Rowan Moore’s top 10 exhibitions of 2014
Parking lots in Los Angeles, arty wind tunnels, Dada collages and 1960s visions of future living – Rowan Moore picks his favourite shows of the year
1 Constructing Worlds
Parking lots in Los Angeles, water towers in Ruhr factories, wooden churches in the Depression era: when it comes to architecture, photographers have a taste for the overlooked. They like to seek out places with the aura of an architectural signature, the glamour of a famous name.
Such photographers are well represented in Constructing Worlds, which is based on the beautifully simple idea of showing images of buildings. It shows the work of 18 people who took such pictures, some of whom would call themselves artists rather than photographers, from Berenice Abbott in the 1920s and 30s, to Hélène Binet in the present day.
Apart from the elegance of the concept, the work shown is terrific and well-chosen. There is a nice balance of styles, attitudes and subjects. The work of well-known architects – such as Frank Lloyd Wright, Le Corbusier and Daniel Libeskind – is in fact included, but they are given no special status. They are shown as other instances of construction and inhabitation, not necessarily better or worse than the parking lots and water towers.
The spread is global, including Mozambique, China, Afghanistan, Europe and both Americas, with the United States perhaps more represented than most – in the last century, it had both the most fascinating constructions and the most active photographers. But, again, everything is shown without prejudice or hierarchy. You are left to draw your own conclusions.
Some images are almost pure abstraction. Others are documentary, where buildings are used to suggest poverty, war or human struggles not themselves in shot. Architecture is shown as evidence of life, which your imagination must then add to each image. Simon Norfolk’s view of some trees outside Baghdad looks almost as peaceful as a landscape by the Dutch painter Hobbema – until you notice the signs of damage caused by fighting.
Constructing Worlds is a great way to understand something about architecture unfiltered by the usual categories of good and bad. Each one of the photographers is worth attention, but here are some of my favourites: those parking lots, shot from above by the artist Ed Ruscha; Iwan Baan’s images of modern Caracas; Nadav Kander’s vast and melancholy Chinese infrastructure; and Julius Shulman’s posed compositions of glamorous modern houses in mid-century California.
2 Anselm Kiefer
Royal Academy, London
Forests, fire, blood, paint – Germanic themes given new force. Scorchingly good.
3 Richard Hamilton
Tate Modern, London
Charming, witty, brilliant, multi-dimensional. Hamilton was the sort of non-architect who understood more about architecture than most architects.
4 British Pavilion
Venice Architecture Biennale
Almost-last hurrah of the now-disbanded architectural group FAT. Three-dimensional musings on the influence of William Blake’s Jerusalem on town planning. With Clockwork Orange and Joy Division thrown in.
5 Hannah Hoch
Whitechapel Gallery, London
The great Dada collagist sumptuously displayed.
6 Sensing Spaces
Royal Academy, London
Lovely and ambitious idea – installations by a not-too-obvious selection of architects, to explore the sensory qualities of building. Some worked; some didn’t.
7 Louis Kahn: The Power of Architecture
Wonderful drawings and memorabilia (plus film clips by his son) of the romantic monument-builder of postwar US architecture.
8 Futuro House
Matt’s Gallery, London
A 1960s vision of future living by the Finnish architect Matti Suuronen, rediscovered, restored and erected on the roof of Matt’s Gallery in the East End.
9 The Wind Tunnel Project
10 Abram Games
Jewish Museum, London