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Royal Academy Summer Exhibition

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Architecture makes the most of its generous new space at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, with work that is less style, more substance, writes Gillian Darley

Works on paper (drawings and prints) by Eric Parry, John Lyall and Ian Ritchie catch - and please - the eye, as does a subtly textured etching of the Sugar House Lane Mental Health Centre by recent graduate Rob Houmøller. Even with the paper works, the display includes an extra dimension. A soft sculpture by Hawkins\Brown, a witty metaphor for the urban realm of Croydon, uses a zip to represent the main traffic route and fabric and trimmings to seduce. As a visualisation it works as well as, or perhaps better than, the usual crumpled balls of tissue or striated cardboard.

In fact, many of the other spatial imaginings (or visions, as they are often titled) fall back on cliché, failing to evoke any sense of dimension. I suggest that every architect heads for Room V, to linger over artist Tacita Dean’s three quite literally extraordinary Studies for Großsteingrab, Riesenbett II, Hünengrab II, which still hover in my mind’s eye, their illusory third dimension far beyond anything on offer in the architecture display.

Here and there, art and architecture do meet at the Royal Academy, fittingly enough. A collaboration between potter Edmund de Waal and architect David Hills, titled 5 Ways of Standing Up, suggests an easy understanding. I guess the repeating, rhythmic forms are de Waal’s contribution, while the handling of the oak and perspex pavilions is crisply architectural. In Room V, a fine series of steel etchings by artist Norman Ackroyd forms an external mural for Stanton Williams’ Sainsbury Laboratory at the University of Cambridge, for the study of plant development in the town.

Back on the model tables in the Lecture Room, Grimshaw’s scheme for a high-speed railway station outside Naples, beside Mount Vesuvius, elegantly evokes existing landforms while musing on that essential material, pumice. This volcanic rock is a gift of great fertility and utility to the region, yet it is also a symbol of menace. But my own ‘prize’ for clarity and exemplary presentation goes unequivocally to an elegant multi-layered presentation by Foggo Associates, which also has the (rare) generosity to credit its model makers. The practice shows the evolution - from Roman archaeology, upwards via a plethora of intervening structures - of the proposals for its Cannon Place office development in London, above Cannon Street Station.

My runner-up would be the Soundforms mobile acoustic-performance shells; variants on a refined structure beautifully executed by a group of Bartlett students and Armando Elias. Here, like Burd Haward Architects’ Casa-Movil holiday cabin in the Spanish Pyrenees, there’s a sense of architectural design embracing and welcoming a viable, if modest, future. Optimistically, I imagine there will be more of that and less of the bombastic in coming years, both in this room and beyond.




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