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Creation from Catastrophe – a modest show with a vital message

RIBA's Creation from Catastrophe exhibition
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From the Great Fire of London to flooding in Pakistan, the destruction of cities can present unique opportunities to radically rethink townscapes

Architects working from the bottom up, exemplified by Jateen Lad’s work near Pondicherry in India, can create a framework for social and economic change. From Pakistani architect Yasmeen Lari’s astonishing delivery of more than 45,000 relief structures in the aftermath of the 2010 flooding in Sindh province, to NLÉ’s Floating School in Lagos, a small minority of socially minded architects are pursuing community-based projects with a powerful agenda.

The architects presented in Creation from Catastrophe make for very odd bedfellows

Heartening though it is to see these projects given pride of place at Portland Place, the architects presented in Creation from Catastrophe make for very odd bedfellows. Curator Jes Fernie explains that the exhibition’s premise is to mark the 350th anniversary of the Great Fire of London. Christopher Wren’s magnificent  Plan for London after the Great Fire has been brought out from the RIBA Collections, along with fascinating proposals by Wren’s competitors. These include Valentine Knight’s plan to build a new canal from Billingsgate ‘to be erected or made out of Rubbish and the Ruins’ – the circular economy is nothing new.

RIBA's Creation from Catastrophe exhibition

RIBA’s Creation from Catastrophe exhibition

Source: RIBA Collections

Christopher Wren’s plan for rebuilding the City of London after the Great Fire of 1666

The exhibition jumps from  Wren to 18th-century Lisbon (devastated in 1755 by one of the largest earthquakes in history), to Burnham’s plan for Chicago (following the Great Fire of 1871), finally touring 21st-century post-disaster projects across the world.

The links are tenous, and this treatment leaves the impression of a superficial helicopter tour. The ground-floor Architecture Gallery at Portland Place has been transformed by Aberrant Architecture with a plethora of cork for the occasion. The result is more of a claustrophobic distraction than a backdrop to the exhibition content.

RIBA's Creation from Catastrophe exhibition

RIBA’s Creation from Catastrophe exhibition

Source: Heritage Foundation of Pakistan

Women’s Centre, Darya Khan, Pakistan, designed by Yasmeen Lari

Fortunately, an excellent series of talks accompanies the exhibition: Shigeru Ban this week and Yasmeen Lari and NLÉ’s Kunle Adeyemi in coming weeks. Just 25 years ago, this same space at the RIBA served as a knowledge hub for ‘community architecture’, showcasing projects such as Hunt Thompson Associates’ (now HTA and John Thompson & Partners) tenant consultation work at Lea View House in Hackney. Community architecture is nothing new, but its practitioners remain too few.

Creation from Catastrophe: How Architecture Rebuilds Communities is at the RIBA until 24 April

 

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