Sensing Spaces is not so much a show about architecture as a series of installations that you explore at will. With some trepidation, I booked tickets for a family visit. I was both relieved and amused to find that plenty of other parents had had the same inspiration.
Whatever your views on children in museums, I found that in some strange way sharing this visit with a three-year-old enhanced my appreciation of the project, both in the sense of understanding and of enjoyment. The main premise of the show is that sensory experience is central to our interpretation of designed space. Sense impressions are going to hit young children harder and invite a more immediate response.
Li Xiaodong (China) constructs a shady labyrinth with translucent white floors lit from beneath, and tall walls packed with vertical tree branches – in the artist’s words, “like a walk through a forest in the snow at night”. Passing various cubby-holes, you reach an open space with a big mirror-wall and pebbles underfoot. You are at liberty to pick them up, handle them, drop them, run across them, jump up and down on them, and listen to them crunch.
In different circumstances, the installation would lend itself to quiet contemplation, particularly with its suggestions of Zen dry landscape gardens and teahouses. A similar quality of stillness is apparent in the installation by Kengo Kuma (Japan): two darkened rooms housing intricate structures made from whittled bamboo sticks, infused with hinoki wood scent (first room) and tatami scent (second room). Small lights set into the floor accentuate the visual rhythm of the undulating sticks, but really it is the extraordinary scent that predominates.
Sensing Spaces: Architecture Reimagined
Royal Academy, London
25 January to 6 April 2014
Above: Installation by Li Xiaodong. Royal Academy, 2014.
Below: Installation by Kengo Kuma. Royal Academy, 2014.