Every month architects and industry insiders share their recommendations for the best exhibitions and events to visit in London.
Early September usually marks a mass migration of people from summer hotspots back to the city, but as with everything else 2020 is slightly different. Whilst the full effects of the Covid-19 pandemic are yet to be seen, there is no question the way people experience the city and its cultural offer will never be the same again. From Glastonbury to the Venice Architecture Biennale, recent months have witnessed a radical shake-up of the 2020 cultural schedule. Unprecedented closures of cultural institutions, cancelations of concerts and festivals across the globe have prompted the exploration and occupation of alternative digital spaces. While nothing can replace the powerful experience of a live theatre performance or a close-up look at brushstrokes in one of the Old Masters’ paintings, people’s right of access to culture was gradually re-established in the virtual domain. At the same time, by drawing parallels with Jacques Rancière’s radical concepts of teachers no longer being masters, the recent shift to virtual allowed smaller organisations and grassroots collectives to quickly respond to the crisis and firm their position in this new playing field.
With more than a hint of autumn in the air, galleries, museums and theatres are gradually reopening their doors as London emerges from lockdown. It is becoming increasingly clear that the cultural offer in the upcoming months will have to be once again reimagined. While throughout spring and summer digital content brought cultural experience to private domestic spaces, the new challenge for cultural organisations is finding ways to bring their offer outside the building as a large part of the population is still hesitant to enter closed public spaces or to even travel to urban centres.
To welcome Londoners, commuters and visitors back to streets and spaces that have fundamentally changed, the London Festival of Architecture is unveiling a series of public realm improvements and interventions across London. If you are in the City of London, don’t forget to check and enjoy, a series of five temporary benches across Cheapside. Each project brings a different perspective to the area encouraging people in Cheapside to engage in intergenerational discussion, take in the city’s heights, lean on some chimneys, perch on a pineapple, and find the right meeting place. On the other side of the River Thames, you might spot , a new wayfinding beacon designed by Charles Holland Architects for the pedestrian island just outside London Bridge Station. The installation is conceived as a meeting point and a map that will help you discover quieter routes with cleaner air, away from crowds, noise and pollution.
If you are heading up to West London, at the Design Museum from 11 September you can visit, an installation that draws inspiration from the ways people adopted their living and working environments since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. The piece is co-created by nine international designers that have been invited to design a personal table and seating for living and working at home. If you are in the area, make sure you also stop by Japan House London on Kensington High Street where from 19 September the internationally acclaimed exhibition will be on display. The show will feature a collection of architectural designs for doghouses by world-class architects with the addition of a brand-new piece for our four-legged friends by Asif Khan. Assistance dogs and dogs on leads which are small enough to be carried are welcome to visit this joyful show alongside their owners. A series of virtual experiences, including a 3D tour, online talks and ‘live’ guided tours will be available later in the autumn online.
On the opposite side of the city,have successfully adopted their 2020 programme to prioritise safety and wellbeing of its visitors and participants while celebrating local places and a sense of togetherness. The programme of free outdoor performances includes Luke Jerram’s art installation created as a memorial to those we have lost in the COVID-19 pandemic, Dancing City series in Canary Wharf and a trail through a magically transformed riverside park landscape in Silvertown. If you are in the Royal Docks, make sure you also download and listen to the London Festival of Architecture’s newly released while exploring the area. This audio project reveals the stories behind some of the key infrastructures projects around the waterfront that are keeping the Royal Docks running.
Last spring, the Whitechapel Gallery revisited its 1956 landmark exhibitionwhich featured a selection of British architects, painters and sculptors, including Richard Hamilton, Eduardo Paolozzi and Alison and Peter Smithson. Following the same format, for their show, the gallery invited ten groups of artists and architects to work collaboratively on a series of new visions of the future. And while the show covered topics of big data, bioengineering and climate change, one wonders what would have been on display if the exhibition had been produced only a year later. While people are slowly starting to rediscover the city, nobody knows what the post-pandemic urban life will look like. Yet one thing is certain - it won’t be the same. In his seminal book The Production of Space, Henri Lefebvre argued that space is not a solid container in which activity happens, but instead it is defined and redefined by social practices that happen within it. What the future holds is on us.