Peter Smithson argued that Renaissance architects used the ephemeral stage
architecture for courtly masques and temporary festivals to exhibit and experiment with
the new style; they were testing out the 'Real before the Real'. Architects have ever
since, often in collaboration with other producers of the built environment, used the
public exhibition of architecture to experiment with new spatial, technological or
programmatic propositions. In fact, the architectural exhibition has been, and still is, the
locale to test new forms of the production of architecture itself. In that respect, the
architectural exhibition can be an experimental praxis and has a transformative and
progressive role in the development of architecture. It is a praxis that is situated not
only 'before the real' but is in fact concurrent part of the production of architecture. It is
the 'Real beside the Real'. The thesis calls this praxis the Laboratory Exhibition.
The thesis explores the general preconditions of this Laboratory Exhibition and
explores the discrete historical development towards this exhibition type. The emphasis
is put here on specific historical forms and locale that were created or appropriated for
the experimental production and exhibition of architecture, ranging from very intimate
or private spaces, such as the 15th century studiolo, to large -scale spectacles, such as
the 19th century world expositions. The thesis argues here that their original intrinsic
qualities as places of architectural production and experimentation continue to be of
relevance for a contemporary exhibition praxis. This is substantiated through the
analysis of five contemporary case studies of Laboratory Exhibitions, ranging from a
small-scale, participatory exhibition to a building exhibition operating on a city scale.
The thesis thus produces a triangular exploration of the Laboratory Exhibition including
theoretical foundation, historical development and contemporary praxis.
The original contribution of this thesis is threefold. Firstly, it identifies and defines the
key characteristics of an experimental architectural exhibition praxis that the thesis
coins the Laboratory Exhibition. Secondly, the thesis argues, in contrast to most
architectural histories, that this praxis is of a transhistorical nature and significance
which predates the 19th century and Modernism. Finally, the thesis maintains that the
Laboratory Exhibition is an indispensable part of the contemporary architectural praxis
in which and through which architecture can be progressively transformed. In that
respect, the thesis' significance lies in the contribution to a crucial but largely absent
discourse on those exhibitions that can inform the development of architecture.