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Katherine Shonfield

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However much we might fancy ourselves as artists, architecture differs markedly from the other contemporary arts.

It inevitably carries hope for future change. This utopian optimism is as present in our anticipation of a new shed as it is in our disappointment when yet another monument to cynical mediocrity hits the skyline. So in any architectural forum worth its salt, the discussion of the past as much as the present carries this hope for the future, and it will be manifest in tangible terms - namely, a vision.

The Royal Academy is currently reconsidering its role concerning architecture in the light of a major expansion. As an august public institution it has the potential to carry forward this optimism. It is remarkable that in London, in particular, because discussion of its future is so atomized between baffling numbers of policy-makers and opinion formers, such positive 'hope' is given up to the isolated, individual 'visions'of architects.

This is one explanation for the puffed-up signature buildings we are currently offered. Public 'hope' is therefore atomized. It comes to land, unhelpfully, on certain disputed sites. So in the City, the Mappin and Webb site mattered desperately, but the grotesque building behind it did not. The paving in Leicester Square is endlessly fiddled with, while the Elephant & Castle turns into ersatz Shanghai with scarcely a squeak.This selfimposed blindness is something Londoners are expected to accept without a murmur.

There is also the 'problem'of architecture on public display.

Unlike other arts, it can scarcely ever be itself; it always represents something absent.

But in the context of London as a whole, including its history, proposals good and bad have the immediate excitement of a vision as yet unbuilt, present only in models and drawings. A key role for the Royal Academy might be as the promoter of such vision for London.

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