Rory Hyde, curator of architecture and urbanism at the V&A, talks to onoffice about the role of public entities, and the politics of architecture and design.
How did the ‘All of This Belongs to You’ exhibition come about?
We talk about this idea of design and public life as a guiding principle to all the projects we’ve done. This idea then evolved into this show, as a museum-wide exploration of what it means for the V&A to be a public space. Read our ‘All of This Belongs to You’ review
What is the role of the V&A as a public museum?
It needs to be a safe place to discuss [the importance of] public realms and help people make informed decisions about the future of the city. We want to be a key resource to architects and students, but also policy-makers and the general public, so they can understand the tools available for shaping London.
How would you describe the political aspect of the exhibition?
There are two versions. One is small ‘p’ politics, which is more about providing a space for public debate and exploring the idea of ‘publicness’ through objects in a traditional gallery setting. The other more explicit version will be the big public event we’re holding on election night, where we’ll invite speakers to talk about the [general election] campaigns through design.
What should government be doing to further support public art, architecture and design?
There’s never been this little spending on public spaces, buildings and architecture. Architecture for me is a very civic profession; you’re trained with this general public good in mind. It draws people with this civic ambition into the profession, so when there’s very little spending on public architecture, we somehow have to develop new ways of creating meaning within public spaces.
That’s what the show seeks to address, because it’s not just about squares and cafes and trees in the street, but that somehow ‘publicness’ can be communicated through a leaflet or a flag or the design of a museum.
Do you see increasing urban densification of London and growth in the number of tall buildings as a risk to public realms and public interaction?
Not necessarily. Tall buildings can give a kind of logic to a city, an identity and provide tens of thousands of square metres of space.
There’s always a potential for them to be great, but there needs to be balance with investment in the public realm and the way these things hit the street, so they contribute more broadly rather than being walled fortresses.
The exhibition installations interact with historic pieces in the museum’s permanent collection. Do you think that dialogue is important?
Jorge Otero-Pailos’ giant column (created for the All of This Belong’s to You exhibition) is probably the best example of that. We talk about two forms of conservation. On the one hand, there’s the physical to keep them stable and structural, which we understand very well. The other side of that is conceptual conservation; we need to keep them relevant and an urgent part of our conversations and discourse. I look at the cast courts and not many students go there to sketch or use them as a resource.
We’ve done a great job preserving these materially, but perhaps we need to bring back the idea of what this room means as a space to consider ideas about time.
These installations represent contemporary architecture, but how can it be represented on a permanent basis?
The new Rapid Response area allows us to quickly respond to new ideas. [For example], there are four black strips of carbon fibre called the Ultra Rope. It’s a new product by the Finnish company Kone. It’s ten times lighter than steel cable but equally as strong, so it allows lifts to go much higher. It’s being used in all the new super tall skyscrapers in Dubai, Saudi Arabia and across Asia, and that for us is a simple story about product design and materials innovation.
We can’t fit a skyscraper in here, but through these kinds of things we can spark the imagination and still tell those stories.
We’re also building a new museum in the Olympic Park in the new Cultural Quarter, which we’re referring to as V&A East, although that’s not the real title.
We’re going through the architectural competition at the moment, but a big part of that will be to give architecture another big presence in London.