Architects, they say, are really frustrated sculptors. The reverse is often true too. Maybe that explains, in part, why the Architecture Room at this year’s Royal Academy Summer Exhibition is once again the most dynamic space, crammed full with 166 paintings, drawings, photographs and –always the stars of the show – models.
It probably helps to have so many architect Royal Academicians, starting with its President, Sir Nicholas Grimshaw. But the roll-call of the great and good also includes Rick Parry, Sir David Chipperfield, Sir Richard MacCormac, Zaha Hadid, Lord Rogers, Lord Foster and his right-hand-man, Spencer de Grey, Peter Cook, Eva Jiricna, Ian Ritchie, Sir Michael Hopkins, Paul Koralek, Michael Manser, Chris Wilkinson and the bad boy of British architecture, Will Alsop. Piers Gough RA, along with Alan Stanton, curated this year. All of the above are well-represented, the oldest being the hardy perennial who is Leonard Manasseh, with a series of naif doodles and titles such as Puzzle, Trees, Blue Thoughts and Pursuit. Youth hardly gets a look in, but the enigmatic Baptistry (a digital print limited to a run of 20) by the talented Greek-Cypriot architecture student, Cassandra Tsolakis is at least one concession to the next generation.
A ghastly green glazed ceramic by Gough himself, representing the new Maggie’s Centre in Nottingham, is so awful as to be ironic – the price we pay for Post-Modernism. But then the charmingly eccentric architect has been the profession’s joker in the pack for just about as long as Alsop has been sitting on the naughty step. Ha! What impresses most? Models of priapic towers destined for Croydon (by MAKE), Shanghai (Wilkinson,with two sensuous forms that could double as sex toys, sleekly presented in chrome-plated epoxy), Manhattan (Samuel Holt, Shreela Sharan andWillie Yogatama), Miami (Rogers)and Who-Knows-Where (Rogers again) and does it matter? Forget location/location/location, today any tower could go anywhere. Climate and cultural context do not figure. Size matters. So does embellishment– weird and wonderful extrusions, planted terraces 20, 30, 40-storeys up, balconies, atria, zig-zagging with gravity-defying chutzpah.
Cook’s Taiwan Tower shows what happens when Archigram grew up. He’s 75 this year. Big, bold, colourful abstracts by another RA, Gordon Benson, and a large concept painting of the brand new Glasgow Riverside Museum ofTransport, by Zaha Hadid, could have infiltrated from neighbouring galleries. For the very best in good old-fashioned draughtsmanship, see Chipperfield’s west elevation of the new entrance building to the James Simon Gallery at Museum Island, Berlin; a series of five freehand drawings by Koralek; and an exquisite rendering of a walled garden for an Alzheimer’s Respite Centre by Niall McLaughlin, almost Persian inits sumptuous simplicity. These days, almost anything goes structurally, thanks to the extraordinarily smart software packages available for computer aided design and CGI delivery. Just so long as the client is prepared to pay the cost of turning his or her ‘brand’ into an architectural icon. Think Sydney Opera House. As RIBA past-President, George Ferguson, maintains,a great building comes into its own and wins people’s affection by the time it turns into a tourist’s key-ring souvenir. For recent buildings, photographs suffice: Jiricna’s new university and cultural centre at Zlin, in the CzechRepublic, for example; and Hopkins’ Velodrome at the London 2012 Olympic site. Visitors can see just how far materials technology has come by examining Tonkin Liu’s Shi Lingbridge, in drawings and explanatory diagrams, and a large model which forms the centrepiece to Room VI where architecture hangs out. Two last laughs: architect and cartoonist, Louis Hellman, has a new series of drawings/montages out, called Headlands. The two shown here feature the Royal Festival Hall in one, and Hans Scharoun’s Berlin Philharmonic Hall in the other; while Chris Dyson Architects, in Hat’s Off to CABE, plonk a cardboard model lookalike of a Richard Seifert office block of the 1960s onto anonymous plaster-cast head. CABE, the government’s aesthetic policeman, was recently morphed into the Design Council, which most of us thought had gone half a century ago. C’est la mort!
The Summer Exhibition runs until 15 August. Tickets £10 and variousconcessions. Open daily 10am til 6pm,10pm on Fridays. Also worth seeing:Eyewitness: Hungarian Photography in the 20th Century (until 2 October).