Exhibiting the Beyond
Rory Hyde, 2016

Contribution to Exposed Architecture: Exhibitions, Interludes, Essays, edited by LIGA and published by Park Books
It’s often said that architecture doesn’t fit in the gallery, usually as a means to justify exhibiting its representations: drawings, models and sketches of buildings created by architects. Contained within this platitude are various assumptions: that architecture is building, that buildings are created by architects, and that buildings are bigger than galleries. In order to make architecture fit in the gallery, we need to question what architecture is.

Yes, architecture is building - the spatial and material - but it also takes in the less tangible themes of politics, networks, publicness, economics, the environment and so on. These are themes which take place over time, across vast geographies, and are as much social systems as they are designed. Not only do they not fit in the gallery, they are impossible to contain in any way. And yet to exhibit architecture today, we somehow need to engage with it in this expanded form. Why? Well, that depends on what you see as the role of the gallery.

The gallery is a place for looking, for presenting things in public in order to make sense of them. The kinds of things we decide to show determines what we want to make sense of. An exhibition of drawings and models is great for making sense of the intentions of the architect. But again, that’s a fairly limited version of what architecture is. And perhaps more importantly, it’s a fairly limited version of what a gallery is for. It can either be for showing nice things, or it can be for assembling the material to help us make sense of the world. In architectural terms, the gallery can be a place that orders things which can inform our decisions as citizens and practitioners. And today, in our world that’s radically connected and seemingly in a state of destructive flux, those decisions are ones pertaining to the wider world of spatial systems, politics and the environment.

Perhaps that grandiose obligation is more pronounced in large public galleries like the one I work in, but I would argue that galleries of all sizes ought to engage with these larger themes if they wish to remain relevant. LIGA is only 70m2 [?], so back to our initial question, how are we going to fit it all in? One strategy is to try to enact these themes in the gallery, to present a tiny fragment through which to view the whole. It’s hard to describe in the abstract, but projects of this type are often event-based, participatory and collaborative. They are both art works, in that they are things which have form, which you can stand back and admire, but they are also doing work, by either enabling public participation, or by connecting in some real way to these global themes. They are tools for re-conceiving our place in the world, and how design can be used to reveal it.

It might feel like we’re a long way from architecture by now, that the beautiful exhibition of beautiful drawings is no longer necessary. I think that’s right. Both the way we conceive of architecture and the way we present it needs to reflect the world we live in. Our lives no longer play out in beautiful discrete moments, the equivalent of a beautiful discrete villa or monument, but are shaped by the constant disruptive flux of media, of politics, of climate change and of ever-shifting contexts and experiences. Both designers and curators are coming to develop strategies for operating in this space, and making sense of it. This is an integrative, synthetic practice, one that grabs hold of vectors as they whiz past, and ties them up with others. The gallery, the public site of this activity, becomes the node where these vectors intersect, where ideas are crashed together, and the pristine bubble that is the arbitrary limits of architecture is finally burst.