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Cardiff Bay Opera House exhibited in the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition 2016

Until 21 August 
Burlington House, London

Now in its 248th year, the Summer Exhibition is an annual event at the Royal Academy and is the largest open submission exhibition in the world. The Summer Exhibition 2016 continues in the tradition of showcasing a variety of work in all media, including painting, sculpture, photography, printmaking, architecture and film.

The Architecture Gallery has been jointly curated this year by Academicians Ian Ritchie and Louisa Hutton who selected the theme of Unbuilt, an aspect of architectural practice that is highly significant but often obscured. In any architect’s career there are projects that are either too utopian for their time, or are developed for competitions and do not win, or languish because financial or political circumstances become unfavourable. All continue to exist as reminders of what might have been; expressions of the passion, creativity and innovation that are central elements of all architecture.

The Cardiff Bay Opera House’s design continued the urban development as envisioned by the masterplan. The perimeter buildings of rehearsal studios, administration and other facilities integrate with the surrounding urban fabric, whilst also enclosing a secluded internal piazza. These two spaces interconnect by raising the perimeter buildings above the ground and opening the corner to face the pier, revealing the auditorium as the main solid volume. Gently sloping the site over the main foyer areas creates a raised plaza suitable for outdoor performances and gives views to the Inner Harbour and Bay.

The painting of the Cardiff Bay Opera House fits within the Unbuilt theme. Zaha Hadid described the period; “In 1994 we entered the competition for an opera house in Cardiff. We submitted it, we got a call announcing we won it, and then the incredible jubilation in our office turned to great sadness when the project was cancelled. In that period, we did one competition after the other – and we didn’t win any. Perhaps there was a stigma against us – but they were all great designs, very tough and soft at the same time – elegant and resolved in terms of planning. All these unrealized projects were necessary to develop our repertoire.”

Painting formed a critical part of Zaha’s early career as the design tool that allowed the intense experimentation in both form and movement – leading to the development of a new language for architecture. “The painting was always a critique of what was currently available to us at the time as designers – as 3D design software didn’t exist. There has been a complete shift in the last say thirty years - to now doing some projects only on the computer,” said Hadid.

Hadid’s paintings really evolved 30 years ago as she felt her architectural drawings required a much greater degree of distortion and fragmentation to assist her research. The process of painting and drawing also impacted her work.

“In the early days of our office - the method we used to construct a drawing or painting or model led to exciting new discoveries.  We sometimes did not know what the research would lead to – but we knew there would be something, and that all the experiments had to lead to perfecting the project. It might take 10 years for a 2D sketch to evolve into a workable space, and then into a realized building. And these are the journeys that I think are very exciting, as they are not predictable,” explained Hadid.

“Doing the drawings was a slow process, as they required tremendous concentration and precision. The whole system of painting and drawing led to ideas, putting one sheet over another and tracing, like a form of reverse archaeology in a way, leading to a layering process, where distortion in the drawing could lead to distortion in the building. Or extruded drawings could lead to extruded sections in buildings. The processes led to literal translations in the building.”

(Above painting Cardiff Bay Opera House, Aerial View Painting, Acrylic on black cartridge)


RA Summer Exhibition

RA Summer Exhibition, Architecture Gallery