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Technology Intervention #9 – Sensing Spaces at the Royal Academy of Arts

My 9th technology intervention was the toughest so far. It’s the first one I’ve really struggled to commit to. With an impending deadline and the knowledge I was about to spend a week away (more on that next time), I just wanted to sit and work. But the whole point of doing this is to work smarter rather than harder. So after a morning of calls and emails I put on a jacket and headed out into the London sunshine.

I’d spent the evening before with a couple of friends at a Grub Club burger event. Over a few beers I’d been telling them about some of the things I’d been doing over the last few Fridays. I asked if they had any suggestions. Their first turned out to be the one I went for.

Just after lunch I tubed over to Piccadilly Circus where I made the short walk to the Royal Academy of Arts. Running until the 6th of April, the RA have an exhibition called ‘Sensing Spaces – Architecture Reimagined‘. Costing £14 it’s a series of large scale installations by seven architectural practices from around the world. At at 23,000 square feet, it’s not small.

Royal Academy

The idea when taking it in is to try and understand how spaces make us feel. How do textures and colours and smells and light affect our lives? With that in mind, I wandered between the rooms did sucked it in. There’s no suggested order so I strolled throughout and stood, climbed on, sat, smelled – or did whatever was necessary.

It was really interesting. I can confess to getting more from some of the rooms than others, but I think that’s half the point, right? I loved Pezo von Ellrichshausen‘s big wooden structure – it felt like a fort, something I would have played on or in as a kid (or an adult). It also reminded me of the completely ludicrous and eventually christened ‘adventure bed’ my old housemate made when he needed more space in his bedroom…

Big wooden structure

Diébédo Francis Kéré‘s ‘straw cave’ (or I suppose tunnel, really) was great. I loved the fact it’s ‘living’ with exhibition, growing daily as more and more people add their straw, complicated straw weave or pattern to the walls. Walking through it felt like some kind of plastic forest. Rather nice really. And fun. I think it made everyone I saw grin.

Straw Tunnel

Kengo Kuma‘s rooms with twisted bamboo were great. I mean – they were pretty, sure, but for me it was all about the smell. How something smells is very important to me and these rooms were just very, well, *soothing*. So much so I was Googling ‘Tatami scent‘ as I walked into the next room.

Bamboo lights

But my favourite, by quite a long way was Li Xiaodong‘s space.

Snowy LED lights

The patchy LED lights under floor looked like snow, and with the bamboo it felt like walking through a winter forest. It culminated in a pebbled ‘Zen garden’. I assume he’s aimed for some sort of escapism from London. If so, he certainly nailed it.

C'est moi

Those were my highlights, but the other spaces are still great. In another life I would have liked to try my hand at architecture. Using light and space in such a grand way must be so incredibly pleasing.


After a wander (complete with some sitting and some dwelling) I headed back out in the sunshine. It was lovely to see some blue sky for the first time in a while. So I took a slow walk through Burlington Arcade (which I’d never done before) and pottered around some of the shops in the area. It was nice to just stroll and think, which I did all the way to Holborn, where I hopped back on to a tube home.

Despite it not being my longest Friday, I’m glad I forced myself out. It’d have been so easy just to get on with the work, but I needed the break and Sensing Spaces was fantastic. And ultimately, that’s what the technology intervention is about, right?!



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