Writers’ Rooms

I’ve been thinking a lot about the narrative structure of the exhibition. I don’t want the show to simply be a series of disparate installations. I’m keen for the built commissions to be at once poetic and pragmatic – for visitors to experience each of the buildings as design responses to specific strands of everyday life. During discussions with colleagues, we chewed over the issue of whether to include artists on the longlist, but we made the firm decision that this exhibition should only include architects. On the one hand, exhibitions such as Psycho Buildings at the Hayward Gallery have already done an excellent job in inviting artists to respond to notions of architectural space, and we wanted to set ourselves apart from that – but crucially, I wanted this exhibition to be an opportunity to actually commission working architects.

Why is it that humans have this intrinsic need to seek out small, bespoke spaces to carry out certain activities – why is it that sometimes only certain types of space will do for certain moments in our everyday lives? These are the types of questions that have made me think about possible sections for the exhibition – perhaps commissioning each of the architects to create something unique for a particular set of circumstances, social scenarios/typologies perhaps?

I have always been fascinated by the impact of design and architectural space on notions of the creative workspace – and in particular the idea of creating a space for writing. The Guardian has a wonderful website dedicated to this very subject, Writers’ Rooms, with the strapline “Portraits of the spaces where authors create”. It’s fascinating to see how writers arrange their working spaces and the ritualistic paraphernalia that they surround themselves with. Some writers insist on an Academy aspect ratio widescreen window with plenty of daylight – some insist on retreating into a corner. 

Richard Sennet is very fond of his 1960s Joe Colombo cabinet. Some authors surround themselves with precariously balanced piles of books and manuscripts; some insist on a pared down, clinical aesthetic. It’s even better when you get a glimpse of the writing space of an author long departed. I have an early childhood memory of Beatrix Potter’s writing desk at her house, Hill Top, in Cumbria – seen during a family holiday to the Lake District. Writers’ Rooms offers a sneak peek into the working environments of luminaries such as Charles Dickens, Jane Austen and Virginia Woolf amongst others. George Bernard Shaw’s ‘writer’s hut’ is a personal favourite of mine. 

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