1:1 – Architects Build Small Spaces

It is said that ‘interactive art’ is for children. After a trip to the Victoria and Albert Museum’s current exhibition 1:1 – Architects Build Small Spaces, I can only beg to differ

 ‘Ark’ by Rintala Eggertsson Architects

‘Ark’ by Rintala Eggertsson Architects

Exhibition: 1:1 – Architects Build Small Spaces
Venue: Victoria and Albert Museum
Running: Until 30 August

It is said that ‘interactive art’ is for children. After a trip to the Victoria and Albert Museum’s current exhibition 1:1 – Architects Build Small Spaces, I can only beg to differ.

The Museum, in a step out of character from their usual displays of cultural objects and fashion retrospectives, invited 19 architects to propose designs to “examine notions of refuge and retreat”. Out of these, seven were chosen for the final exhibition, and built in their life-size forms, with no interest in passive interaction.

Scattered around and outside the Museum, part of the challenge of the exhibition is actually locating them – but the structures certainly distinguish themselves from the Museum’s renowned woven rugs and ceramic water jug collections.

Designed by a set of globally diverse architects, each of the seven have a function, ranging from shelter to performance. Although primitively economic and progressive space age designs both feature, the structures have one trend in common: encouraging participants instead of passive viewers. To experience the exhibition, in any attempt to understand it at all, the ‘participant’ is forced to scale stairs, ladders, narrow staircases, red velvet curtains and transparent acrylic sheets. There’s no standing on the outside to observe; walking through, in, and around the ‘spaces’ are a necessity. Side-line participation only becomes a valid option in the act of watching videos planted outside the seven ‘wondrous’ architectural feats instead of explanatory plaques.

Most captivating in its portrayal of Middle Eastern real world counterparts built in contemporary society is ‘In-between Architecture’. The Studio Mumbai Architects modelled their creation on urban structures behind their Mumbai offices which house up to eight people. Participants must remove their shoes before entering labyrinthine corridors leading to rooms designed for living, shelter, and study, all surrounding a fake tree stump. ‘In-between Architecture’ heightens awareness towards the reality that as they are not legalised dwellings in Mumbai, they are “ignored in the official surveys of the urban footprint”, considered “parasitic”.

Simultaneously disconcerting – due to its height and occasional wobbling – and comforting is ‘Ark’, a Norweigan structure by the Rintala Eggertsson Architects. All four storeys of the tower are lined with books, making it impossible to see either in or out. Discovering titles like ‘The Illyiad’ lying alongside novels by Danielle Steel is a peculiar sight in itself, but more surprising are the members of the public to be found reading books on the tower’s centralised faux-fur seats in the middle of the Victoria and Albert Museum. Visitors are allowed in four at a time, encouraged to indulge in the titles on display. Rich with book spines lining the inside, the exterior of ‘Ark’ leaves visitors walking away from dull cream pages, immediately wishing to be back inside its vibrant confines of assured solitude.

Least resemblant of the concepts traditionally associated with architecture is Norweigian creation ‘Ratatosk’. Situated in the John Madejski Garden, it is more reminiscent of an over-priced garden feature than any form of conventional construction. Far from a simple concept, Ratatosk’s creation took nothing less than the hand selection of trees and 3D digital mapping to bring Helen & Hard Architect’s abstract creation to fruition.

1:1 – Architects Build Small Spaces emphasises the creation of an ‘inside’ inherent in the architectural process, what the confines of these spaces entail and how we inhabit them, particularly in the concept of an exhibition. Despite the irrelevancy of the architect, participants are encouraged to avoid egocentrism and think beyond themselves.

The concept of 1:1 – Architects Build Small Spaces is in itself original; I can’t recall ever having to remove my shoes or scale a step-ladder (wearing a skirt to this exhibition is risky) in a Museum. Even more unusual is that seven elements of a singular exhibition can leave visitors feeling simultaneously bewildered, secure and enthralled.

This collection of curious structures appears a child’s dream playground, but the novelty of this free exhibition arouses inquisition in adults alike. 1:1 Architects Build Small Spaces, unrealistic as it seems, summarises the vast spectrum of possibilities which any given space has the potential to be. Forget scaled models and blueprinted plans: this collection proves that if constructed, architecture can conjure a limitless stream of emotion and imaginative ideals beyond itself, however big or small its reality is.