New Public Installation By So? Architecture And Ideas Opens At The Royal Academy Of Arts


Today marks the opening of Unexpected Hilly SO? Architecture and Ideas. The installation is a bold urban intervention made from ceramics that invites the public to occupy it over the summer months until 20 September.  Commissioned by Turkishceramics and the Royal Academy of Arts, Unexpected Hill is located at the threshold of the Royal Academy’s Grade II listed Burlington Gardens. SO? Architecture and Ideas was selected from a design competition between four up-and coming design practices, which included OS31, bureau de change and Scott Whitby Studio. Each design was assessed by a judging panel, which consisted of Alan Stanton RA, Stanton Williams Architects; Dr Peter Oakley, Royal College of Art; Kate Goodwin, Royal Academy of Arts; and Bahadir Kayan, Chairman of Turkishceramics. 


The architects were invited to submit proposals for an installation within the entrance spaces of the Royal Academy of Arts at Burlington Gardens that responded to the concept of ‘transformation’ – both of a building and a material. The theme of transformation was inspired by the Royal Academy’s own impending physical transformation through a redevelopment with David Chipperfield Architects. Embracing the unique opportunity to ‘intervene’ with the building before it undergoes major refurbishment, the architects were asked to physically and conceptually transform how it is perceived, questioning its formal arrangement, evoking the legacy of the building’s past or perhaps imagining a different future. Following on from the RA’s ‘Meaning in Materials’ event series last autumn, the architects were encouraged to reconsider traditional ceramics. 


The panel was impressed with SO?  Architecture and Ideas’ Unexpected Hill as a public gesture reaching beyond the building to the surrounding neighbourhood, and its use of ceramics in an unusual and imaginative way. The design explores how an intrinsically 2D material, most commonly implemented as a decorative element, can create a 3D structure intended for public use. The Unexpected Hill creates a dialogue with the 19th century façade of Burlington Gardens, transforming a threshold space. Alan Stanton RA, Stanton Williams Architects, commented, “Each of the architects’ proposals showed ambition and imagination.  We felt that SO? Architecture and Ideas’ proposal was distinctive in that it engaged not only with the Royal Academy's building but also the surrounding urban fabric. Its intriguing sculptural form will attract passers-by and potentially form a "stage" for events including the Burlington Gardens Festival on 4 July. The multiple geometric forms are an innovative way of exploiting the materiality and special qualities of ceramics."


Kate Goodwin, Head of Architecture and Drue Heinz Curator at the Royal Academy of Arts, commented: “SO? Architecture and Ideas’ installation is a playful intervention that transforms a currently underutilised space into a much needed place in Mayfair where people can sit and take time out, or explore and come together.  Ceramic tiles become form rather than decoration and create a structure, which both rises from the ground and sits in dialogue with the 19th century façade of Burlington Gardens. It raises debate about how threshold spaces can be inhabited to enliven the streets.” The geometric forms of Unexpected Hill are inspired by 2D ceramic patterns found in architecture throughout history.


Sevince Bayrak, co-founder of SO? Architecture and Ideas, explained: “We manipulated a geometrical pattern of triangles to create a 3D form. As an example of using geometry to convert a 2D object into a 3D space, the structural principles of Muqarnas help us create a hill, the highest point of the 3D structure, which will be a tunnel that visitors can pass through.” 


Muqarnas is a decorative device in traditional Islamic architecture that utilises ceramics in radial symmetry. The geometric columns will be cladded in an unusual ceramic tile, which is currently the lightest ceramic in the world. The installation transforms from day to night as translucent ceramics illuminate the hill during the evening hours and allows visitors to stop and enjoy the Mayfair surroundings during London’s summer months. Public participation is an important element of this project, therefore a number of initiatives have been planned to engage the public.  Firstly, an interactive wall designed by Tamer Nakişçı invites creative exploration of ceramic tiles and geometry inside Burlington Gardens. In addition, a programme of activities and performances will take place on and around the installation at 2.30pm on Sundays 12,19, 26 July and 6, 13, 20 September. 


Bahadir Kayan, Chairman of Turkishceramics, said: “Turkishceramics is delighted to support the Architecture Programme at the Royal Academy this year. We are thrilled to be working with such a prestigious institution and the commission for Burlington Gardens is an exciting opportunity to demonstrate the creative application of Turkish ceramics. We’re excited about this new public destination in London this summer.


Open to the public: Friday 3 July 2015 – 20 September Admission free 
Free events programme: 
SO? Architecture and Ideas 
Saturday 4 July, 3.30pm

Join the architects on their installation for an informal discussion as part of the ‘Burlington Gardens Festival’. They will share their design inspiration and response to London’s urban 
fabric as well as some of their exciting new projects in other parts of the world. Burlington Gardens Festival is taking place in partnership with Brown’s London Art Weekend 

Drawing the Unexpected 
Sundays 19 July and 13 September, 2.30–4pm 
Put pencil to paper and let your imagination run wild at this drawing workshop run by Jeanette Barnes, as she guides you through our ceramic landscape to discover new aspects 
of the Unexpected Hill. Drawing materials provided. 

The Acrobatic City 
Sunday 26 July, 2.30–3.30pm with Matt Mulligan 
Sunday 6 September 2.30–3.30pm with Mimbre 

Witness the Unexpected Hill transformed into an acrobatic theatre stage with a spectacular display of movement and agility, and discover new ways to interact with the space around 

Ceramic Stories 
Sunday 12 July 2.30–3.30pm with Carl Merry 
Sunday 20 September 2.30–3.30pm with Vanessa Woolf 
Come and listen to our storytellers spin the Unexpected Hill into a whole new setting as it provides the backdrop for tales, folklore and adventure, from past and future worlds, which 
will enthral children and adults alike. 

All details correct at time of publishing but may be subject to change. Please check RA website for more details: www.royalacademy.org.uk/exhibition/unexpected-hill