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Architecture, Experience and Thought: The Work of Tony Fretton Architects

At the Architectural Association, 36 Bedford Square, London WC1 until 31 October. (Catalogue £9.95)

Tony Fretton can be compared stylistically with David Chipperfield or Stanton Williams, but these practices have outstripped him in volume of built work, writes Gerry McLean. In compensation, Fretton has retained intellectual credibility (or at least has avoided over-exposure). For this, the aa has rewarded him by staging an exhibition of his recent work.

The exhibition takes in work carried out since the completion of the Lisson Gallery, and consists of designs for four arts buildings, two of which have been executed, and two private houses. The mounting of the exhibition is straightforward: monochrome photographs, immaculate ink- on-trace drawings and sketchy models.

The drawings stay within the strictest conventions of architectural representation but are entirely consistent in sensibility with the buildings; they demonstrate an approach to architecture as much as they evoke the buildings themselves. The architectural association is still a bastion of earnestness in an otherwise almost wholly ironic world, and these drawings, with the descriptive text which accompanies them, form a benchmark for engaged thoughtfulness and sensitivity unafraid of involvement in the building process.

The photographs are necessarily limited by the subtleties of the completed schemes and by the fact that the majority of the schemes are unbuilt. They are useful in describing sites, but for the buildings they are just compositionally elegant while the drawings suggest something more. In a lucid comment on one of the private house projects, Fretton remarks that while the house is 'formally systematic' it draws on the adaptations necessary in the design and building process which 'are completely transgressive of taste and sometimes have a beauty that comes by chance'. These interventions from the world outside the studio, not apparent in the photographs, are evident in the drawings and give them their force.

Gerry McLean is an architect in London

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