Rowan Moore’s top 10 exhibitions of 2014

Barbican, London

Parking lots in Los Angeles, water towers in Ruhr factories, wooden churches in the Depression era: when it comes to architecture, photographers have a taste for the overlooked. They like to seek out places with the aura of an architectural signature, the glamour of a famous name.

Such photographers are well represented in Constructing Worlds, which is based on the beautifully simple idea of showing images of buildings. It shows the work of 18 people who took such pictures, some of whom would call themselves artists rather than photographers, from Berenice Abbott in the 1920s and 30s, to Hélène Binet in the present day.

Apart from the elegance of the concept, the work shown is terrific and well-chosen. There is a nice balance of styles, attitudes and subjects. The work of well-known architects – such as Frank Lloyd Wright, Le Corbusier and Daniel Libeskind – is in fact included, but they are given no special status. They are shown as other instances of construction and inhabitation, not necessarily better or worse than the parking lots and water towers.

Walker Evans's Alabama miner's house, 1935 ... Constructing Worlds.
Walker Evans’s Alabama miner’s house, 1935 ... Constructing Worlds. Photograph: The Guardian

The spread is global, including Mozambique, China, Afghanistan, Europe and both Americas, with the United States perhaps more represented than most – in the last century, it had both the most fascinating constructions and the most active photographers. But, again, everything is shown without prejudice or hierarchy. You are left to draw your own conclusions.

Some images are almost pure abstraction. Others are documentary, where buildings are used to suggest poverty, war or human struggles not themselves in shot. Architecture is shown as evidence of life, which your imagination must then add to each image. Simon Norfolk’s view of some trees outside Baghdad looks almost as peaceful as a landscape by the Dutch painter Hobbema – until you notice the signs of damage caused by fighting.

Constructing Worlds is a great way to understand something about architecture unfiltered by the usual categories of good and bad. Each one of the photographers is worth attention, but here are some of my favourites: those parking lots, shot from above by the artist Ed Ruscha; Iwan Baan’s images of modern Caracas; Nadav Kander’s vast and melancholy Chinese infrastructure; and Julius Shulman’s posed compositions of glamorous modern houses in mid-century California.


Royal Academy, London

Anselm Kiefer's Interior (1981).
Stark … Anselm Kiefer’s Interior. Photograph: Royal Academy

Forests, fire, blood, paint – Germanic themes given new force. Scorchingly good.


Tate Modern, London

Swinging London ... Richard Hamilton at The Tate Modern.
Swingeing London 67 ... Richard Hamilton at Tate Modern. Photograph: The estate of Richard Hamilton

Charming, witty, brilliant, multi-dimensional. Hamilton was the sort of non-architect who understood more about architecture than most architects.


Venice Architecture Biennale

Musings on town planning ... A Clockwork Jerusalem at British Pavilion.
Musings on town planning ... A Clockwork Jerusalem at British Pavilion. Photograph: David Levene for the Guardian

Almost-last hurrah of the now-disbanded architectural group FAT. Three-dimensional musings on the influence of William Blake’s Jerusalem on town planning. With Clockwork Orange and Joy Division thrown in.


Whitechapel Gallery, London

Dada ... Hannah Hoch.
Dada ... Hannah Hoch. Photograph: Courtesy Of Ubu Gallery, NY/Galerie Berinson, Berlin

The great Dada collagist sumptuously displayed.


Royal Academy, London

Ambitious ... Kengo Kuma's installation at Sensing Spaces.
Ambitious ... Kengo Kuma’s installation at Sensing Spaces. Photograph: James Harris

Lovely and ambitious idea – installations by a not-too-obvious selection of architects, to explore the sensory qualities of building. Some worked; some didn’t.


Design Museum

Louis Khan's Steven and Toby Korman House, Pennsylvania.
Romantic … Louis Khan’s Steven and Toby Korman House, Pennsylvania. Photograph: Barry Halkin/Design Museum

Wonderful drawings and memorabilia (plus film clips by his son) of the romantic monument-builder of postwar US architecture.


Matt’s Gallery, London

Futuro House, on top of Matt's Gallery.
Vision … Futuro House, on top of Matt’s Gallery. Photograph: Jessie Simmons, courtesy of the artist and Matt's Gallery

A 1960s vision of future living by the Finnish architect Matti Suuronen, rediscovered, restored and erected on the roof of Matt’s Gallery in the East End.


Wind Tunnel Project at Farnborough.
Amazing … Wind Tunnel Project at Farnborough. Photograph: Chris O'Donovan

These truly amazing wind tunnels, built to test warplanes and their engines, opened to the public and enhanced with art.

Jewish Museum, London

Abram Games's controversial Blonde Bombshell.
Socially committed … Abram Games’s controversial Blonde Bombshell. Photograph: Picasa

Nice show of the great and socially committed mid-century designer of posters. Best known for wartime morale-boosters and information campaigns, but much more than that.