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Outstanding Royal Academy show ultimately falls short

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editorial

What do you get if you put Norman Foster, Will Alsop and Michael Manser together in a room? The results of this unlikely creative collaboration can be seen, from 11 June, at the Royal Academy's Summer Show. Charged with the task of selecting and hanging the entries for the architecture room, this high-octane trio has delivered a result which puts the past few years'offerings in the shade.

In fairness, the raw material was pretty good. This year saw an outstanding crop of entries, with the likes of Frank Gehry jostling for space with Massimiliano Fuksas, and a healthy sprinkling of unfamiliar names thrown in.

True, the collection feels as though it could do with a bit of an edit. But the problem this year is more to do with an excess of the smoothly competent than with the presence of anything downright embarrassing.Just how many perfectly-executed models of Rogers and Foster schemes does the public need to see? Nevertheless, the hanging committee has managed to make the collection look fresh by creating unlikely juxtapositions and putting quirky, first-time exhibitors in pride of place.

With models placed atop tall plinths, the exhibition has a three-dimensional verticality which is appropriately architectural, compared with the two-dimensionality of the rooms dedicated to fine art. And the Royal Academy has come up trumps, finally getting it together to label each exhibit properly, so that there is none of that tedious cross-referencing between catalogue and exhibit.

The result is a show which is accessible, exciting and appropriate to architecture - with one glaring fault.

Foster, Alsop and Manser wanted the exhibits to be 'at eye-height', a concept that appears to have been determined by the average height of these three men, rendering some of the models out of bounds to women, children, or those who are simply short. Do we really want to reinforce the message that, left to their own devices, our leading practitioners can create environments which are both beautiful and exciting, but which a significant proportion of the public will not be able to enjoy?

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