London Festival of Architecture
An exhibition of Costa Rican architecture kicked off our first full week of the LFA. Sadly Guatemala and Chile pulled out at the last minute in what was supposed to be a celebration of all three nations’ architecture, organised by the British Council as part of their Embassies Project. Badly displayed panels featuring car-busting solutions for the city and a handful of new residential projects make up this underwhelming show, the highlight of which is the exhibition space itself - the fabulously retro Bolivar Room.
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More coherent and thoughtful is an exhibition on Vancouver in Canada House, which documents architectural changes to the city over the past 15 years or so. The theme? ‘Vancouverism’, a new form of city-building based on the ideas of native modernist Arthur Erickson, that sees the city develop with densely packed residential high-rises and mid-rise office and civic buildings that consider diminished natural resources.
Eco themes are evident too at the Greener Than Thou exhibition at Swedish office furniture showroom Kinnarps, where Swedish A-list architects from Johannes Norlander to Marge are showing work. Fingers crossed that Thomas Sandell’s blueprint for a floating outdoor public baths on Stockholm’s waterfront will come to light.
The well-made Danish show, focusing on sustainability in Danish contemporary architecture, is impressive: staged brilliantly in the Jacobsen-designed embassy building’s car park, showing work from old practices, to young and aspiring ones, like Svendborg Architects.
Highlights from the Brazilian embassy’s RAW exhibition include drawings of ongoing work by Pritzker-price winner Paulo Mendes da Rocha, plus numerous beautiful models, while the Norwegian embassy exhibition has finally brought to the UK the much-awaited Detour show, featuring architecture and design along 18 Norwegian tourist routes – go to their Portland Place site for works by, among others, Peter Zumthor, and Todd Saunders and Tommie Wilhelmsen and a video in an old display case.
For a quirky little celebration of craftsmanship – (something many architects today bemoan the lack of in teaching colleges) head to the Art Workers Guild, where techniques such as model making, drawing and stone carving are on display. While the show lacks any real clout and features such projects as Poundbury in Dorset, it’s worth visiting just to snoop round the Georgian building. Check out the great hall, whose walls are adorned with portraits of former members, from the likes of Edwin Lutyens and Charles Voysey to William Morris and Arthur Rackham.
Away from the hubs and the hubbub, and in the kind of plentiful sunshine that encourages an urban ramble, the events and exhibitions of the LFA tend to melt into the background. This isn’t always a bad thing, for everyday architecture is a crucial part of the cityscape, but at times the LFA umbrella feels like it is stretched perilously thin.
A small café in Exmouth Market plays host to Squint/Opera’s series of renders depicting the ravaged landscape of ‘Flooded London’, circa 2090. A curiously unnerving conceit to have on the walls of a café, the imagery tapped into historically romantic depiction of ruins and our apparent unwillingness to address contemporary issues.
From Clerkenwell, it’s barely 20 minutes to Lincoln’s Inn Fields. Here David Chipperfield Architects’s information-rich drawings for the reconstruction of the The Neues Museum in Berlin, are on show in the appropriately dense and complex surroundings of Sir John Soane’s Museum. Soane’s house is one of London’s enduring architectural treasures, and the modern drawings - dimly lit and as dense as hieroglyphs - illustrated the colossal challenge of incorporating a complex past into a modern structure. Soane would surely have improved.
Half a mile to the east, 6a Architects’ ‘Hairywood’ viewpoint blends in nicely with the mix of high and low culture on the Covent Garden Piazza. This is by no means a new project; the laser cut plywood tower was designed in collaboration with Eley Kishimoto and was originally installed on Old Street back in 2005. Placing the object in the heart of the capital’s tourist district certainly normalises the once avant-garde forms, showing just how far aesthetic acceptance has come in three short years.
Heading further east to Trafalgar Square, and yet more wood greeted the unwary. One corner of
http://www.international.gc.ca/canada-europa/united_kingdom/" target="_blank" >Canada House’s Georgian façade was wrapped in panels of British Columbian timber to signpost the exhibition of recent work by big ticket Canadian practices like Fast + Epp and Bing Thom. All are working their way through a recent timber glut - global warming saw a Switzerland-sized chunk of forest felled to avoid the ravages of timber beetle - so architects and engineers are seeking to make the most of all that lumber. The architecture might not be eye-catching, but the timber technology has potential.