Sensing Spaces, in retrospect

The Royal Academy’s ‘Sensing Spaces Architecture Reimagined’ was certainly the success show of 2014, with approx. 3,000 visitors a day. I didn’t write a blog at the time thinking that it was too short an exhibition, I lacked architectural background, and was more inspired by Bill Woodrow’s show nearby.

During Clerkenwell Design Week, however, I attended a talk by Kate Goodwin and Shizuka Hariu, hosted by The Clerkenwell Collection. The talk made me appreciate the show much more, in retrospect. Kate Goodwin pitched her idea for Sensing Spaces in April 2012, after a big show fell through. It took her six months to gather the architects and, by January 2013, everybody was on board. In August, she contacted exhibition designer Shizuka Hariu.

Kate Goodwin, curator of the Sensing Spaces show, explained how the exhibition was an experiment, to test public appetite. She highlighted how it was different from typical architecture shows, which would usually show maquettes. I remembered my frustration at seeing Richard Rogers’ exhibition, also at the Royal Academy, due to the limited space devoted to the show and the inherent limitations of showing maquettes. Similarly, I am often drawn to the architecture rooms of the Royal Academy Summer Exhibitions but can’t “feel” the architecture like being inside the architecture displays in Sensing Spaces. Thinking of this made me realise how Sensing Spaces was a ground-breaking exhibition in the architectural space.

Kate Goodwin aimed for the show to be international and to show the architectural practices of different generations. She had an open briefing with the architects, based on process and dialogue. Correspondingly, there was no set route for the visitor who was able to browse a show covering 23,000 square feet. Her goal was to engage the public and make people aware of the space. The exhibition was site specific, using the Royal Academy’s old walls and ceilings – a show that would have been expected at Tate Modern, Hayward or Barbican, noted Kate Goodwin.

We also listened to Shizuka Hariu, Sensing Spaces’ exhibition designer and scenographer – a job I never knew existed. Her objective is precisely to achieve invisible design. Interestingly, the show had weather effects, which I didn’t notice at the exhibition last February. Shizuka Hariu’s objective was to emphasise natural light with artificial light, against the backdrop of light that the Royal Academy originally planned for paintings.

Sensing Spaces ended last April but I await to hear more from Kate Goodwin and Shizuka Hariu who are individually working on new projects.

20140609-081933.jpgInstallation (Blue Pavilion) by Pezo von Ellrichshausen
© Royal Academy of Arts, London, 2014. Photography: James Harris

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