Room with a view | Constructing Worlds

If you’re an architecture addict, look out for the Barbican’s latest photography exhibition, Constructing Worlds, which takes you on a journey from 1930s American skyscrapers to contemporary Chinese urbanisation.

Since the earliest days of photography, architecture has been the medium’s most willing accomplice, a consequence of the long exposure times required for the alchemical process of the first picture cameras to work. It is this long and shared history that the exhibition recounts, examining along the way the cultural, political and social forces that have shaped the 20th and 21st centuries as expressed through the built world. We were clear early on in the process that we wanted to situate the exhibition within the framework of modernity, a period that defined the world in which we live today.

Broadly the exhibition charts the history of modernity as expressed through architecture over the last 80 years, and the works in the exhibition document and reflect on the birth of the skyscraper against the backdrop of the Great Depression in America; the rise of a modernist tradition embraced by the post-war and postcolonial generation in the 1950s from California to Africa and India; the decline in Europe during the 1960s of heavy industry and its subsequent effects on society and the landscape; the fascination in the 1970s to record the increasing suburbanisation of American and European towns and cities; as well as the consequences of mass urbanisation in Asia, the Middle East and South America at the beginning of the 21st century.


With the proliferation of images now available online, it is a timely opportunity to chart the shared history of architecture and its photographic image through the modern age. As opposed to using photography to accurately ‘describe’ a building, the 18 photographers in Constructing Worlds challenge the orthodoxy of architectural photography by not simply interpreting the intentions of the architects, but by revealing through the photographic medium the lived experience and symbolic value of our built world.

“Constructing Worlds: Photography and Architecture in the Modern Age” runs from 25 September to 11 January, priced £8-12.

Images: in ascending order Julius Shulman, Case Study House #22, 1960 (Architect: Pierre Koenig); Nadav Kander, Chongqing XI, Chongqing Municipality, 2007 and Chongqing IV (Sunday Picnic), Chongqing Municipality, 2006


 Just as The Post gets a design refresh, our columnist has come up with a post-Crossrail makeover for Clerkenwell…

St John Street is Clerkenwell’s main street – it was once the drovers’ route down to Smithfield Market, it has numerous excellent restaurants along it, including its namesake – one of the best in the world. It widens out at the south end to create what could, potentially, be a great public space.

Ten years ago as part of the first London Architecture Biennale, the street was grassed over for the weekend. Overnight it became a park. Longhorn cattle – a sort that last graced the street in the 18th century – grazed there for the day and thousands of people came out to enjoy the space. It was hoped that Islington Council would take the hint and recognise that St John Street could become a great public space instead of a fourlane rat run.

For the last few months the street has once again been closed – this time to allow work to take place on the new Crossrail station that runs beneath Smithfield. There has been no massive congestion as a result, suggesting that it would be easy to restrict through traffic in the future and make it a place for pedestrians and cyclists. With the massive increase of people in Smithfield and Clerkenwell as a result of the coming of Crossrail in 2018 it is essential that the public realm is given priority over traffic.

At Tottenham Court Road, Camden Council realised the reduction of traffic caused by Crossrail could be made permanent and are consulting on major improvements around the tube station, as well as removing the hideous Tottenham Court Road/Gower Street Gyratory. Let’s hope Islington will take note and use this opportunity to create a great place for the people who work and visit here.

Peter Murray is Chairman of NLA: London’s Centre for the Built Environment