Getting a sense for architecture

An afternoon at the Royal Academy exploring architecture brings a whole new meaning to 'light and spacious'...

By: Clare Howdle,   2 minutes


I like the look of buildings. Old and new, the way a building responds to its environment and the people that use it has always piqued my interest. From César Manrique’s home set into the lava rock of Lanzarote to the bold, Art Deco statement of wealth that is the Chrysler Building, I enjoy what buildings say about the time they were built and the people that built them. But I’ve never got further than that. I’ve never really engaged with the concept of architecture, or how other people see and feel so much more when they explore, discover or experience spaces.

So I was interested to see what the Royal Academy’s Sensing Spaces had to teach me, on my recent Feed. A curation of installations from leading architecture practices, the exhibition set out to capture how people connect with spaces and what architects consider when they build. It was illuminating.

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From the first moment I walked into the gallery, surrounded by sheets with poignant words projected onto them, my eyes were opened.

In this world of light and dark and all kinds of shades in between, architecture is not just about function and form, it is about our emotions, our senses, our humanity.

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Some of the architects involved in the exhibition spoke of how we feel when a square of sunlight falls on the floor infront of us, how the scent of a room can hurl us back in time, or how the contribution of a community to the walls of a shared space can give it a far deeper meaning and purpose than one expert ever could. And so I learnt. I learnt that:

  • The sound of shoes on wooden slats echoes of play time.
  • A curtain to peer behind will always make you feel excited.
  • Light is the most valuable building tool we have.
  • The smell of Hinoki cypress trees makes me feel safe, though I don’t know why.
  • Architecture is not about building walls but creating voids, and how you fill those voids – what scents, colours, textures and light sources you use – will shape how people feel when they step inside.


My biggest realisation? Whether it’s blocks of brick, food on a plate, or lines on a page, triggering a personal, individual, human response by capturing a memory, an emotion or a sensation through something inanimate is a true talent. It’s something anyone who creates, in any way, should always strive for.

I’ll never look at buildings in the same way again.


Sensing Spaces at the Royal Academy runs until 6 April 2014

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