Royal Academy of IKEA

Richard Rogers RA is an innovative architect who is behind the shellhouse idea. In short, this is IKEA concept extended to building houses. Pre-fab, cheap, fast, waterproof. And it can be stacked up to have more floors.

This weekend, the courtyard of the Royal Academy of Arts was turned into a construction site for a sample shellhouse.

The house is meant to be completed by tomorrow, the 13th, when it would become a colourful pendant to Joshua Reynolds’ somber monument, and RA visitors would be able to appreciate its beauty from the inside as well.

This is August 13th, computer modelled. You can see Joshua Reynolds statue to the left.

The building must be easy-to-assemble, for I’d not seen much of constructing going on in those few hours I spent there popping in and out of the RA for alfresco coffees (though “al cemento” would be a better term).

During all that time, Joshua Reynolds was sadly trying to reach the semi-erected house with his brush, as if driven to add colour to it. He shouldn’t have worried. Colour was provided a-plenty by relaxed construction workers and machinery:

Watching this “constructive performance” made me think of bricks. Yes. Bricks.

The terrace of my living room in London opens on a wall that’s partially made of bricks. Differently coloured, bearing the scars of wear and tear, randomly sized. Here it is, my wall:

It can be watched endlessly. It makes the observer think of generations of bricklayers called to attend to it throughout the ages of its existence, with their unique cement recipes, monogrammed trowels, and the traditional bricklayer songs. And at that moment you realise you don’t really know the traditional bricklayer songs. This is what inspires you to write “Another Brick in the Wall” (though Roger Waters may never admit that)

Why did I start thinking of bricks in the first place, though?

Because London can be steel, glass, and concrete, all nicely modern and shapely, but it is London only if there is a brick wall that tells you some things stay as they have always been.

I love countries where traditions are at least partially about preserving history (a camouflage for collective idiocy of the past), because I love a good story, and history has plenty of those.

Too many shellhouses, and the bricks would be gone from life and memory, replaced by madly coloured IKEA boxes. Generations of bricklayers would be forever restless. No “another brick in the wall” would be written. No bricks means no easy-to-grab weapon to settle disputes, as well!

Scary, isn’t it?

From a police report:

“…police investigation has shown that the car alarm went off not because a brick smashed the windshield. It is the windshield that was smashed by the brick because the car alarm went off…” 

And the photograph that convincingly illustrates the benefits of brick availability:


To sample stuff this blog offers, click on About at the top. It has links to some of my best or typical posts. There’s an Art & Fun shelf if you feel like in need of a laugh.


  1. Rogers Lloyds building is cool and, unusually for the the city, going to last. The building before it was pulled down in just ten years victim of crazy land values, so Lloyds could just be the next St Pauls. But flat pack, disposable building?! Sexy and disposable would be quite a combination, there’s a bit of wanderlust in all of us, but bright colours don’t do it on their own. Make some elements permanent, like big curving beams to be reclaimed later, domed acrylic roofs – not unlike mechano. The techno building services on French motorways pack alot of imagination for the buck and are essentially a kit. Ironically the prototype was on Lloyds; stainless steel bog units  intended to be moved around the building except they proved veeery expensive and not going nowhere..

  2. I have a love-hate relationship with the ‘impossible’ store from Sweden. By their own account they use design, but then force their designers to “stay cheap”.

    That is no way to build a building that should last more than 30 years to begin to be repaying the reusable materials it no doubt used for construction.

    My beef—and at IKEA restaurant it would come with mashed potatoe and gravy—is that there seems t be a “get out of jail FREE” card operating inside the system.

    1. I love the card idea )
      I’ve met a few people who tried working with the swedish giant. Long-term it has destroyed their business and morals ) But I am sure the card you imagined could be a miracluous bonus for some of them!

  3. though i love IKEA and it could be a great solution, i still love the old london architecture better with lavish carvings, statues of old kingdom rulers and stuff. it’s antique yet timeless and unforgettable. however, it could be something cool as well to mingle past and future altogether when appropriately applied.

    1. I am with you on all counts except love for IKEA. I think they’ve become the conduit for Chinese manufacturers who win on price because they are subsidized by the state – which is unfair. ) Thank you for sharing your thoughts – were we drinking, I’d raise a glass for the artful mingling of past and future!

  4. Reblogged this on Semi-Partisan Sam and commented:
    The blog Standing Ovation, Seated takes a look at the “innovative” new work of architect Richard Rogers, who is going round pimping out what he calls the “shellhouse idea” – basically cheap, prefabricated, garish, plasticy-looking constructions, modular in form and “stackable”. I suppose in his mind this is revolutionary and never-before-attempted. In my mind (and I am at pains not to sound too much like Prince Charles here – I love the new skyscrapers and commercial buildings transforming the London skyline), this looks like just about every new residential building popping up in towns and cities across the UK. Cheap, bland, thoroughly forgettable and almost certain to age badly, just as the brutalist concrete architecture of the 1960s and 70s is doing. Still, a fascinating blog post well worth a read.

    1. I must thank you for the wrap-up of my thoughts, exactly ) The comparison with the architecture of the 60s/70s is very true. Not in architectural but “ideological” terms )

  5. Quick, cheap easy to build housing is very much needed in the UK. But I wouldn’t like to live in one of those oversized Lego blocks. I love old brickwork and wood, with all the different hues and wonky bits that look as though they could tell a story about times long passed.

    1. A thousand of these houses are built. A thousand families move in. It is likely to be a thousand of families who need something cheap, fast, and temporary. Given the likely profile of those families, what you get ultimately is slums, with the only character being provided by graffiti, and a history of crime ) That’s just one scenario, of course

  6. Ooo- Lego construction would be phenomenal. I know a few people who have built very impressive and surprisingly comfortable dwellings inside shipping containers. Human size legos I guess. I’m definitely more partial to the brick, lasting constructions.

      1. Especially when it’s burning!!

        I should know better. I live in one of the driest countries in the world, surrounded by flora which has evolved to burn in order to reproduce. Wood is not the best choice here, either… but I still like it!

  7. Loved the brick wall! “Colour was provided a-plenty by relaxed construction workers and machinery” and what a pop of color they added! Loved all the juxtaposition! What an eye you have! So glad you captured all this to share.

    1. Especially for a Russian, given the history of my country, with its funny tradition of having men who disagree against a good solid brick wall, in no time and with the minimum of hassle )) Makes one value life just that important tad more ))

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