High climbers: So? Architecture’s winning installation on show at the Royal Academy

High climbers: So? Architecture’s winning installation on show at the Royal Academy

At the Burlington Gardens threshold of the Royal Academy of Arts stands a bold ceramic intervention designed by SO? Architecture and Ideas, commissioned by Turkishceramics and the RA itself. The installation – entitled Unexpected Hill  – is composed of tessellating triangular blocks rising into playful levels, positively inviting the public to occupy it. 

So? Architecture beat off four other up-and-coming designers – including OS31, Bureau de Change and Scott Whitby Studio – with their immersive design. Royal Academician and competition judge Alan Stanton commented that, ’we felt that SO? Architecture and Ideas’ proposal was distinctive in that it engaged not only the Royal Academy’s building but the surrounding urban fabric’. 

Inspired by the changes the RA is due to undergo with its imminent redesign, Unexpected Hill embodies transformation – as per the brief – both of building and material. The architects were asked to physically and conceptually transform the perception of the RA, questioning its formal arrangement, and portray the legacy of the iconic building, all whilst depicting what the future will hold for the iconic institution. 

The innovative installation does this by creating a dialogue with the 19th century facade of Burlington Gardens and converting an under-utilised threshold area. By using historic ceramic patterns from traditional Islamic art as a decorative device, the architects were given the means by which to translate a 2D object into a muscular 3D construction. The ceramic tiles transform from day to night, too – illuminating in the evening hours and allowing visitors to stop and enjoy the plush Mayfair surroundings.

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