A new Alpine House is due to open later this year in the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. But you can already get a good idea of how it will look. Its footprint is small but the curved profile of its glass walls stands surprisingly high on the garden horizon. Think of it as a miniature version of the Wembley arch, the Gherkin, the London Eye - other landmarks which have bubbled up on the London horizon in recent years. The architects, Wilkinson Eyre, designed the Gateshead Millennium Bridge (also curvy) and are now working on, among other things, the King's Waterfront Centre in Liverpool. A recent exhibition in a blacked out subterranean space at the Wapping Hydraulic Power Station at Wapping Wall - itself an impressive piece of plant, dear to industrial archaeologists - gave an insight into their work. There you can see a double display: Reflections (an installation, prepared for the 2004 Venice Architecture Biennale by the architects and the sculptor Bill Pye) and Destinations - which includes models, projections and moving pictures. Here, in the common visual currency of building proposals, computer-generated visuals of astonishing verisimilitude are slipped into photographs of the sites the new structures will occupy, blurring the distinction between what has been imagined and what has been built. This is engineering in images, where methods and materials matter less than dreams and fantasies. These days we can make anything we can imagine, and the magic is in the manipulations.
LRB 21 April 2005 | PDF Download