ajax loader
Click the book icon to navigate table of contents
swipe left & right
to navigate
top guide
Click the book icon to navigate
table of contents
left guide
Click here for
previous articles
right guide
Click here for
next articles
Scroll Down for
Feature article
bottom guide
ajax loader
ajax loader
  • ‘He’ Pavilion by bam! bottega di Architettura sostenibile in the forecourt of MAXXI Architettura (Rome, Italy). Image: Imogene Tudor.


Why do we create exhibitions of architecture? Who are they for? Indeed, what are they for? These questions were the driving force behind Imogene Tudor’s recent Byera Hadley Travelling Scholarship research. Here, she investigates the problematics of architectural exhibitions and looks at its place in promoting meaningful discourse for the profession and the public.

Sydney does not have a dedicated architecture gallery yet there is a steady stream of architectural exhibitions on the cultural calendar. From university halls and small galleries to the foyer of the Australian Institute of Architects at Tusculum, places all over the city regularly host exhibitions with architectural themes; which is somewhat surprising to me given the challenges of conceiving, designing and marketing a successful show.

Through my Byera Hadley Travelling Scholarship research and discussions with leading figures across the profession it appears that the architectural exhibition problematic exists on three fronts: subject, content and audience.

The subject of architecture is deceptively difficult to define. There is a rift between the popular ‘concept’ of architecture as a professional body of knowledge concerned with the production of building, and its ‘perception’ from within architectural circles as being a broad mode of thinking. In the words of Jorn Konijn, former Architecture Curator at the New Institute, in the Netherlands, “Architecture can be a curtain, architecture can be an event, architecture can be a feeling, architecture can be a smell…”. The uncertain terrain of the architectural subject is simultaneously fertile ground and a rocky foundation.

By definition, an exhibition requires tangible content. An architectural exhibition, however, is confronted with a conundrum: how do you exhibit architecture in a gallery context when the building ‒ as an artefact ‒ is absent, and the drawings, models and writing used to describe it are encoded in a specialised language. As Pippo Ciorra, Director at MAXXI Architettura, the National Museum of XXI Century Arts in Italy optimistically puts it, “In architecture the object has fewer auras but that gives you more freedom to work in the critical space of the object.” This critical space can become the driving force of an architectural exhibition where the objects facilitate an argument rather than demand individual reverence. The reverse position is also true, where architectural artefacts, such as drawings and so forth, do hold their own intrinsic value as aesthetic objects that may be exhibited and explored for their own artistic virtue; however, in this instance, their function as a codified tool for architectural expression is secondary. In an architectural exhibition the content on display is always forced to declare its purpose.

  • Image: Imogene Tudor.
    Projects Review 2013, Architecture Association (London).
  • Image: Imogene Tudor.
    ‘He’ Pavilion by bam! bottega di Architettura sostenibile in the forecourt of MAXXI Architettura (Rome, Italy).
  • Image: Imogene Tudor.
    ‘A New Sculpturalism from Southern California’ at MOCA (Los Angeles, USA).

An architecture exhibition has an ambiguous relationship to its audience. When placed in a public forum, such as a gallery, an exhibition of architecture is implicitly directed towards a generalised audience; unfortunately, however, it often fails to attract a genuinely diverse audience. The lamented trope is that architecture exhibitions often only attract other architects. The placement in a public space is the only open gesture in an otherwise insular format.

The dilemma of subject, content and audience are not unique to architecture exhibitions, however, they become more pronounced given that architecture does not have a well-established public audience and is still considered to be an emerging field. In the face of these challenges we return to the question, why do we create exhibitions of architecture?

Ciorra’s belief that “In the 90s the architect’s ambition was to build a museum, now it is to do something in a museum”, strikes at the heart of the matter: the shifting climate of economic forces and risk management is forcing architects towards risk-averse modes of practice. In this climate, architects are seeking out alternative forums in which to conduct their conceptual explorations. As Eva Franch I Gilabert, Executive Director and Chief Curator of Storefront for Art and Architecture notes, “Architecture is this amazing space of creativity that sits within the most terrible constraints one can provide for a space of experimentation.”  The architectural exhibition is unique in that it provides a literal and a metaphoric space for exploration; a physical space that can simultaneously support the production of knowledge and the tangible construction of an experience. The metaphoric space is the chance to articulate a position and to test conceptual boundaries in a format that permits failure. Conducting these explorations through a public forum such as an exhibition invites a wide cross section of the community to come along for the journey.

By understanding the architecture exhibition in this way, there is a deliberate delineation between seeing it as a mode of display, and seeing it as a mode of discourse. As a mode of discourse architecture can remain agile and vital through a rigorous and open conversation that is liberated from the overwhelming burden of economy and regulation. This thinking then paves the way for more traditional architecture to follow.

An architecture exhibition has the potential to be a tool for sophisticated and meaningful discourse both within the profession and to the wider public. Discourse of this type is becoming increasingly urgent as the traditional territory of the profession is continuing to be undermined by third party interests such as policymakers, project managers and regulators. If architecture is to successfully argue for its place at the table with the decision-makers steering the direction of our cities, we need to find a new voice of visionary authority. To do this, we need a robust and courageous internal culture and the trust and support of the wider public. An architectural exhibition is by no means able to achieve this on its own, but it can form a vital part of the process.

This might seem to be a lofty aspiration for the humble architecture exhibition, but high aspirations and a critical intent is required to elevate it above its tendencies to be insipid and impenetrable. The architecture exhibition needs to pursue discourse over display, criticality over self-reference and advocacy over self-promotion. Maybe then, Sydney will be ready for its first architecture gallery. logo abdigital