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Quiet pleasures, explosive oomph

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Alan Stanton and Piers Gough’s co-curated room at the Royal Academy blends photography, intricate modelwork and deft drawings with style, says Gillian Darley

The Architecture Room, Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, London W1, until 15 August, £10

Architecture is a focal point of this year’s Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. Straight ahead after entering, the Architecture Room occupies the first gallery beyond the central hall. As if to signal what lies beyond, artist Michael Craig-Martin has curated a display of large works in ‘photographic media’. Here, pictures of peopled structures including the Balfron Tower, Poplar, to the Chittagong shipyards in Bangladesh dominate, appearing all the more vivid in contrast to Michael Vogt’s disused turbine hall. The combination of works within the central hall creates an ideal anteroom to the entries awaiting visitors in the Architecture Room.

This year, the Architecture Room has been under the curatorial care of Alan Stanton and Piers Gough of Stanton Williams and CZWG respectively. Stanton says that the task had encouraged the pair to think about ‘sculptural, conceptual and photographic’ relationships between art and architecture. Gough points to architects’ responsibility towards the public and their duty to make ‘exhilarating’ work. As ever, the room accommodates an architectural Tower of Babel, yet the two emphases have melded well.

Each category includes a small subversive element so that, for example, the part of the display usually devoted to immense masterplans by high-profile practices is threadbare but supported by FAT Architecture’s aerial view of Lingfield Point business park in Darlington. It offers a dizzying, intriguing image that, though in theory a masterplan, could equally have been lifted from the pages of a Where’s Wally? book due to its graphic style. At the opposite extreme of such larkiness, the curators have not forgotten to extend a warm embrace to old professional friends with a tribute this year to Royal Academician, Leonard Manasseh.

Piers Gough has been true to his aim to show ‘exhilarating’ work. Several entries force the visitor to stop and stare and none more so than Tonkin Liu’s exquisite design for an enormous bridge flying a gorge. Displayed at the centre of the room, the intricate model was made by Millennium Models. Gough’s own ceramic model of a Maggie’s Centre care home sits squat and cheerful with a touch of the teapot about it, along with Peter Cook’s lively digital prints of ideas for the School of Architecture at Bond University, Queensland. For lightness of touch and seductive graphics, Birds Portchmouth Russum rarely disappoint. Their series of coloured drawings for Highlands Academy, Jersey vie with Sauerbruch Hutton’s Paris 19 print for the Fine Art prize (a gong of my own invention, I hastily add). Ian Ritchie’s deft etchings and pencil drawings by Paul Koralek are quieter pleasures. Where models are concerned too, less can often be more. Stephenson Bell’s bridge into Chetham’s School of Music, made in sterling silver and wood, is beautifully explicit, while a facade study and pencil drawing of Eric Parry’s Great Marlborough Street building is complemented by a model by Andrew Ingham.

The models provide ‘oomph’ and the low-level, curved display allows visitors to make the most of them. William Stanley’s organic, explosive model of
a Battersea Power Station chimney is glorious, while Gumuchdjian Architects’ Echo House offers a seductive vision of a family home on the Irish coast. The models made by Matt Ozga-Lawn and James A Craig for the Warsaw Institute of Experimental Film offer sheer sculptural bravura on a scale only limited by the dimensions of their containers. Lost within the world of the Architecture Room, it is possible to feel something of an anti-climax when returning to the labour-intensive, time-consuming, architectural projects that occur beyond these walls.

Offering a taste of the world beyond the walls of the RA are models of various stations along the Crossrail route, (Grimshaw, Hawkins\Brown, Weston Williamson), Chobham Academy (AHMM) and housing, both in Stratford (DSDHA). Photographs of recently completed projects include Stephen Marshall’s Rothschild Foundation at Windmill Hill, Hopkins’ Olympic Velodrome and Eva Jiricna’s accolade from the country of her birth, her commission for the university at Zlin in the Czech Republic.

Elsewhere at the RA the British seem indomitable, with prices for their work sky-high. This is all the more reason to note the skill and pluck in the face of depressing economic circumstances that many of the architects represented here show. John McAslan + Partners drive ahead that idea with a celebratory project, Haiti’s reconstructed Iron Market in Port-au-Prince, beautifully conveyed here by Millennium Models.

Gillian Darley’s ‘Vesuvius: The Most Famous Volcano in the World’ is published by Profile Books

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