My expectations are raised every time the AJ features an exhibition building. I hope to read a balanced and critical review, something that pays as much attention to the content as its packaging. The AJ hardly ever fails to disappoint.
Terry Farrell's International Centre for Life in Newcastle upon Tyne (AJ 29.6.00) is a triumph of architecturally and functionally diverse elements tied together by an overarching theme. We understand from the ar ticle the phasing of the project, the concepts underpinning its development, and the responses it makes to its multi-faceted urban and institutional context. But what about the exhibition? It is not enough to credit the architect with early involvement in 'developing the concept of the exhibition' and then to make the tired and cliched criticism that the 'space' inside the building is spoilt by the content. Has your writer ever considered that 'to celebrate' is rarely if ever an adequate purpose for an exhibition of this sor t? Engage, enter tain and educate is a much more likely agenda. Look at who the principal audience is. Look at what the best research in museum communications says about addressing it.
Whether architects like the fact or not, exhibitions are to be experienced from within, as communicative events, structured and paced by design. If the architecture is adaptable and facilitates and adds to the communication processes taking place, great. If it is overly expressive and obstinately distracting, however spatially interesting, it's bad exhibition architecture. All I ask is that, in future, your writers arm themselves with an appropriate critical framework before commenting on the exhibitions inside the building you commission them to review, and give some credit to the exhibition designers.
Dr Geoff Matthews, Hull School of Architecture