The Royal Academy of Dramatic… Architecture

Phil Coffey

How can we design wit into buildings, asks Phil Coffey, as he celebrates the playfulness of the late Bryan Avery

At noon on June 21, architects, actors, family and friends gathered to watch a shaft of light pass through a cleft cut into the at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts on Gower Street. This shaft of light passes deep into the building and gently caresses a bust of George Bernard Shaw. The moment was architecturally choreographed by the late Bryan Avery.

Standing soaked in light alongside the bust, Michael Attenborough expressed how his father Richard had chosen Avery as the architect for the project. He confirmed it was based on his high intellect, his ability to connect to people and, most importantly, his wit. “Wit,” he said, “expresses humanity.”

Expressing humanity through architecture is a fine ambition, but how do we do it? Wit in architecture works when played on a convention. For the deviation to work there must be expectations and familiarity. With no understanding or play on the normal, such moves can look more like an architectural joke. These generally lose their humour pretty quickly.

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