Unit 17: Domesti[city]. Chris Roberts & Mark Davies

Image: Mark Davies, Pre-pandemic accretions 1980-2019

“The great obsession of the nineteenth century was, as we know, history: with its themes of development and of suspension, of crisis, and cycle, themes of the ever-accumulating past… We are in the epoch of simultaneity: we are in the epoch of juxtaposition, the epoch of the near and far, of the side-by-side, of the dispersed. We are at a moment. I believe, when our experience of the world is less that of a long life developing through time than that of a network that connects points and intersects with its own skein.” – Michael Foucault, Of Other Spaces: Utopias and Heterotopias (1967)

2020 has been an eventful year with a single virus measuring no more than 0.2 microns in diameter, completely disrupting the way we live, work and play across the planet; a universal phenomena but also a very personal one that needs to be appreciated from multiple perspectives.

Spread efficiently due to globalisation, international travel and densification of populations, it has left a shift towards mass disaggregation, in its wake.

It is this tension between the fragmentation of people, businesses, families and friends into their component parts and the human, political, economic, cultural and corporate desire to bring everything back together that interests us.

Major historical events have always presented opportunities to reshape our relationship with the city.

The Great Fire of London of 1666 brought about the re-building of St Paul’s Cathedral along with an overhaul of the spatial organisation of streets and building construction methods, providing an early precursor of building regulations, overseen by a team of commissioners including Sir Christopher Wren.

The Cholera epidemic of 1848 instigated the development of a new London’s sewerage system designed by Joseph Bazalgette’s which introduced the Victoria and Albert Embankments and transformed the public health of London.

The current pandemic presents new opportunities to reconsider the way we live, work and play, taking the holistic view of human and environmental health. As architects we have a unique position and responsibility to help shape the response.

The City of London is our testing ground where we will speculate and experiment with prototypes for the future of the built environment.

To navigate this testing ground, our guides will include:

o          The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster – A once beautiful city that starts to disappear.

o          JG Ballard – conjuring up dystopian futures from his suburban semi-detached house in Shepperton.

o          Long Now Foundation – a collective based on the notion of long term thinking and their construction of the 10,000 year clock.

o          The Appliance House by Ben Nicholson – a shelter from Sub-Urban life, a receptacle for all the forgotten objects of society.

o          The Machine Stops by EM Forster – a premonition unsettlingly close to our recent experiences.

The scale of our interventions will range from the canyons and edifices to the accretions and dust that are gathering in our cities and homes.

When you can’t see further, look closer….

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