To mark the occasion of his 80th birthday, this Royal Academy exhibition celebrates the ideas, values, and creations of the renowned architect and urban strategist, Richard Rogers RA. Its title, Inside Out, refers to some of Rogers' most famous designs, including the Centre Pompidou (1971–77), created with Renzo Piano, and the Lloyd's of London headquarters (1978–86). Both have structural features and services, such as lifts, situated on the outside of the building. Inside Out also describes the exhibition's insightful strategy for examining Rogers' life – beginning from his upbringing and ending with his most recent work.

Personal items, biographical videos and quotes from Rogers create a picture of the architect's life. Born in Florence, his enjoyment of art and culture was influenced by his parent's view that these were an essential part of life. His mother was a potter, whose modern ideas taught him not to be afraid of 'the new'. This gave Rogers the courage to produce the groundbreaking designs that he is most famous for. His success was forthcoming, despite Rogers' claims that he "wasn't good at school". On display is a poster for dyslexia awareness featuring Rogers' face alongside the assumption that he thought he'd never build a successful career with such bad handwriting (evidence of which can be seen in his notebooks). Yet this exhibition's purpose is not to glorify Rogers' achievements – it remains loyal to his belief that "what I stand for is more important than what I have achieved."

With a bold, fluorescent pink background, the first room of this exhibition explains Rogers' ethos. He strives to create democratic buildings that are designed for the people that use them. The welcoming shape of Cardiff's National Assembly for Wales (1998-2005) invites people to enter and learn about democracy. He is also a strong advocate of public space in cities. Many of his designs, such as that for the Rome Congress Centre (2000, unbuilt) incorporate multi-functional public spaces. His belief in a fair society, in which prosperity is linked to the community, became a founding principle of the constitution that he developed with his former wife, Su Rogers. This constitution was implemented at Rogers' Partnership in the early 1980s, with rules that promoted a good work-life balance for employees, charitable giving and profit sharing amongst all staff.

Seven themes that have guided Rogers' work, across the decades, and within various partnerships, are explored in three large galleries. "Transparency, Movement and Colour" is the theme that is perhaps most often associated with Rogers. Many of his buildings have glass exteriors, allowing transparency, or sections without walls, as seen on the Bordeaux Law Courts (1992–98). He describes the façade of buildings, such as the Centre Pompidou, as being like jazz music, using lively colours, modern technology and changeable features. The mass appeal of his ideas are demonstrated by the fact that, when it first opened, people would ride the Pompidou's free lifts and escalators just for fun.

This exhibition is not purely concerned with the successful outcomes of Rogers' many partnerships. There are also architectural models and drawings of designs that were never built. For example, Rogers' controversial competition entry for the extension to the National Gallery (1982), which was disliked by traditionalists for its modern, 'boiler-house' aesthetic.

Rogers' wider influence on global urban design and politics is also a key component of this exhibition. During the Blair years he was appointed to chair the UK's Urban Task Force, which promoted sustainable, compact cities. He was also appointed as architectural advisor to Ken Livingstone and was a member of Barcelona's Urban Strategies Council. In the large gallery at the end of this exhibition, visitors can see Rogers' plans for London to absorb an extra two million inhabitants over the coming decades. Some of his ideas involve building mixed-use developments on brownfield sites and fast-build, factory produced housing. A Manufactured House, created by Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners, will be situated in the Royal Academy's courtyard from August to early September. In the meantime, visitors can look at an early example of Rogers' sustainable housing in the form of the Zip-Up House (1968).

Following Rogers' examples of city plans for Florence, Paris, London and Shanghai, the finishing space of this show inspires visitors to write down their own ideas for London and stick them to the wall. It also features seating that has been installed for a programme of related talks and events. Rogers' democratic values are lived out in this space with something for everyone, including LEGO bricks for children and a portable kiosk selling coffee. Overall, Inside Out is far from a dry, technical, architecture show – it houses items to amuse all tastes. Its themes could be more clearly labelled and defined, but otherwise this exhibition appears to succeed in engaging visitors with contemporary issues surrounding urban design.

Richard Rogers: Inside Out, at Royal Academy of ArtsRebecca Steel's review of Richard Rogers: Inside Out at the Royal Academy in London.4