Architecture impacts everyone. We need to inspire greater visual and spatial literacy for all (2017)

Published by the Royal Academy at the time of the RA250 programme launch and a renewed commitment to architecture. 

Debate has long raged as to whether architecture is an art or a science. For me, it’s the inter-relationship of these two fields and the resulting tensions that make architecture so interesting.Art can change how we look at the world; it can inspire, surprise, alarm, delight, and our relationship with it can change with time and familiarity. These are all possibilities that architecture can offer too. But unlike most art forms, architecture must also operate on both a functional and practical level, with technical demands such as weatherproofing, structural stability, and regulatory controls coming into play. Quality architecture is about meeting these practical demands while creating spaces that are poetic and human. The experience of being in buildings that successfully negotiate the tension between practicality and delight is memorable and enlightening.Architecture is a socially-engaged art form and consequentially has an impact on us all in some way or another. It doesn’t exist for its own good but instead must address political, social, environmental and economic imperatives. It must also engage with the world of ideas, of culture and imagination. The conversation about architecture must therefore be wide reaching – one to which we all contribute. That’s why the Royal Academy, an independent artist and architect-led institution, is a fitting place to forge such a debate and provide a broad and inclusive platform that questions, provokes, inspires, innovates and educates on all aspects of architecture in our lives. From Brexit to the recent tragedy of Grenfell Tower, the past year has made it dramatically evident that the conditions in which we live – and to which architecture must respond – are continually evolving. By understanding the past, and critically interrogating existing situations, we are better able to propose solutions for the future. At the RA, we want to create a platform, and incubator, for fresh ideas about architecture; not just presenting current thinking but also developing new ideas.

Architectural projects – in this case a refurbished campus by David Chipperfield Architects that opens in 2018 – provide a moment to refocus ambitions. Architecture has been an integral part of the RA since its beginnings, and for nearly 25 years we have had a dedicated programme that focused on architecture. This programme has grown in response to an increasing public interest and a necessity for critical debate on the subject.

Our announcement about a reinvigorated commitment to architecture at the RA, supported by the Dorfman Foundation, shows that architecture, far from being on the professional periphery is vital to our lives and culture. An international awards programme, a new Architecture Studio, annual temporary exhibitions and a beautiful new lecture theatre to host debates, will enable us to reach larger audiences and harness different spaces and mediums for engagement while addressing critical issues, locally and globally. An architect’s knowledge and agency reaches far wider than just creating buildings and needs to be understood and harnessed.

The best architecture is created through a shared vision between client, community and architect that is garnered through listening, evaluation and leadership. Heightening the spatial and visual literacy of us all can only assist in this process. We want to enliven the public discussion and equip architects with a broad frame of reference that assures aspirational architecture is created for everyone. We hope you’ll be a part of it.

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