Unit 16: F.E.N.S. Simon Herron, Jonathan Walker & Andrew Lavelle

Image: The Fen Survey Project 1982-86

The roads, water channels and railway tracks run in straight lines and gentle curves past fields and plantations, basins and reservoirs. Like beads on an abacus designed to calculate infinity…” – W. G. Sebald, Rings of Saturn

UNIT SIXTEEN continues its exploration into the myths of the near future. LAST YEAR we explored the invisible forces and the exchanges of ENERGY that surround trade. The historical Hanseatic trade post of Kings Lynn was our launch into a landscape that people rarely venture; the formless infinite space of the THE FENS. An unstable place with one foot on solid ground and one in the sea, where CLIMATE CHANGE and coastal erosion is leading to the imposition of a managed retreat and community decommissioning.

THIS YEAR we will build upon the knowledge gained and continue our venture across the FENLANDS, part agricultural factory, part area of environmental importance, part disappearing territory. Its fertile soil provides the countries richest farmland and most effective carbon sinks per unit area. For centuries its si ngular geography and sky-filled waters have been a place of political and spiritual retreat. Today it remains a mercurial landscape of bucolic ATMOSPHERES, emphasised HORIZONS, drowned lands, and lone figures.

TOGETHER we find ourselves dreaming of another place, looking for an escape from ones own existence in the city. We shall be continuing our fieldwork from our desktops, and establishing a mode of study that can exploit and flex to match the current times. You will start by constructing your own DISTANT PERSPECTIVE of the Fenlands, to capture its corporeal presence, the layers of its history and its future possibilities.

The horizon, the landscape, the tables edge, the horizontal axis can move to vertical and become a figure.” – Per Kirkby, Selected essays from Bravura


Week 2 to 5

Your first exercise is to establish a distant PERSPECTIVE of the Fenlands.  An experiment in looking at a landscape and a demonstration of what can occur when you dig deep into a place without a preconceived schema. Your field study can present resources as varied, real, and imagined as you wish, from geological reports and associated extinctions to folklore and indigenous futures. This can be a confrontation of real conditions or a mythical interpretation.

First years will start at The Great Fen, once the largest lake in England, and now the lowest land point in Great Britain. Second Years, with the resonance of last years explorations will develop their own environmental and contextual position.

The unit would like its members to test the capacity for understanding relations from a distance and for reaching insights characteristic to a place.


Week 2

We will visit a small Exhibition at London’s PACE gallery by the pioneering artist Trevor Paglin. The limits of vision are frequently explored within his work, through the histories of landscape photography, abstraction, romanticism, and technology. The chief concerns of his work is learning how to see the historical moment we live in and developing the means to imagine alternative futures.

The exhibition allows visitors to visit in person or to virtually experience the exhibition through a live web portal connected to cameras placed in the gallery. Online participants can observe visitors experiencing the work in person and can be “present” in the space by streaming their personal webcams on monitors displayed within the exhibition. These images will be viewable by people in the gallery and by viewers online.


Week 4

We will visit a small Exhibition in London focussing on two remarkable artists from the twentieth-century Alberto Burri (1915-1995) and John Latham (1921-2006) and their engagement with TIME and LANDSCAPE. Followed by an exploration into the V&A Museum next door.


Week 5 to 10

Week 7 Future Rep seminar

Week 9 Year 1 Design cross-crit

Atmospheric Register / Fragile Experiment / Measuring Device / Material Witness

Following on from the field work you will be asked to design an experimental MONITOR specifically suited to a location in your home. These inventions are to function as REACTIVE tools to the particular atmospheric or environmental conditions or moments that occur during the course of a day – events such as the ebb and flow of a particular draft, the creeping path of a shadow, the percussion of a drip from a leaky tap etc. They are ARCHITECTURAL INVENTIONS at a desktop scale with the potential for future deployment.


Week 10 to 12

Week 13 Portfolio Review

The MONITORS are not simply finished inventions, but working hypotheses for further academic interrogation. Your models, drawings, recordings and subsequent discussions have presented multiple opportunities for further architectural enquiry. You are to interpret its potential within the constructed FENLAND environments of your fieldwork. 

Process and expand the architectural ideas so far developed into a BUILDING AS CONTRAPTION which CONFRONTS and RESPONDS to the strength and delicacy of the Fens.

The unit would like its members to develop a convincing synthesis of characteristics of place, climate conditioned inventions, technological experimentation and unconstrained visual expression.


Weeks TBC

During the course of TERM 1 we shall arrange a series of film screenings at the end of Wednesday studio events.  The films presented will be MEDIATIONS ON LANDSCAPE by film makers and documentary makers of the past and present….

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *