diamond geezer

 Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Brits Who Built The Modern World
RIBA 13th February - 27th May 2014 (closed Sundays)

I assume you're watching the modern architecture season on BBC4, partly because you have taste but also because the alternative is Benidorm. The flagship series is The Brits Who Built The Modern World, a three part celebration of the giants of post-war British architecture. Richard Rogers, Norman Foster and Nick Grimshaw (not the breakfast DJ) are amongst the architects interviewed and featured alongside their landmark buildings. And Londoners can also enjoy a parallel exhibition at RIBA, the Royal Institute of British Architects, for free within their HQ on Portland Place.

Step through the revolving door into main entrance hall and the TBWBTMW exhibition gallery is just down the corridor to your left. The room's not huge, but big enough for a twisty turny wander past a collection of photos, models and paraphernalia. Some of the buildings are from the UK, like the Sainsbury Centre For The Arts in Norwich and the Willis Corroon Building in Ipswich. But the majority are from abroad, starting with major commissions for UK architects for airports in Africa and royal palaces in the Middle East. The US (especially New York) gets a look in, plus several buildings and masterplans across mainland Europe. There's an undertow of "yeah, we did the Reichstag" and "yeah, we did the Pompidou", with the occasional balancing mention that occasionally foreign architects design buildings over here. Coming right up to date the majority of the towers/stations/banks/airports are located in the Far East, especially China, because that's where the post-slump money is. There are also two video screens to watch, each with a series of short film snippets, many featuring men with dated haircuts gesturing approvingly at glass and concrete. The exhibition was filled with proper architectural types when I went round, discussing "that Farrell building" and structural form. But you don't have to be an expert to appreciate these striking creations, or to recognise that British architecture is a world-beating export success.

To bang the point home, an additional exhibition space upstairs displays additional New British Works. Two rows of building models slant across the centre of the space, while upbeat quotes around the walls hint at why Britain's national character is so adept at nurturing creativity. Again it's Far East projects that dominate, but one case features a futuristic Norman Foster plan to build accommodation on the Moon using lunar soil and 3D printers. You'll find further reading material in the RIBA bookshop, a most tempting place in which to part with hard earned cash, then perhaps take a seat in the small downstairs cafe to reflect. Or, if you can't get to just north of Oxford Circus before the end of May, feel free to enjoy the content on the exhibition's website, 21 programmes from the BBC's post-war architecture archive, or the BBC4 season as it unfolds.

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