Sunday, August 1, 2010

Architects build small spaces at the V&A

at the Victoria and Albert Museum
15 June – 30 August 2010

The theme for the seven architects who built the exhibits for this show was “retreat”. As the brochure says, “The starting point for these experimental projects is the idea of a small enclosed space representing an escape from the chaos of urban life to an area of peace, contemplation, shelter or creativity” This sounds lovely and it was interesting to see all the different interpretations.

One of the exhibits was a book-lined wooden staircase with a recessed fur-covered seat half-way up, a lovely idea. Unfortunately it swayed and felt slightly insecure when I was in it, which defeated the purpose I thought. An exhibit in the Cast Court was from India and showed clever use of the long narrow spaces between buildings. These are often used as dwellings. The architects  made a replica of one actual structure which had been built around a large tree and they retained this feature, making a cast of the tree growing up through the building. A little hidey-hole in the interior lit by a dim red lamp gave a feeling of solitude and peace. I was not brave enough to go to the upper level, the stairs were narrow and steep with a vertical handrail. Going up would have been okay but I began to wonder about getting back down and thought better of it.

The Japanese “Beetle's House” was actually more like a tree house. It had pleasing proportions and was painted all in black on the outside, Access to the inside was by a ladder. People who saw inside were saying that it contained a little tea set and a painting, or materials to make a painting. It sounded like an idyllic retreat.

A rough sketch of the Beetle's House

In the Architectural Gallery on the 4th floor, posters setting out the concept and scale models were on display for all nineteen submissions that the seven were chosen from.

The best came last – this was the American exhibit, a simple wooden shed. It was solidly constructed and felt totally secure and stable. The two ends were open. The designers had made a light for the back (tallest) wall in the shape of a vine, with bulbs like flowers on the end of each branch. It was really lovely, very simple and effective and for some reason deeply pleasing. It topped off the show nicely and made me glad I'd seen it.

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