Scratching the Surface: New London Facades by London Architects At New London Architecture, 26 Store Street, London WC1, until 1 September
With the rise of parametric modelling in architecture and use of new materials, now is an exciting time for facades - a moment appropriately explored by 'Scratching the Surface'.
Unfortunately the exhibition does just that: while several of the 24 projects included have dynamic and imaginative envelopes, the exhibition suffers from lazy curation and a considerable lack of depth.
Each project is mounted on poster-board and affixed with screws to a clear, undulating plastic surface; itself a rather unsubtle facade over the white wall behind.
Drawings, renderings and text describe the projects, elaborating on design and construction challenges. Mockups provided by the curators give the materials a tactile, three-dimensional quality.
The projects vary greatly in both size and visibility. Some, like the Richard Desmond Children's Eye Centre, by Penoyre & Prasad, are both high-profile and well-published (AJ 26.04.07); others more discreet. Several of the featured facades demonstrate the latest technologies and (sometimes literally) brilliant new materials, and in so doing distinguish themselves from their surroundings.
Ash Sakula Architects' Peabody Trust Housing in Silvertown, for example, employs transparent GRP sheets over silver reective breather membranes to form a lightweight, rainproof surfacing that is both visually stimulating and inexpensive. Likewise, in the Gellatly Road house in Lewisham, Mangera Yvars Architects has designed a fractal cladding structure that is geometric and complex.
Other projects more strongly connect with local context and carry less bang.
Buildings such as Stephen Taylor Architects' three small houses on Chance Street are surfaced in glazed bricks, with explicit regard to neighbourhood vernacular. Similarly, muf used an innovative mathematical generation process to determine patterns in the bricks for its Lowe Building in Haggerston, creating surfaces that orient the building to its placement between a street and canal while maintaining a relationship to its surroundings.
Particularly delightful in the exhibition are the mockups, models and drawings that explain the designers' thought processes. In the Clapham Manor School, abstract diagrams of the exterior panelling help demonstrate the care with which dRMM approached colour maps. A sample of the charred wood for DSDHA's Potters Fields kiosks in Southwark is necessary for viewers to experience their oily black richness.
Despite the inclusion of such helpful artefacts, the curation of the exhibition feels haphazard. Though the projects could easily have been organised by building type or dominant material, they're instead ordered alphabetically by architect. Ultimately, the title of the exhibition seems more an apology than a clever play on words. Happily the accompanying book (Springer, 304pp, £20) has a substance that the show itself lacks.
Jaffer Kolb is a writer in London