“Architecture is defined by the action it witnesses as
much as by the enclosure of its walls.”
– Bernard Tschumi
As our cities grow denser and the composition of the communities they support become more diverse and polycultural, the individual and collective dynamics of municipal living are constantly being challenged and redefined. The social impact of urban densification is difficult to measure and easy to disregard at the urban planning stage. As a result, large scale urban developments are often responsible for the blunt disintegration of historic communities and the blind production of confined and inflexible living spaces that are unfit for social interaction and allow individuals to slip into anonymity.
Nosiness and gossip have long been reliable tools of informal civic organisation which observe and amplify the smallest of local actions and occurrences and help to maintain strong and vibrant community identities. For these tools to be effective, they rely on our natural curiosity in our neighbours’ private affairs, our compulsion to peer from behind the curtains and our perception of domestic and shared civic spaces as sites of mystery, scandal and melodrama.
This year Unit 7 will take a long and unflinching look from behind the net curtains to investigate the impact of urban density on citizenship and to explore radical new methods for encouraging positive civic tendencies in challenging urban settings.
The site for this year’s projects is Shoreditch, an area renown for the vibrancy of its street culture and the diversity of its residential and commercial communities. Historically a working-class neighbourhood, Shoreditch has undergone numerous transformations over the past 30 years which have resulted in the marginalisation of some of its historic sub-cultures and the introduction of numerous new ones. Against the backdrop of ‘hipsterfication’and densification, the boundaries of civic responsibility have become uncertain, making it a perfect testing ground for imaginative new approaches which aim to prompt local pride and harmony.
Project 1: Domestic Dioramas – 3 weeks
You will begin the year by examining the depiction of unusual domestic spaces in contemporary cinema and speculating on their potential as sites of mystery, scandal and melodrama. To do this, you will be asked to choose a scene from a list of films and explore its dynamics through iterative model making, drawings and the production of stop-frame animations.
Project 2: Architectural Melodramas
You will then expand on your findings from the initial task and allow them to inform an approach to identifying a community and site of interest in Shoreditch. Following careful research and observation, you will develop a complex mixed-use programme for a series of intimate, urban interventions that engage with the existing social and political tensions in Shoreditch and challenge the relationship between private citizens and the wider communities they make up.
Your proposals will be both experimental and highly detailed and you’ll be encouraged to develop them with technical precision and through the production of numerous iterative prototypes at a range of scales. By the end of the first term, you will be required to complete initial proposals to allow enough time for technical development and the refining of a deliberate representational approach that relates to your initial conceptual interests in the following term. To assist you in the process, we will provide drawing, computing, and photography support and will hold several technical workshops in addition to the regular tutorials throughout the year.
Second year students will be designing small-scale, experimental buildings on a chosen site in Shoreditch. You will be encouraged to use your early conceptual work to inform a carefully researched building programme and develop creative ways in which your key concepts can be represented faithfully in your final drawings and models. There will also be a key focus on the development of design and technical skills in preparation for third year.
Third year students will be designing complex and ambitious research buildings. You will use your dissertation topics to inform the concepts driving the design and will be encouraged to develop urban strategies than can be applied on a wider scale beyond the physical boundaries of the proposals themselves.
Field Trip: Amsterdam | 3 days
In early 2019, we will go on a trip to Amsterdam. In Amsterdam, we will continue conversations about domestic spaces as sites of mystery and melodrama and compare the how domestic spaces there differ from those in Shoreditch. We will look at Dutch paintings of historic domestic spaces by De Hooch and Vermeer as well as visiting progressive new domestic models in Borneo & Sporrenberg and Rietvield’s Schröder House in Utrecht.
***image: The Tenant, Roman Polanski,1976.