Every month architects and industry insiders share their recommendations for the best exhibitions and events to visit in London.
The role of photography in architecture rarely gets the critical attention it deserves, so to have two large exhibitions running simultaneously is a happy coincidence. 'Ordinary Beauty' is RIBA's monographic show on the AA-trained photographer Edwin Smith, whose images of buildings and landscapes are equally interesting as a record of mid-century social life. At the Barbican, 'Constructing Worlds: Photography and Architecture in the Modern Age' shows over 250 works by 18 exceptional photographers including Andreas Gursky, Thomas Struth and Hélène Binet. It is not concerned with the idealised representation of buildings, but rather with artists' efforts to find the extraordinary in the everyday, and in their use of architecture to examine creation, decay, social upheaval and cultural curiosities, or as the raw material for original interpretation.
An artist's eye is also trained on buildings at Holborn Library, where Artangel has invited José Damasceno to make a series of temporary installations. Occupying public and private spaces within the building, 'Plot' is inspired by fiction and the Brazilian sculptor's observation of London's architecture and social history. Meanwhile, at the post-Olympic Queen Elizabeth Park, Dutch artists Observatorium have created Newton's Cottage, a skeletal recreation of a former lock-keeper's house, built with local construction trainees. The timber sculpture will host a two-month programme of events ranging from walks to dance performances.
Olympic legacy largesse is also underwriting a month-long arts season at Erno Goldfinger's Balfron Tower, marking its controversial transition from social housing to private ownership. Though well intentioned, events such as 'East End Bingo' strike a jarring note. Ostensibly more serious is a pop-up in Flat 130 – briefly home to the architect – which has had a 1968 makeover and will welcome visitors for two weeks only. Remarkably, it is operated by the National Trust – its "first foray into brutalism".
Where the Trust is now dipping a tentative toe, the Twentieth Century Society is fully immersed. A Royal Academy exhibition, '100 Buildings, 100 Years', presents a cross-section of British architecture in the century since 1914 – the period covered by the Society's preservation efforts. The selection, by a diverse panel of enthusiasts, ranges from neo-vernacular housing to high-modernist factories and paints a rich picture. Inevitably, some great works have not made the cut. Among them is Denys Lasdun's 1964 Royal College of Physicians at Regent's Park (pipped by the Post Office Tower). Never mind: the RCP's own half-century is celebrated in the exhibition 'Anatomy of a Building', featuring original models and drawings of Lasdun's best-known works.
Lasdun had a keen interest in biology, and while designing the RCP studied its collection of blood circulation diagrams. For him the idea of life flowing through a building, and of the building forming part of a larger urban organism, was more than metaphor. Today, our sense of the urban environment as a kind of nervous system is bolstered by digital technologies. Huge quantities of data harvested from buildings and infrastructure will increasingly inform how cities are run. New London Architecture's show 'Smarter London' details a six-month study undertaken with UCL's Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis. The promise of efficiency is compelling, but a question remains: who controls this invisible public realm?