BA Unit 3: The Geography of Thought. Alex Bilton & George King

Westland Greenhouse, Netherlands

“The inevitability of Total Urbanization must be questioned, and the countryside must be rediscovered as a place to resettle, to stay alive; enthusiastic human presence must reanimate it with new imagination.”

– Countryside, The Future Exhibition, Rem Koolhaas

In February this year Rem Koolhass’ Guggenheim exhibition “Countryside, The Future” marked a shift in focus away from the city and towards the vast nonurban areas of the earth which are experiencing urgent environmental, political, and socioeconomic issues. Within less than a month of opening this prescient exhibition was shut down, along with most of New York City and many other cities throughout the world. It is yet to reopen.

In the UK we too are experiencing a shift in our relationship with cities and how we live, work and interact within them. The coronavirus pandemic saw an estimated 20 million people relocated to home offices. Many employers and employees see huge advantages in efficiency and lifestyle meaning this shift may not be a temporary one. Facebook will permanently shift tens of thousands of jobs to remote work with up to half of employees working remotely permanently within five to 10 years. However, the vast majority of housing stock being built in this country is not designed for this purpose. If the shift is to be permanent a huge transition in the types of homes we build is required.

The shift to homeworking along with a desire for more personal spaces and a reduced reliance on geographical proximity to cities has also caused an increased migration from urban areas to the countryside. The number of City residents contacting estate agents to buy a home in a rural location has risen by 126% causing the London Mayor to warn of the effects of a “hollowed out” city.

This year our unit will investigate the impact that these seismic shifts will have on society and design new ways of working, living, and interacting. Inspired by Rem Koolhass we will begin in the countryside by designing a rural Machiya, a place to live, work and sell our wares. We will focus on creating spaces for creative professions which most rely on human engagement and exchange of ideas. We will explore the issues and opportunities highlighted by Rem Koolhaas and ask how creative professionals can remotely connect, exchange ideas and interact with the public whilst benefiting from a closer connection with nature and a more sustainable environment.

Next we will move our projects back into London and develop a new form of architecture that combines the best parts of the countryside and the city. Our hybrid urban solutions will feed off the cultural energy of the city whilst also allowing a more sustainable lifestyle and closer connection with nature. Our projects will allow flexibility for creative professionals to work from home and engage remotely but also to mix, share ideas, cross pollinate and feed off the energy of the city and its vibrant communities. By doing so our projects will prevent a “hollowed out city” and instead create a positive impact within the shifting urban landscape and define our vision of the new normal.