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The Festival of Architecture made its appearance in Inverness last weekend. The Building Blocks/Scotstyle exhibition(s) at the Inverness Museum and Art Gallery is a rather unusual marriage of tow thematically similar but vastly differently executed exhibitions. While they are both part of the same festival they are both very different responses to idea of public engagement with architecture. Scotstyle is the more ‘traditional’ part of the exhibition, a travelling display courtesy of the RIAS (the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland) celebrating the 100 best pieces of Scottish architecture from the century since the RIAS was founded – ten from each decade to give a nice spread to the choices. The buildings of choice were nominated by members of the public – before being narrowed down by a panel of experts – and it shows in some of the more esoteric choices on the list – some of the loveliest factories I’ve ever laid eyes on made the grade.

(Although arguably, I’d have more faith in the selection process if not for the picture used to illustrate the University of Stirling. It’s not that I disagree with their assessment that the Pathfoot building is an architecturally interesting building or that it is head and shoulders a better-designed and more pleasant building to study in than its companion across the loch Cottrell. But that the picture used is not of Pathfoot – its of the halls of residences and look, I lived in them as a student and much as I enjoyed that time and appreciate how much money the university has poured into refurbishing them in the decade since I graduated, but the buildings themselves are ugly, uninspiring buildings undeserving of any kind of complimentary architecture prizes.)

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The other half of the exhibition couldn’t be more different if it tried. Interactivity and engaging children with architecture through technology are its watchword. Mostly it uses Minecraft as its gateway encouraging young visitors to explore virtual reality versions of local architecture and then build their own which can then be displayed in the gallery as part of the exhibition. As much as their part of the exhibition was aimed at – and clearly being thoroughly enjoyed by the much younger visitors, numerous grown up visitors including myself had fun with the best use of QR codes I’ve seen yet. Combining the simple – table tennis bats with QR codes printed on one side – and the complex – Ipads with software that translated the codes into 3D animated versions of local landmarks.

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All in all, I’m not sure that the whole exhibition hung together as well as it could have – the two parts were just a bit too disparate – but it was fun and experimental, something a bit different and quirky, and I look forward to future exhibits that develop that experimentation further.

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