Whoever reads regularly this blog knows that I develop an attraction for architecture schools in the United Kingdom; however I tend to focus a lot on the London ones (Bartlett, AA, Westminster, Royal College of Arts and Greenwich) and tend to forget too much the others which are proposing a very interesting pedagogy as well. This article is to make it up to those schools that might communicate less on an international level but work very rigorously with talented (young often) teachers.
The two following projects are third year undergraduate projects at Oxford Brookes University in a studio tutored by my friend Colin Priest along with Carsten Jungfer. The following text exposes the studio’s field of exploration:
This year we engaged in relevant theoretical and current practice-based discourse around Form Follows Performance. In critiquing Adolf Loos’ writing in ‘Ornament and Crime’ we challenged spatial conditions to re-discover the core values of architecture – space and material. In observing behavioural shifts violating prevailing norms, informal processes and their effects, we asked can negative acts manifest positive opportunities? Ultimately designing architectural solutions to proactively address cultural conflict and contribute towards the redefining of new forms of social and spatial order at a local scale in the city.
Although I am not very convinced by the somehow moralist terminology “negative” and “positive”, I find fundamental for a first year studio to have for ambition to abolish as many prejudices as possible in order to make the years spent in school as a way to -quoting Mark Wigley about education- reduce stupidity as much as possible. The two following projects are interesting to a lot of extents: their maturity, their interesting programmatic choice, their skillful narrative, their subtle aesthetics (far from the merchants of cool) and also for their very surprisingly good sense of construction which give to those two building a solid consistency.
To see other work from this studio, you can read the catalog online.
The ‘Good House-Keeping’ School by Stephanie Spiteri
Criminal activities alter the conditions of a city but this in turn provides positive architectural opportunities for solutions. In London alone, 40,000 people are waiting for homes with around 70,000 vacant homes. Squatters find, occupy and renew these void spaces with materials they source locally. They turn the discarded void space into a home. Often when they are evicted, the space goes back to being an unused, wasted void.
Developing a response that could change these unfolding events is an armour, a kit of parts comprising of components that are fundamental to owning not just a residence, but a home. It is composed by the thresholds that establish territorial and spatial boundaries, through the voids that highlight pockets of space and views, and the layers of personal identity that combine to form the ultimate ‘Ornament against Crime’. The composition of these components determines the overall individual identity of the space.
Whitechapel is an affluent area for squatters; its surface layer is a language for revealing the cities voids. This language stems from the deterioration of the building fabric; rust, missing components, peeling paint and crumbling surfaces. It stems from certain additions to the building fabric; boards blocking windows, grates blocking doors, vegetation and graffiti. A hierarchy is formed through the layers of deterioration that mark the vacancy of space.
The ‘Good House-Keeping’ School occupies what once was an unused void in Whitechapel. The building works on a process of renewal, a system of assembly. Reclaimed materials sourced locally are brought in by the squatters in exchange for a lesson and are stored on the façade grids. They are brought in as needed to compose the spaces for a class. When the composition and a class is over, the spaces can be dismantled and taken away by the squatters and implemented in their homes around Whitechapel, illustrating a larger urban renewal agenda. Then the process starts again with spaces being replenished from the reclaimed materials on the façade.
On the micro scale, the construction of residential components is exploded, the individual layers of materials divided revealing its composition. On the macro scale, the school strengthens the squatter and larger community by providing the knowledge on how to transform these wasted city voids into not just spaces but homes.
Burlesque Theatre by George Regnart
This Burlesque theatre was designed with the intention of distorting social conditions that originated from the insecurities originating from crime. The structure of the theatre has been composed from the performance and spatial qualities blurring the interior and exterior relationships through viewing. Mimicking a conceptual exploration of an ornament against this crime, the facade of the building creates a site of inescapable interaction where insecurities are heightened as the body becomes occupant and object on display. With the introduction of open spaces, seating and alcohol as you walk through the site, social insecurities lessen becoming a relaxed scene, set against a softening tectonic background. Artificial lighting and shadows manipulate the structure for within the theatre allowing burlesque performers to use the lighting as a form of participatory tease.