Caruso St John is the subject of an exhibition at the Gallery of Contemporary Art in České Budějovice, a city in the southern Czech Republic. Models, drawings and photography from 33 competitions and six projects show the development of the architecture practice over 26 years, giving 29 unrealised concepts the chance to shine.
The firm compares its unrealised output to the designing of an imaginary city. When Adam Caruso and Peter St John first established their studio in 1990, they were entering competitions once or twice a year. Now, it’s between five and ten, sometimes more. Despite the high risk of failure due to the fiercely competitive nature of the projects and the tough panels of judges with varying interests, the practice continues to put time and money into the competition process. The art of the competition lies not just in ideas, but also in presentation, practicalities and, most importantly to the architects, clarity.
While the competition process is risky, it allowed Caruso St John to develop and demonstrate the aspirations of its practice
Examining the competition process itself, as well as the architecture, the exhibition presents books of original A2 panels and models submitted by the practice. This is where the exhibition is most illuminating, showing the development of Caruso St John through an accumulation of projects and ideas displaying the increasing attention given by the architects to history and context. Curator Michal Škoda describes their work as strong and poetic. ‘I’m fascinated by their sensitivity for place, but also for material and detail,’ he says, ‘It is important not only to build, but also to reconstruct and Caruso St John make a really great connection between the old and new.’
Award-winning projects from the practice have demonstrated this respectful approach to history. The Tate Britain renovation completed in 2014 earned them the Civic Trust Award, New London Architecture Conservation and Retrofit Award and RIBA Award, and in 2016 the practice won the RIBA Stirling Prize for Newport Street Gallery in London. Celebrating the physicality of these realised projects, large-scale photography by Hélène Binet is displayed across the exhibition, showing the buildings in full colour and high definition.