SENSING SPACES – Architecture Reimagined

At the Royal Academy

Currently showing in the Main Galleries is an exhibition featuring six very different architects from around the world.  Although diverse, something key unifies them – you get to explore the physical space their exhibits occupy. Hence, firstly the experience is very personal and secondly, you can engage completely with the materials and get a real sense of the functional and visual aspects at play.

The experience for me:
I’m not entirely sure if I approached it the right way, however it felt natural. For there’s something very attractive about heading into a truly old and beautiful building and discovering a truly new and beautiful building in gallery room 2 (Pezo von Ellrichshausen). And more excitedly still, this new building welcomes you to encounter it completely. By climbing up its spiral stairwells, touching its curved pine boards and popping your head over the side to spy all those others down below. You really start to feel that architecture is more than just function. It’s inspiring, thought-provoking, involved and happily not over…as I had 10 more rooms to go.

To room 3 (Eduardo Souto de Moura) – OK it’s sparse, however I think that’s the point, it’s also fabulous to head through an impressively crafted door frame twice.  And also, interesting to consider if the first (the one connected to the building) or the second (Mr Eduardo Souto de Moura contributions – first of two on display) feels more space making or less.

Oh and then there is Room 4 (Kengo Kuma), closely followed by another Room 4? (also Kengo Kuma), which put(s) the smelling senses on alert. Also your cheque book, as you urgently lay mind plans on how you’ll engage the architect to come over to yours and do the same. Whilst also marvelling at the quietness of the ‘pavilion’ even as Mr and Mrs Speak too LOUDLY chat about tripe.

Next stop Room 1 (how did that happen?) and a super interactive construction of plastic and the added bonus of audience participation decorative drinking straws (Diebedo Francis Kere). A particular winner if you are laden by toddlers or an over-enthusiastic male whom can fashion a colourful man from only three different slurping apparatus.

Room 3 – brings back Eduardo Souto de Moura – with his fabulous re-casting (maybe that’s the wrong term…) of the doorway, in very tactile cement that you can’t stop caressing.

Keep on walking – for there is Room 5 and another room 5 (Li Xiaogong) where you can wander, touch and discover in a maze of wood, pebbles and relaxation.

But wait there’s more – for there are the girls from Grafton Architects with Rooms 6 and another Room 6.  These ladies make introducing natural light to your space almost magically, for their design captures it and the mood changes dependent on the angle of the sun.

And finally, a bit that shouldn’t be missed…A mini-movie focusing on the architects, their designs and their inspirations. It brings the whole exhibition together.  You leave satisfied and pleased that the curator didn’t pop this at the beginning.

It’s on until 6 April 2014

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Standing on the Shoulders of Giants 2 series

‘What became of the Arab Spring?’ – A discussion by Professor Eugene Rogan
Norrington Room, Blackwell’s Oxford
3.00pm-4.00pm, 26 February 2014

Here’s something I’ve learnt. If you don’t quite get it and there’s someone available to explain it, take the opportunity.  So putting this advice to action this afternoon, I found a seat in one the best stocked bookshops around and listened to a very interesting, informative and understandable Professor of Modern History focus on several Arab uprisings, which commenced in 2011.

It’s time for honesty.

OK, I struggle with complex and less than complex concepts, however amazingly Professor Rogan was able to even get me thinking and moving down the road of understanding. Something my sporadic reading of the news on this specific topic up until now hadn’t managed to do.

Though the content at times was a little miserable, like the immediate future of Syria, it was important. This session really helped me get to grips with the current situation in Tunisia and has awakened a desire in me to learn more about the rest of the region.

Additionally, post the discussion phase it was question time and even this part of the programme proved a bounty of learning. So much so, I wished I’d taken in some secret recording equipment so I could play it all back and retain further.

Sadly, there is bad news: I missed the first two sessions of the series held yesterday and Monday.

Oh but there is also good news: There are two more to go.

Thursday, 27 February – Ian Golding, Professor of Globalisation and Development and Director of the Oxford Martin School at the University of Oxford is due to discuss ‘Is Globalization Bad?’, tomorrow from 3.00pm

Friday, 28 February – Alexandra Harris, Lecturer in English at the University of Liverpool, will discuss ‘Studying English with Virginia Woolf’ from 3.00pm.

And double hooray, you don’t need a degree to attend, just turn up, it’s free.

Da Dong Roast Duck Restaurant

Beijing

There is absolutely no point in being timid when you commit to dining here. Embrace it. Embrace every divine mouthful. And recognise as well, your chef shan’t be holding back on portion size.

So let’s look at the detail:

Although it’s not the law, it does make sense to consume duck in such an establishment. And for those who maybe a little concerned about their cardiovascular risk profile – these succulent, now none feathered birds, are referred to as ‘lean’ – so everyone wins.

Kindly, you are also served at the table, so you get the bonus of admiring your chef’s admirable skill with a super sharp carving knife; gauge a couple of great take home techniques; and feel very much part of the experience. Also, you’ll discover (or you might know already), that Peking Duck is served three ways. Firstly, the 13 year old’s favourite, just dip your moist warm meat into sugar and pop it into your drooling mouth. Secondly, wrap it up in a pancake with spring onion, hoisin sauce and cucumber (yeah I know that). And thirdly, place the duck inside a pastry shell and fill to overflowing with any condiment to hand.  Are you on your plane yet?

We perhaps went a step too far and ordered more. Not duck, but a fabulous spicy (though not hot) prawn dish, some really yummy greens and 20, I repeat 20, steamed assorted dim sum.  Yes, we could hardly move, it was just like a Greek Christmas spread, however it was pretty close to heaven in terms of a memorable dining experience.

Oh, and finish off your meal with a 70 minute trip to your closest foot massage centre (ours happily was two flights down in the same complex). You might snore, I did, but at least the staff will giggle politely. You also might wish to sleep in the marble corridor just outside, post your foot/food pleasure, as another chap was. Just let your body take control.

So to your closet restaurant… there are apparently three restaurants across Beijing.

We headed to:
5/F, Jinbao Dasha, Jinbao Jie
Dongcheng District

And the others are:
1-2/F, Nanxincang International Plaza, 22A Dongsishitiao
Dongcheng District

3 Tuanjiehu Beikou, Dongsanhuan Lu (southeast corner of Changhong Qiao)
Chaoyang District