Design of the times

24 May 2018

Author: Rima Sabina Aouf

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The latest exhibition at London’s illustrious Victoria and Albert Museum — The Future Starts Here — is the work of Australian architect-turned-curator Rory Hyde. Melbourne-born Hyde is keen to examine where our society is headed and how objects and technology affect our lives.
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In the museum capital of the world, London’s Victoria and Albert (V&A) is the grande dame. While the institution is ostensibly devoted to art and design, a visit to its galleries is more like tumbling through the entire history of human endeavour.

This month, that already epic scope extends its gaze forward with the museum's first exhibition devoted to the future. Pulling it together is 35-year-old Australian architect-turned-curator Rory Hyde.

Since moving to Europe in 2008, Hyde has made a career of infusing architecture with a public service ethos. These days that mission extends to being a Design Advocate for the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, but it’s through The Future Starts Here exhibition that Hyde hopes to reach his most important audience.

“We get 3 million visitors a year,” he says of the V&A. “For me, it’s the frontline of speaking to the public.”

Looking to the future

It was the V&A’s unique character and history that attracted Hyde to his role as curator of contemporary architecture and urbanism in 2013.

“The V&A was the first museum to have a public cafe, the first museum to have late opening hours and the first museum to have gas lighting,” he says. “Those three things add up to a space that was intended for everyone.”

The 166-year-old institution is known for its innovative exhibition design. 

The Future Starts Here is the second exhibition Hyde has curated for the V&A after 2015’s civic-minded installation series All This Belongs to You. It brings together 100 current objects that Hyde and co-curator Mariana Pestana believe reveal something about where we are heading as a civilisation. 

Designs by major tech companies —such as Facebook’s Aquila internet-providing plane — will be a big draw. But Hyde and Pestana are also including projects that have their roots in communities, protest and art, such as a model for a crowdfunded pedestrian bridge in Rotterdam and a re-creation of a restaurant for solo diners. 

“What we want visitors to take away is this idea that the future is not foreclosed, the future is not decided,” says Hyde. “We all have some agency in shaping how those things unfold.”

From PhD to practice

Hyde didn’t study curation, but he considers his architecture education to have been “a great training ground” for the museum sector.

He did both his bachelor degree and doctorate over eight years at Melbourne’s RMIT, all the while working in junior roles at architecture practices ARM, Cox and BKK, and co-hosting weekly radio show The Architects on Triple R.

"RMIT in early-2000s was a pluralist place,” he says. “There wasn’t one right version of what architecture was about. 

“RMIT gave me a sense of openness and possibility, in addition to just good drawing skills. Also, it’s in the middle of the city, it’s a very urban experience, not on a campus in a bubble, but part of the flow of how cities were made.”

Hyde particularly values the five years he spent at BKK, where he was hired in 2002 as their first employee. There he engaged in the whole architectural process, from construction and getting out the tape measure on site to analysing the contents of a client’s fridge as research on how they lived. 

His observations informed his PhD, which focused on how small practices can benefit from new technologies. Upon its completion, he moved to Amsterdam, where he worked while revising his thesis into a book, Future Practice: Conversations from the Edge of Architecture.

Attending the 2012 Venice Architecture Biennale, Hyde pushed his book into the hands of Kieran Long — soon to be the V&A’s head of design, architecture and digital, and the person who would bring Hyde into the museum.

“My book was for architects and in a way about architects, but half of the interviews in the book were not with architects,” he says. “I was always interested in what we can learn from other, adjacent disciplines and how to use that to look forward. The Future Starts Here is an extension of that thinking.”

Hyde moved to London for the V&A role, and while he’s hesitant to stereotype all Australians in the city, he’s seen some advantages to being an “outsider” there.

“There’s a sort of openness to Australians that helps them get new opportunities and there’s a sense that we don’t bring so much baggage with us either,” he says.

“People don’t have many preconceptions about you, and in return you have a more open attitude to the place and the people. I think that’s part of the advantage we have here.

"There’s so much shared culture, language everything, that’s actually it’s easy to migrate and integrate very quickly. The similarities are more important than the differences.”

Advocating for change

Hyde is also an adjunct senior research fellow at the University of Melbourne and has started on his new book How to Make the Next City, which he describes it as a “catalogue of good examples” of contemporary architecture projects.

He is also serving as one of 50 Design Advocates tasked with advancing the Mayor of London’s Good Growth strategy for the city. The role sees him review proposed architectural schemes, advise local councils and advocate a vision for sustainable, inclusive development to industry.

Connecting all of Hyde’s projects – and driving what to do next – is the will to change the culture around architecture. He wants practitioners to work for the public good, seeing themselves as “custodians of the built environment”, and for citizens to be well informed enough to make good clients.

“I’ve been lucky to have had a great education, great teachers, great supporters along the way and great opportunities offered to me,” he says. “I see that as creating a public responsibility.” 

The Future Starts Here runs until 4 November 2018.