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The Art of Architecture Exhibitions

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Edited by Kristin Feireiss. NAI Publishers, 2001. 144pp. £30

As the RIBA seems to have such scant commitment now to running a vibrant exhibitions programme, this new book should be required reading at Portland Place, writes Andrew Mead.

Kristin Feireiss was director of the Netherlands Architecture Institute in Rotterdam from 1996 until June 2001, and during that period brought real flair and intelligence to staging architectural shows. This book presents eight of them in detail, together with essays by half a dozen architects/ critics and Feireiss herself.

Though Jo Coenen's NAI building can be criticised on several counts, it does have a huge high-ceilinged exhibition hall (1,000m 2), so there is scope for spectacle as well as examining a subject in depth.The transformations that Daniel Libeskind and Morphosis made for their respective exhibitions - both inserting their own full-scale architecture into Coenen's hall - were certainly spectacular, though one of the essayists, Bart Lootsma, questions them.'The spectacle itself is threatening to become an economic end in itself, rather than either a cultural or social critique of the architect's work. . . ' But Feireiss says that for her, 'architecture exhibitions have always been primarily about conveying ideas and concepts, not about art'- and the book bears this out. In the shows devoted to the Dutch practice Van den Broek and Bakema, to architecture during and after apartheid, and to today's Japanese architecture and landscape ('Towards Totalscape', pictured), complex topics were tackled in a visually striking way - engaging the uninitiated without condescending to professionals. They make the memory of the RIBA's Florence Hall this year - where for almost six months the part that is still left for exhibitions had the same mundane display - seem all the more embarrassing.

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