ARCHITECTURE ROOM WITH A VIEW
AJ/BOVIS AWARDS WINNER: BEST IN SHOW Future Systems National Library of the Czech Republic WINNER: FIRST-TIME EXHIBITOR Neil Deely Caela Floreasca, Bucharest
WINNER: STUDENT PRIZE Tobias Klein JUDGES Paul Finch, Chair Ian Ritchie RA Chris Wilkinson RA Murray Coleman and Nigel Hugill, Bovis Lend Lease
Year by year, the Architecture Room at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition offers a snapshot of the current British scene through the media of models, drawings, paintings, photographs and animations.
The big names are here, along with invited works by a handful of leading foreign architects - this year Frank Gehry, Tadao Ando and Lebbeus Woods are featured. More significant, however, is the light the show throws on younger practices and students who may be the stars (and RAs) of the future.
The AJ/Bovis Awards, to which the AJ has contributed £10,000 of prize money, recognise the excellence of new exhibitors.
This year architecture has a prime position in Gallery VI, immediately behind the central hall and halfway through the exhibition - at a point where punters who have come to lap up mainstream painting might be persuaded to look at something different. It helps that Gallery VI has been given a distinct and engaging character through the overall blue décor devised by Ian Ritchie RA who, with fellow Academician Chris Wilkinson, selected the 150 works on display. Ritchie has placed models on low plinths so the room looks less cluttered than usual and can be seen as a whole. The theme is the use of light in architecture, though this isn't always evident.
Perennial problems remain.
Some drawings are so high they can hardly be seen - but the alternative was reducing the number on show. As elsewhere in the exhibition, there are no captions, but simply numbers referring the visitor to the catalogue, which contains no information as to the status of projects shown. Paintings and sculptures speak for themselves but most architectural drawings and models, though sometimes works of art in their own right, are means to an end.
Ritchie and Wilkinson, like RA President Nicholas Grimshaw, are architects whose work has its roots in 1970s High-Tech (though all three have since moved on). The selection of work, however, is extremely diverse.
Back in the 1960s, Raymond Erith was a regular exhibitor at the Academy, representing a Classical tradition then very much in retreat. After Erith's death, his place was taken by Quinlan Terry, and this year it is the latter's son and partner, Francis, who carries the traditionalist torch with a superbly executed pencil drawing, a full-size elevation of a fireplace.
Though not in any sense traditionalists, Edward Cullinan and Richard MacCormac represent a strand in British architecture which has strong roots in the vernacular.
Cullinan's pencil drawings are a delight, as is MacCormac's rendering of the interior of his projected Maggie's Centre in Cheltenham - for once, this looks like a building designed to comfort. MacCormac shows a model of his latest phase of building at St John's College, Oxford. His proposed office building in Jersey is represented by a fine drawing by Peter Hull.
Piers Gough, whose work defies categorisation, exhibits a zany model of a housing scheme for the banks of the River Tyne, right next to Wilkinson Eyre's Millennium Bridge.
Like cardinals in the Catholic Church, Academicians never retire. The veterans showing this year include Leonard Manasseh and Trevor Dannatt, while the redoubtable H T 'Jim' Cadbury-Brown's drawings for one of the structures at the 1951 Festival of Britain have all the vigour of youth, and entirely lack the whimsical avour of much of the Festival's architecture.
It's hard to imagine how Norman Foster decides what to send in, given the range of his practice's work. In 2007, one might have expected to see Wembley Stadium but instead we have models of the Campus de la Justicia in Madrid, the Central Market in Abu Dhabi and the Clarence Hotel in Dublin, a new structure behind a retained period facade. The model of this is beautiful and informative, showing the way the hotel is configured around a dramatic central atrium; this is Foster on top form.
Richard Rogers, now in partnership with Graham Stirk and Ivan Harbour, is riding equally high this year. The terminal at Madrid's Barajas Airport was the 2006 Stirling Prize winner and is represented here by a genuinely informative assemblage of drawings and photographs that underline the place of this project in the Rogers catalogue - particularly its relationship to the Centre Pompidou. As RA President, Nicholas Grimshaw very properly has a modest presence: two animations. Explaining the genesis of Grimshaw's Southern Cross Station in Melbourne, they are as entertaining as they are informative. The last of the big names in the High-Tech tradition, Michael Hopkins, made his reputation with projects for great British institutions, but his practice is now decidedly international - reected here by his Cyprus Cultural Centre.
Animations and other digitally generated exhibits will undoubtedly feature increasingly in the Architecture Room in years to come. For the moment, models are probably the medium that non-architects find most helpful in explaining the workings of a building. Few recent projects of conservation/ re-use can rival John McAslan & Partners' transformation of the Roundhouse at Chalk Farm, seen here in Richard Armiger's wonderfully crafted and accessible wooden model.
Another approach to model-making is reected in the work of C J Lim. The model of a Nocturnal Tower in London is supplemented by his extraordinary Madame Delia's Suburban Roost, holding its own within a miscellany of paintings and pieces of sculpture in Gallery V. Two very different approaches among the younger generation are reected in Tobias Klein's Synthetic Syncretism_M, avoured with memories of Gaudí, and Safia Qureshi's Holy Trinity: Mgarr Launderette, Car Wash House and Slaughter House Annexe.
The latter is an enigmatic work, lovingly made. Neil Deely's model of the development of Caela Floreasca in Bucharest (designed by Metropolitan Workshop) is a winner, a clear exposition of a project that one longs to know more about.
Miniature models have been in fashion in recent years.
Gordon Benson's exquisite boxed presentation, depicting work on three projects in London and Dublin is an outstanding example. Equally appealing are Keith Williams' model of proposals for the RCA, Squire and Partners' presentation of a housing scheme in Deptford, and Sanei Hopkins' captivating, jewel-like presentation of proposals for Astley Castle. The scheme appears to involve bold but sensitively handled interventions into a country house, but there is no information on either the castle or the brief.
Just as enjoyable as a finely made object is Amin Taha's Footbridge 2, constructed from perspex and brass by A Models.
David Chipperfield's model of the Anchorage Museum is a lovely piece of sculpture, though reduced here to a series of rectangular aluminium blocks, so the nature of the building is not made clear. The two models shown by Will Alsop don't tell us much about the projects in question: he explains his work most persuasively with his paintings; formal models are not his thing. One of his works in acrylic is shown, a striking piece that could find a place in one of the other galleries in the summer exhibition.
In contrast to Alsop's expansive poetry of colour, Eric Parry's manner seems almost reticent, but the pencil drawing of the elevation of his 30 Finsbury Square project is a fine thing, while the model of Parry's project for St Martin-inthe-Fields, showing a small part of a very large scheme, appears superuous. Eva Jiricna eschews models altogether, showing a stair tread, the only building component in the show.
Fellow Czech architect Jan Kaplicky (of Future Systems) was the winner of the recent competition for a national library in his native Prague. The project has proved controversial, but it is reassuring to learn that the librarians in Prague, if not all the politicians, like it.
Kaplicky's model is sensational but the completed building should be the major work of a man whose inuence is far in excess of what he's built. The latter remark extends equally to Peter Cook and it is good to see his model - a colourful affair - for housing in Madrid, a city that is kind to British architects.
Another architect of major reputation, Tony Fretton, is represented by drawings for the new British Embassy in Warsaw and his proposal for the Leventis Gallery in Nicosia, Cyprus. Also welcome is the contribution of another under-built British practice, Birds Portchmouth Russum (a model of a 'nursery for the future' project). Stanton Williams continues to thrive, despite the abandonment of its plans for Sloane Square. The design of public space is an important aspect of the firm's work, represented here by a competition-winning scheme for the new St Giles Plaza, close to London's Centre Point.
Other familiar names feature: Allford Hall Monaghan Morris shows a project for the University of Amsterdam, Kohn Pedersen Fox exhibits a theatre in Perth, Penoyre & Prasad display its children's centre at the Moorfields Eye Hospital, O'Donnell + Tuomey shows delightful watercolours. One particularly arresting exhibit is the City Dress, submitted by highly regarded Sauerbruch Hutton. Its approach to the design of glazed facades, incorporating both low-energy devices and the use of colour, has influenced many other architects, and this can be detected in several projects in this year's Architecture Room.
One innovation in the 2007 show is the fact that a number of the works are available for sale. You can buy an etching by Ian Ritchie, in an edition of 10, for £180, or one by Chris Wilkinson for £170. A drawing by Laurie Chetwood is going for a mere £120, or the Piers Gough Gateshead model for £5,000. A recommendation is the C-type prints by Gillian Lambert of the house at Gallions Reach, for £380. She enjoyed spectacular success in the recent RIBA President's Medals and is clearly a talent to watch. And as ever there are prints of drawings by the everpopular, ever-prescient Louis Hellman (just £138 each), while two drawings by Paul Koralek of an extension to the Berkeley Library, Dublin look like a bargain at £450 apiece.
The Summer Exhibition has long been pilloried for its failure to reflect the contemporary scene and its tolerance of mediocre work by amateurs. With Tracey Emin, Gary Hume and Michael Craig-Martin now among the recently elected Academicians, these criticisms carry less weight (though the Academy may just be catching up with yesterday's fashions). The Architecture Room, in any case, always seemed out of kilter with the rest of the exhibition in that Foster, Rogers, Grimshaw and the like have been part of the Academy scene for years.
This discontinuity is no longer so evident: the work of Zaha Hadid, C J Lim, Will Alsop and others can be read as sculpture.
Given that the basic format of the Summer Exhibition - still popular - is unlikely to change radically, there are a number of ways in which architecture could feature in it still more meaningfully. A real theme for the Architecture Room each year - sustainable design, new design in historic contexts, the innovative use of materials - is one possibility, giving more coherence to what is shown. It is good to see work by leading international figures like Ando and Gehry, but both are widely published: examples of the work of younger foreign firms and British practices outside London would be more revelatory.
Couldn't some of the work shown at Burlington House travel to provincial venues? The RA is not a closed shop but it does, perhaps inevitably, have a bias towards the London-based establishment.
It can't be accused of neglecting architecture. It has a fine programme of lectures and symposia, and its next secretary and chief executive, Charles Saumarez Smith, is an architectural historian who commissioned excellent architecture during his time at the National Gallery. But there is still scope to make the architectural element in the Summer Exhibition a better vehicle for communicating with a broad, culturally aware public.
For the present, the 2007 show is there to be enjoyed and studied, with an Architecture Room that has certainly set a new standard of clarity and elegance - and inclusivity.