An Unexpected Hill at the Royal Academy of Arts

 Turkishceramics and the Royal Academy of Arts have appointed emerging Istanbul-based architectural practice SO? to design Unexpected Hill, a bold urban intervention made from ceramics that invites the public to occupy it over the summer months. Set to open in July 2015, Unexpected Hill is located at the threshold of the Royal Academy’s Grade-II listed Burlington Gardens and will be accompanied by a display inside the building.

Unexpected Hill by SO Architects

Unexpected Hill by SO Architects

SO? 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.

Commission Entry by OS31

Commission entry by OS31

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. Embracing the unique opportunity to ‘intervene’ with the building before it undergoes a major refurbishment, they were invited 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.

Commission Entry by Bureau de Change

Commission entry by Bureau de Change

SO?’s Unexpected Hill creates a dialogue with the 19th century façade of Burlington Gardens and engages with the surrounding neighbourhood, while using 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.

Winning entry: Unexpected Hill by SO Architects

Winning entry: Unexpected Hill by SO Architects

Alan Stanton RA, Stanton Williams Architects, commented:

“Each of the architects’ proposals showed ambition and imagination. We felt that SO? Architects’ 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?’s 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? 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 Sinterflex ceramic tile, currently the lightest ceramic in the world, created by Turkish ceramic brand, Kale. The installation will transform 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. A programme of activities and performances will take place on and around the installation at 3pm on Sundays 12th, 19th, 26th July and 6th, 13th, 20th September.

Winning entry: Unexpected Hill by SO Architects

Winning entry: Unexpected Hill by SO Architects

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 looking forward to creating a new public destination in London this summer.”


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