by Pezo von Ellrichshausen (who are two people, Mauricio Pezo and Sofia von Ellrichshausen). It’s built of warm, fresh wooden planks and consists of three towers with spiral staircases inside and a ramp that you can walk up all the way to a small open-topped room just below the Academy ceiling.

Sensing Spaces - Pezo von Ellrichshausen

Sensing Spaces - Pezo von Ellrichshausen

Sensing Spaces - Pezo von Ellrichshausen

The interaction between the structure of the installation and the structure of the Academy itself is part of the fun – you get new angles on the ornate gilded angels and a close up view of them that would normally be impossible.

Sensing Spaces - Pezo von Ellrichshausen

Sensing Spaces - Pezo von Ellrichshausen

Diébédo Francis Kéré gives us a shimmering white tunnel to walk through.

Sensing Spaces - Diébédo Francis Kéré

Sensing Spaces - Diébédo Francis Kéré

Except it’s not going to stay white. There are buckets of coloured plastic rods which you’re invited to stick into the structure – by the time the exhibition ends it will be a multicoloured fantasy.

Sensing Spaces - Diébédo Francis Kéré

It’s meant to be a communal endeavour, like the communal work of the village women in Burkina Faso, seen in an excellent short film about the architects showing at the exhibition.

Kengo Kuma gives us a structure of lights and curved bamboo, like the mosquito nets Kuma remembers sleeping under as a child.

Sensing Spaces - Kengo Kuma

There are two installations,  Pavilion and Cave, one impregnated with the scent of of Japanese Cyprus and one the scent of tatami, the grass from which Japanese floor mats are made and which is the scent of Kuma’s childhood.

Sensing Spaces - Kengo Kuma

It sounds great, but I’m afraid failed the sniff test – though I did have a head cold at the time.

I just have space for a quick nod to Eduardo Souto de Moura’s concrete copies of door cases in the Royal Academy. If you want to know what else is there you’ll have to go and see for yourself.

Sensing Spaces - Eduardo Souto de Moura

The exhibition runs from 25 January to 6 April and it’s open 10-6 daily. Tickets are £14.

14 thoughts on “Brilliant! Sensing Spaces at the Royal Academy

  1. Pingback: A sunny lunch at Sake no Hana | Sequins and Cherry Blossom

  2. Pingback: My top five posts of 2014 | Sequins and Cherry Blossom

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s