Amber Baechler | Toronto, Canada

The Problem of Exhibiting Architecture, Inside Architecture: How is architecture communicated?

Throughout the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries we have witnessed a growing interest in architecture exhibitions. Without the rich institutional and curatorial traditions that frame fine art exhibitions, exhibiting architecture has proven to be a difficult endeavor for museums and galleries. The inability of their exhibitions to effectively capture and communicate the full scope of this subject imposes significant limitations on the potential for exhibitions to act as a space of discourse. This situation presents both an opportune and critical moment to reflect on the discursive space of the architectural exhibition and question how architecture is communicated.

Building on the arguments of Peter Smithson and Florian Kossak, this paper argues for the development of architecture exhibitions towards a spatial based practice of laboratory installations. Kossak defines laboratory exhibitions as “a continuation and integral part of the architectural praxis” and “a testing ground in which architectural research is conducted.”] However, in focusing on laboratory installations as a means to explore new tectonic forms, Kossak fails to adequately address issues of visitor engagement required by his own definition of an ‘installation’ and those indicated in Smithson’s original argument of “the ‘real’ before the real.

Nicolas Bourriaud and Boris Groys suggest that installations can provide a space of discourse by allowing exhibition visitors to become active agents – integral components of the work – rather than passive observers, revealing themselves to themselves and each other. By applying this activation to laboratory installations, the definition and scope is expanded beyond tectonic forms to establish a new exhibition format inclusive of social and political space. The result is a decisive move toward addressing the full scope of architecture and creating a space of discourse.

The exhibition of ‘social-political-tectonic’ laboratory installations poses several problems for existing museums and galleries. As institutions originally intended for the display of painting and sculpture, there is a disjunction between the space of the museum and its new mandate to exhibit the multifarious space of architecture. These institutions often do not contain the infrastructure required to facilitate invasive productions. Toward the objective of resolving this discrepancy, a new exhibition space capable of facilitating laboratory installations is proposed.