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Weird, wacky, wonderful

Pamela Buxton

So many exhibitions seem overstretched and thin. In contrast the Royal Academy’s diminutive The Weird, the Wacky and the Wonderful display feels like a fertile subject crying out for further treatment in a bigger space.

Tucked away at the back of the ground floor, the Architecture Space is in reality more of a swollen corridor than a gallery. But its current subject matter is engaging enough to prompt those hurrying through to dally. The aim is to present quirky architecture that provokes an emotional response, such as a bewilderment, laughter or amazement, and then look beyond the knee-jerk reaction to show how these often extreme designs might also be practical and successful buildings for those who live or work within them.

It’s not one for purists. And while there are familiar names represented (Gaudi, Gehry, Safdie), the architects of many of the buildings featured aren’t known such as Casa do Penedo, the house built between two boulders in Portugal and the splendidly literal Basket Building, a structure resembling a giant woven basket complete with handles for the Longaberger basket company hq in Newark, Ohio.

Many of the subjects are overtly inspired by nature, most memorably the Mushroom Houses, designed by James H Johnson in 1972, where the literal interpretation has led to mushroom form houses on stalks with gill-like ceilings.

You might not want to live there, but you can’t help smiling at Friedensreich Hundertwasser’s kooky Vienna apartments and Kansas’s bookends-inspired Community Bookshelf, or admiring the commitment to expressive verve of Peter Cook and Colin Fournier’s Kunsthaus Graz or the dome extravaganza of St Basil’s Cathedral.

It’s a shame there wasn’t room for far more detail – this show would really have benefitted from plans and input from the architects (if known) and residents/users. But like all good things, from London 2012 to micro architecture shows, this leaves you wanting more.


The Weird, the Wacky and the Wonderful, until September 16th, 2012.
Royal Academy, Piccadilly, London W1