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Royal Academy: ‘We want original ideas’

Royal Academy architecture programme manager Owen Hopkins talks about the new ideas contest and up-coming summer events

What are you and the judges looking for in the entries to the RA/AJ open call?
Teams that have thought hard about what makes the area north of The Royal Academy (RA) unique – the complex interactions between architecture, culture, commerce, history and external pressures. We are after entries driven by original ideas, and which are not afraid to be imaginative.

Sensing Spaces and the Richard Rogers exhibition formed a key part of the RA’s architecture programme; what else do you have up your sleeve?
We have just launched a busy summer programme which includes events and exhibitions. A new series called ‘Looking at London’ features Yinka Shonibare, Patrick Keiller, Lisa Jardine and Ian Martin offering different perspectives on the city, while the annual architecture lecture will be given by José Rafael Moneo Vallés. Eric Parry and Richard MacCormac are selecting the Summer Exhibition Architecture Room, and we have a great little show of Norman Shaw drawings opening in May.

Among its members, the RA has many leading architects; how are you promoting smaller firms?
The ambition of the RA’s architecture programme is to further debate and public understanding of architecture, which in broad terms is a benefit to architects. It is part of our ethos to give public platforms to new thinking, particularly from emerging architects or researchers; the Soapbox talks are central to this.

How do you describe the bond between art and architecture?
Both are fundamentally about creation: the act of bringing something into being. But architects are faced with a far wider spectrum of constraints than artists: function, budget, engineering, social aspects, to name the most obvious. Artists are far freer to chose what they engage with, or what they represent, in ways that architecture – an abstract medium – is unable to do. But the initial act of creativity is common – or should be.

You are a champion of Nicholas Hawksmoor (1661-1736) and are writing a book about him. What buildings would he be designing if he was alive today?
Hawksmoor would be working exclusively in concrete. Its expressive, sculptural possibilities would have been a real spur to his imagination. Denys Lasdun was a big Hawksmoor fan – as was James Stirling, but for different reasons. That’s partly why Hawksmoor is so fascinating; there is such amazing variety in how people have seen or been inspired by his work – which is really the focus of the book I’m currently working on.

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