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….

Unit 21: Dialogues: From A to B and Back Again. Shaun Murray & Simon Withers

Image: Dorothea Tanning, Two Worlds + Maritime Greenwich

“Dialogue comes from the Greek word dialogos. Logos means ‘the word’ or in our case we would think of the ‘meaning of the word’. And dia means ‘through’ – rather than two. A dialogue can be among any number of people, not just two. Even one person can have a sense of dialogue within himself, if the spirit of the dialogue is present. The picture of image that this derivation suggests is of a stream of meaning flowing among and through us and between us. This will make possible a flow of meaning in the whole group, out of which will emerge some new understanding. It’s something new, which may not have been in the starting point at all. It’s something creative. And this shared meaning is the ‘glue’ or ‘cement’ that holds people and societies together.” – David Bohm, On Dialogue


The year will be composed of twelve dialogues, six during the twelve weeks of term one and six over the twelve weeks of term two. Each dialogue will extend over two weeks and the spatial consequences of each dialogue, what you discover and design, will become the basis for the ensuing dialogue. Each dialogue will have a tight focus and the elements designed and tested in each dialogue will accumulate to become your dynamic composition, one composition in term one and one composition in term two. Each dialogue is essentially a specific task, six tasks in each term and each task becoming an element of your final composition. The foundation to the year and to each dialogue will be the eleven RIBA General Criteria, in particular GC2, GC3 and GC5. Use the General Criteria as a valuable reciprocal device, a device for sparking critical reflection for thinking carefully about and testing each of your dialogues. Each of you will keep a logbook throughout the year recording iterations, tests, notes, reflections, precedents and conclusions. The logbook will form the backbone of your portfolio and will describe the developmental arc of your year. Consider your logbook and portfolio as essential constituents of your practice to be updated weekly.

Dialogic scale 1

Janus, the Roman God of transitions and time, of doorways, passages and dualities, of the material and the abstract, of all beginnings and endings, of the risings and settings of the sun, is shown with two faces, one looking to the past and one to the future. These alternating fluxions are in perpetual dialogue with each other. It is reciprocating dialogues such as between the future and the past that Unit 21 is curious to examine in depth. What are the dynamics of this dialogue right now? Right here. What might other spatial dialogues be? Say between unusual environmental phenomena and contextual strangeness? Between ecological strategies then and now? Between inside and outside, light and shadow? Between different scales, the familiar and the model? Between the pencil and the pixel? We will use dialogue as a tool to explore meaning and ideas.

Dialogic scale 2

If we think of a dialogue as a hinge, a dynamic architectural element, one having the capacity to throw seemingly static components (the door) across space we might look to Cardea, the Goddess thresholds, door handles and hinges, beloved by Janus of whom Ovid said ‘Her power is to open what is shut; to shut what is open’. If we further consider the meaning of a dialogue as a hinge we may begin to think of a hinge as ‘making (something) dependent on something else’. A perpetually reciprocal dialogue.

Now if we carefully analyse this element, this hinge, this dialogue – what are the spatial implications? The material potentiality? You will use this element, one of many iterations you will develop and test via dialogues, to cultivate the fundamental constituents of a composite, an architecture. Unit 21 is little interested in form but profoundly interested in spatial relationships. In other words composition. How do you cultivate spatial relationships? If to cultivate is ‘to acquire, develop or refine, to encourage, to make friends with’, how will cultivation play out in your composites?

Site – Year One

Will be within the Maritime Greenwich World Heritage Site from Rangers House to Island Gardens including the River Thames. Maritime Greenwich is also a site of Outstanding Universal Value which means;

‘cultural and natural heritage which is so exceptional that it transcends national boundaries and is of importance to present and future generations of humanity as whole’.

‘They should be exceptional or superlative ~ the most remarkable places on earth ~ and be outstanding from a global perspective’.

The future is a fundamental ingredient of an OUV site.

Maritime Greenwich describes multiple fabulous elements: the Royal Park as landscape incorporating pavilions, including those by Robert Adam and Zaha Hadid, conduits, reservoirs, 300 odd tunnels, sites and layers of archaeology – the Royal Observatory – the National Maritime Museum – the Caird Library – Queen’s House, that House of Pleasure – Salomon de Caus’ mischievous automata – the National Maritime Museum hosting 3,500 model ships from Egyptian to date – the Old Royal Naval College comprising amongst others the Painted Hall, the Chapel, Wren’s Temple Grove, the Great Courts, Five Foot Walk, Water Gate and more – Hawksmoor’s St Alfege Church – the Thames foreshore – the Thames itself and to conclude, Island Gardens. Within Maritime Greenwich there are and have been an extraordinary range of institutions – laboratories, schools, music studios, artists studios, and architectures. Places of curiosity and discovery.

Site – Year Two

You may use Maritime Greenwich or a site of your choosing. Your site should though be extremely carefully selected to best enable you to explore the spatial, social, political, material, environmental and contextual issues that are critically important to you. The crucial role of the site is to frame your argument. The analytical tools you use will still be dialogical leading to a series of reciprocating fluxions, iterations or series of spatial episodes leading towards your final project. All of this to be recorded weekly in your logbook and portfolio. See paragraph two in toolbox below.


Unit 21 will work closely with Captivate: Spatial Modelling Research Group. Captivate is building a high fidelity digital model of the entire World Heritage Site using scanning, photogrammetry, ground penetrating radar, photography and drones. Shortly before lockdown by using ground penetrating radar, Captivate located underground near Queen’s House a substantial part of King Henry VIII’s palace of Placentia, where it was not meant to be, a very significant find.

You will use these tools, especially photogrammetry, to capture and examine the world of your site, to make the solid transparent, to build spatial nets that capture your attitude to architecture. The point is to explore multiple techniques in combination to represent your work. Think of scanning not as a technology but as a practice. To scan means to look at thoroughly, to search, to examine.


Unit 21 has prepared a schedule for each week of the academic year, the schedule defines each dialogue, the output of each dialogue, the trajectory of terms one, two and contains references. The schedule forms the skeleton of your year and will be given to you in week one.

Studio & community

Unit 21 has experimented with many platforms to support the Unit as a community, a community where ideas can be discussed, debates can happen, work shown, references shared, news propagated, random exciting discoveries posted – a platform that also enables public and private conversations. The most studio like experience we have found is Chanty. Unit 21 will be on Chanty for our online community which will profoundly augment our studio days at Stockwell Street and our site visits. Our being a community is fundamental to Unit 21. As the situation stands today, Unit 21 will meet at Stockwell Street, Maritime Greenwich or galleries every second week and will be online for the alternate weeks. This is to facilitate those who are able to use Stockwell Street and those who for whatever reason may not be able to. Of course this may change depending on government regulation and your circumstances. We will adapt to circumstances whilst always maintaining our studio, our community and our dialogues.

Unit 20: Refuse. Jake Moulson & David Hemingway

Image: Rebecca Hastings, Gazing Into the Anthropocene II, 2017

“The fox is an ambivalent animal and a potential model for our primitive selves, thriving on waste and instigating a cycle from which accumulation and excess become productive again.” – From exhibition text ‘The Pale fox, Camille Henrot’ Chisenhale Gallery, London.

The future junk of now will define us.

We have been through a lot. And a lot has been gone through. We are going through resources at in increasing rate – discarding, exploiting and piling up.

From office spaces sitting empty to unread emails, disposable facemasks, disposable coffee cups, rooms kept at a constant temperature, continually updated technologies, shrinkwrapped deliveries, insta-posts without followers and twitter accounts with little to say, we are perpetually leaking and discarding.

“To think about design demands an archaeological approach. You have to dig. Digging, documenting, dissecting, discussing – digging, that is, into ourselves.” – Beatriz Colomina and Mark Wigley, Are We Human?

Rubbish dumps are an essential part of archeology’s attempts to reveal how a civilization has lived. Geological epochs are defined by what is added to the earth’s crust, with genetically modified chicken bones being the current marker of the Anthropocene, and new and as yet unknown techno fossils marking the so-called impending Novacene.

Alongside physical waste, we are rejecting past histories, erasing marginalised voices, finding lost voices, and adapting narratives, drowning statues in rivers and seeking new structures. But we are also in an ever-increasing surplus of information and data while our personal knowledge is in reverse, disconnecting as much as connecting. Facts are getting drowned in rhetorical effluent, confusing objective trajectories, becoming justification for dubious fortifications and obscuring the horizons of critical thinking. Perhaps in waste, in the discarded and ignored – liberated from spectacle, cycles of consumption, algorithmic determination, and maybe even temporal and geographical context – other potentials can be deciphered or imagined. 

 “But from where does the accumulation of matter, energy, and information inherent to the architectural object come? And is it really an object, or merely the hardened edge of larger, planetary relations?” – Kiel Moe, Metabolic Rift, Gift, and Shift.

It is in this context that we position Unit 20. Sifting through objects and artifacts with particular attention to their interrelationships, alternative possible histories and futures, and on the look-out for lost or new meanings and intelligences.

“One species’ inefficient waste is another species’ intake.”- Kiel Moe, Metabolic Rift, Gift, and Shift.

We will assemble collections of the ignored, the deficient and the ontological oddity to form personal ‘knowledge zones’ about what is, has been, or could be, arising from an intimate engagement with the processes that surround our materials and references. We will look at these at a range of scales 

We will head down the Thames Estuary where the ever-changing edges of London meet the fields and shores of Essex. Here we will site our found knowledge to form new typologies and prototypes of architecture for the near future. 

Selected reading and references –

THE CARRIER BAG THEORY OF FICTION, In Dancing at the edge of the world, By Ursula K. LeGuin

ACCUMULATION. Metabolic, Rift, gift and shift, By Kiel Moe:





MEDIUM DEISGN, By Keller Easterling

Unit 19: The Advantages of Evisceration: Non-Specific Urbanism 03. John Bell & Simon Miller

Image: Heather Phillipson, The End

I see the school and the houses where the kids are.

Places to park by the fac’tries and buildings.

Restaurants and bar for later in the evening.

Then we come to the farmlands, and the undeveloped areas.

And I have learned how these things work together.

I see the parkway that passes through them all.

And I have learned how to look at these things and I say,

I wouldn’t live there if you paid me.

I couldn’t live like that, no siree!

I couldn’t do the things the way those people do.

I couldn’t live there if you paid me to.

– David Byrne, The Big Country

It is 2049. These days, suburbia thrives, while the inner city is shunned by those who once flowed in and out on the tides of global commerce. Density gradients have changed: the countryside is now of higher perceived value than the centre – the poles of the magnet have been reversed and the tractor-city no longer exerts its pull. With the flight of its workers, city rents have collapsed, land values have plummeted and large-scale investment has shifted to the periphery. This has been seen before in post-war Europe, 1970’s New York, 1980’s Berlin, early 21st Century Detroit, now it has happened again in London.

This year the unit will research the potentials for a radical reprogramming of the heart of near-future London, focussing on adaptive reuse to reframe the character of the city, developing proposals for the reimagining of its existing extraordinarily rich and diverse building stock. 

This social and environmental imperative will be played out against the pragmatics of the construction industry and will question the logics of the tabula rasa and the generic city implicit in the London Plan. 

As a first step in our analysis we will consider the city as a Body without Organs as described by Artaud and developed by Deleuze and Guattari:

When you will have made him a body without organs, then you will have delivered him from all his automatic reactions and restored him to his true freedom.

“To Have Done with the Judgment of God.” – Antonin Artaud

This theoretical axis will be linked to the pragmatics of future development, which become very clear when seen outside of the rhetoric of the developer’s insistence on ever-increasing land values requiring ever increasing densities of accommodation. The reality is that construction is based on a wasteful economic model propped up by an inequitable taxation regime, which routinely involves tearing down existing structures, disposing of the resulting material and rebuilding from scratch. In the UK, more than 50,000 buildings are demolished every year. Of the 200 million tonnes of waste generated in Britain annually, 63 per cent is construction debris. Today The UK construction industry produces around 40 percent of the country’s total emissions. Worldwide it consumes 26 per cent of aluminium output, 50 per cent of steel production and 25 per cent of all plastics and unsurprisingly, almost all the planet’s cement. This is not a sustainable model. Over to you…

Unit 18: New Brave World. Pascal Bronner & Thomas Hillier

Image: Nick Hannes, Garden of Delight

“The end of the world has already occurred. We can be uncannily precise about the date on which the world ended. Convenience is not readily associated with historiography, nor indeed with geological time. But in this case, it is uncannily clear. It was April 1784, when James Watt patented the steam engine, an act that commenced the depositing of carbon in Earth’s crust – namely, the inception of humanity as a geophysical force on a planetary scale.”

– Timothy Morton, Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology After the End of the World

As we technologically advance at a blistering pace, we leave in our wake a devastating and ever-growing trail of destruction that scars our landscapes and destroys our fragile ecologies. From enormous trash gyers in the Atlantic Ocean to mountains of radioactive mining waste in Florida, to Amazon’s imposing fulfilment centres, nowhere is left untouched by our impact. Contemporary philosopher, Timothy Morton, describes these vast, temporal and spatial entities as Hyperobjects that defeat traditional ideas of what a thing is in the first place, questioning if the world as we know it is has already come to some form of end.

Whilst achieving this wonderful life of comfort and luxury, at least for the privileged few, our ability to create such monstrous objects is only outdone by our skill in covering up these collective sins. We sweep them under earths carpet, leaving large parts of our planet virtually uninhabitable. But, what if there is a second life for these scars, what if they can be reconfigured for a new world?

Where we are should come as no surprise to any of us, for decades, even centuries, writers have been predicting this future. In 1952, inspired by Huxley’s Brave New World, ‘Player Piano’ by Kurt Vonnegut showed, like so many writers of this genre; how Mankind’s blind faith in technological advancement has disastrous effects on society. We will take inspiration from writers like these alongside those who envision a different world such as Aron Bastani and his manifesto on Fully Automated Luxury Communism.

In our technologically advanced society, altogether serviced by Netflix, Deliveroo and Amazon Prime, could we once again indulge in the slower things in life? Bastani’s manifesto questions if new technologies can liberate us from work, where automation, rather than undermining an economy built on full employment, is instead the path to a world of liberty? Could we once again spend our days delighting in elaborate feasts, endless gardening, playing or even lying in a perpetual slumber?

Is now a better time than ever to reinvent the realm around us to create a new brave world… let’s find out!

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….

Unit 14: Bedroom Worldbuilding. Mike Aling & Irene Astrain

Image: Rebecca Tudehope, The Tsinghua Initiative (Unit 14, 2019)

Over the past few months we have all become acutely familiar with our immediate domestic environments. Fiction writers have long constructed entire imagined worlds from their home offices, kitchens, studies, toilets, garages and bedrooms. Famously Mark Twain used a billiard’s table as his desk. Artists tend to have a more maximalist approach to the home-as-studio, where domesticity and art practice intertwine (take Lucian Freud’s studio for example). During lockdown, and perhaps well into the future, architects and designers now find themselves in a similar position. Whereas previously the architect was more likely to practice in an office or studio discrete from homelife, we are now wedded to our dwellings.

This year unit 14 will explore how aspects of our most immediate, and intimate, domestic environments impact on our most speculative architectural design ideas. We will engage, full throttle, with the practice worldbuilding: the construction of imaginary worlds – in our bedrooms. How can the simple quotidian processes and minutiae of our domestic confines be extrapolated up into proposals for new and alternative architectural worldspaces?

Worldbuilding has long been associated with fantasy epics and literature more widely, however it is increasing discussed in fields such as games design, film making, urbanism and architecture. Otherwise known as subcreation or conworlding (constructed worlds), the success of these fabrications relies on their consistent upholding of self-instigated internal rules and logic systems. Architecture has a complex relationship with worldbuilding: architects often imagine a slightly newer version of our current world, whilst being intrinsically tied to its realities. Architects also have a close association to Nelson Goodman’s notion of ‘worldmaking’ from the 1970’s: we are in the business of producing design imaginaries that act as catalysts for change in our actual-existing (but not necessarily phenomenal) world(s). It is no understatement to say that today we are living through one of a small number of moments in human history where the world yet to come, just in front of us, will radically alter from our present version. For unit 14, this is an exciting precipice to look down from: a point in time where the architectural imagination will be vital in conceiving our new post-covid worldspaces.

Unit 14’s representational vehicle of choice for worldbuilding is the architectural model: the processes of modelling and the outputting of models. Or to be more specific, the practice of worldmodelling, architectural projects as thought experiments of vast scales and complexities. As increasingly advanced BIM software becomes ever more prevalent in the profession (considered to be going 10-dimensional!), we seek to explore the potentiality of the architectural model in its manifold forms. We are interested in the architectural opportunities that emerging modelling processes and technologies afford, and we aim towards proposing new model languages and methods (physical, immaterial, co-existing and otherwise). Our models aim to be long projects: additive investments over the entire academic year. And given the current ever-shifting situation, we must be prepared to live alongside our models.

Y1 students will be asked to develop imagined worlds and building programmes in the barren yet opportunity-rich lands of the London Royal Docks, an area of London laden with infrastructure and potential, and handily close enough to us in Greenwich for a walking tour. It is the most eastern of London’s large hotel districts, a watery stretch of domestic simulacra.

Final year students will develop worldbuilding projects based on their individual themes and agendas.


“I think there are two types of writers, the architects and the gardeners. The architects plan everything ahead of time, like an architect building a house. They know how many rooms are going to be in the house, what kind of roof they’re going to have, where the wires are going to run, what kind of plumbing there’s going to be. They have the whole thing designed and blueprinted out before they even nail the first board up. The gardeners dig a hole, drop in a seed and water it. They kind of know what seed it is, they know if planted a fantasy seed or mystery seed or whatever. But as the plant comes up and they water it, they don’t know how many branches it’s going to have, they find out as it grows. And I’m much more a gardener than an architect.”

– George R. R. Martin

Unit 13: A New World of Joy. Ifi Liangi & Dan Wilkinson

Image: The Wizard of Oz, 1939

Unit 13 operates with a foot in the magical and a hand in the practical. This year we’ll explore colour as a political issue for architecture. 

Throughout Western history colour has been marginalised as superficial and cosmetic, including by the founders of modernism who considered it to be deceptive, primitive and feminine. Proclaimed by white blokes who were being, well, white and blokey, the modernist giddiness towards white walls often included statements which dismissed the use of other colours in relation to issues of race and gender. As a unit, together, we want to urgently exchange ideas on architectural colour by celebrating the cosmetic, the wily and the artificial as an act of defiance towards these early opinions. We want to consider alternative positions to find a truly modern architecture which critiques the whiteness woven into our history. 

We’ll begin the year with a reverse crit. With you, our students, being the crit panel we’ll present how these ideas can be found in our own work, and the methods we use.

‘Colour is suited to simple races, savages and peasants’ Le Corbusier, 1925. 

Seeing as we’re not allowed to go anywhere, our site will be somewhere we could never go – the 1925 Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts. This city-wide world’s fair was a pivotal moment for modernism with Le Corbusier presenting his L’ Esprit Nouveau pavilionWhilewaffling on about the importance of his use of white (which, to be fair, wasn’t even a particularly interesting one) Le Corbusier used the fair to criticise the Chinese, Japanese, Indian and Persian participants as being culturally inferior to the West. For the founding of the modern era, white minds mattered. 

Through researching the negative ideologies present at the fair we will defy them by designing our own architectural prototypes to be placed back in 1925. Working between an architectural and urban scale, these spatial experiments will challenge the modernist dismissal of colour and the racism and sexism buried within this. Our projects will be designed to last exactly 95 years as they undergo a change in state – such as a change in gender, race or nationality. Through the critical and political nature of this engagement with colour our work will celebrate other ways of thinking to the modernist elevation of white walls and white skin. 

Immediate further reading: https://bit.ly/3kcGrBY 

Unit 12: Conjurers of the Big Object & the (Impending) Triumph of Surrealism. Rahesh Ram, Martin Aberson & Helena Rivera

Image: Qiuyu Jiang, The Lonely Hearts Club (Unit 12, 2020)

The Triumph of Surrealism

We are seemingly living in a surreal world: cars are starting to drive themselves; computers talk back to us, the vacuum goes off to clean the house, and there are hybrid humans walking through the streets of London. Modern technology seems to be blurring the boundaries between humans, objects, animals, and nature.  We seem to be part of a spectacular worldwide surrealist game of the Exquisite Corpse.

The subconscious world that the surrealists were so interested in seems to have popped out into the conscious world and into reality; a real triumph for surrealism.

One major component in this triumph is the nature of objects and our relationship to them as we seem to be treating objects more like sentient beings as they become more animate, become playful, talk to us, help us and are able to communicate with us much more.

Philosophers have been debating the nature of objects and now the debate is intensifying with some even asking that haven’t objects always been alive and talking to us?

This Brief Object

A brief is like a love letter. It is a plea (?), an invitation to join on a journey into a space where there are possibilities. The person, the medium, the pen (or the computer), the idea, the words, the type, all coming together, to create a projection in the mind of the reader. If the intentions of the writer have been received in the manner intended, an ethereal portal of possibilities opens ups.

“Love Letter, Love Letter, go get her, go get her.”  – Nick Cave

Yet, love letters are inanimate objects that use symbols to generate ideas that activate images, thoughts, dreams, emotions, and more.

The love letter (brief) is a magical object. It is an angel-object; a messenger.

The Madness of Objects

We live a world of magical objects that enables us to exist in different ways. They behave like intermediaries between us and the many ways in which the world works.  

Objects are fundamental to our lives. Yet, they are generally seen as insignificant or peripheral.  Bruno Latour and others, in the Actor Network Theory suggests that everything in the social and natural worlds exists in constantly shifting networks of relationships. Thus, objects, ideas, processes, and any other relevant factors are seen as just as important in creating social situations as humans.

Graham Harman goes further and rejects the privileging of human existence over the existence of nonhuman objects.

Michel Serres, the French philosopher in his book Angels, suggests that to see objects merely as inanimate and a slave to the human is ignorant. This is highlighted in a conversation in the book.

One of the protagonists says:

“Science says that there is a distinction between the subject, which is thinking and active, and the object, which is passive and thought of.”

In reply, another protagonist states:

“That is total ignorance of the act of knowing! Objects know in a different way to us.”

Why does the sundial acting on its own to mark the hour of the day, why are memories found dormant in libraries, in museums, behind a computer screen, why do the pipes warble, a clarinet sing, and a violin weep?

Serres says that the biro, the writing desk, ideas, memories, form groups that think, that remember, that expresses itself and sometimes invents.

Objects become subjects or quasi-subjects. They are not passive. Humanity is not the only ones that can emit or transmit and communicate.

Artificial Intelligence has not just been invented says the character in Serres’s book:

“We have always been artificial for nine-tenths of our intelligence. Certain objects in this world write and think; we take them and make others that think for us, with us, among us, and by means of which we think.”

The character goes on to say:

“The artificial intelligence revolution dates back to Neolithic times”.

Heidegger talks about the transformation of an object from ‘ready to hand’ (when we think about the object itself) to how it changes to ‘present to hand’ (when we use the objects). This is where we no longer think about the object itself but the object starts to form a network of relationships with other objects including the user to enable its intended intention.  

An object is further projected into the notion of the magical with Graham Harman’s stipulation that the object has the ability to recede or even disappear from our immediate consciousness when using them.  The pen shifts from our perception when writing down our ideas and thoughts as we are engulfed by our being and the pen recedes to a point of disappearance. The pen may only remerge if it stops working.

If the objects can emit, transmit and communicate, and can enable us to think, and is equally fundamental to creating social situations as much as human, then we, the conjurers of big objects must learn to use the esoteric secrets of objects to enable new relationships to be made, different ‘languages’ to be spoken and new stories to be told.

                                                        Your job is to make the big objects talk!

Making the Big Objects Talk.

To the innate qualities of the object, the conjurers of the big object has the sorcerer’s power to not only enable the objects to talk but say whatever they want it to say.

They can use their powers to make the big object emit or transmit messages, tell stories, sell ideologies, whisper sweet nothings and it can be said in a tone that can add to the projected ideas. The message can be said romantically, poetically, sensitively, sensually, and even angrily.

These messages can be made overtly or obliquely. The message can be told with a number communicative devices:

The use of semiotics: use of signs and symbols to enable communication.

The use of narrative: an account of connected events- story- not necessarily linier storytelling.

The use of allegory: a story, poem, or picture that can be interpreted to reveal a hidden meaning, 

The use of metaphor: a figure of speech in which a word or phrase is applied to an object or action to which it is not literally applicable.

The use of the tactics of ‘Fictioning’:  Fictioning is the act of choreographing a number artifacts or spaces imbuing them with meaning through narratives association, mythological links, metaphoric impositions, usage of sign and symbol as language, iconographic evocations and decoration flamboyance to enable the creation of an architectural language for subjective readings.

These concepts and ideas of verbal and written language utilised and appropriated for visual and spatial projections.

The authors or creators, that have knowledge of visual language can manipulate inanimate objects to project ideas, beliefs, ideologies, dogmas, narratives, and mythologies to enable the viewer to conjure up the past, the future, heavenly spaces, imaginary worlds, and fantastical places. They have the power of the storyteller and the conjurer.

Architecture is much more than the physical, functional, pragmatic aspects – it emits beyond the site boundary and if you listen carefully it will talk to you and if you learn the esoteric secrets of making the object talk then you will be able to communicate to the world through the conduit of the big object.

The Line of Flight: Cultivating the Imagination

“The real is never beautiful. Beauty is a value which applies only to the imaginary and which entails the negation of the world in its essential structure.” – Jean-Paul Sartre, The Imagination 

There are two main aspects that Unit 12 attempts to do in the creation of a brief; the cultivation of the imagination and the enabling of students to undertake projects on a subject matter that they are interested in. Last year’s brief was an attempt to marry the notion of fictions, narratives, objects to enable the architecture to project ideas, thoughts, ideologies and agendas as an experience of architecture. The experience being the story the architecture tells. This is Architecture as a messenger, a whisperer. The notion of the phantom was used to denote theses esoteric messages that come alive in the mind when projected into these spaces. The architecture being a trigger for the mind and the imagination.

We want to continue on this trajectory of investigation as last year’s students produced work that was unexpected, ambitious, imaginative, exceptional and most of all they were unique to them.

Cultivating the imagination requires a series of provocative devices that can enable the flight of the imagination. For that to happen you have to travel into the world of ideas.

Into the World of Ideas:

There are four main concepts Unit 12 is interested in:

The notion of the concept: The abstract idea. This is fundamental to the creation of a meaningful project. It is ideas built on knowledge, research and is created with playful endeavour.

The notion of fiction: Fiction generally is a narrative form, consisting of people, events, or places that are imaginary.  Unit 12 wants to take the real world and take it into the realm of fiction so as to push on the outer boundaries of reality. Fiction as a trojan horse sent into reality.

The notion of speculation is conjecturing without firm evidence.  This is the moment of the leap.  The moment when you augment the world with possibilities.  A moment of risk and exhilaration.

The notion of experimentation: the action or process of trying out new ideas, methods, or activities.

Objects have this magical quality, and depending on their fiction, provide transcendental, transportive qualities that can make a multitude of connections to enable the mind to take flight. Just as in art, novels, films, an object can evoke tangential thoughts from sentiment to extravagant illusions. Objects are agents for imaginative fantasies.

Masters level is a pedagogic space where students should be able to take risks and speculate and experiment to cultivate their imagination.

Other ideas to float in:

Meaning: All architectural spatial, material choices and other representational aspect of architecture chosen and manipulated and choreographed to enable meanings to be projected.

Narrating the ArchitecturePlans, section and elevations to be driven by fictions and narratives.

Nonliteral association: Guilty by association – the imposition of the metaphor on the design.

HeterotopiaBeing in two places at the same time as an imaginary strategy. 

Hybridity: Fictional/Real hybrid- hybridization (in general).

Collapse of Time: Where space and time collapse together (past, present, and future collapsed together)

Project: A Talking Magical Object (Architecture)

You are to conjure up a talking magical architectural object that emits a message into the world. The message could be ideological, social, cultural, political, environmental OR a theme of your choosing. The messages can be overt or oblique and can be hidden in mythology, narratives, fictions or metaphors.

What: What’s the message?

Who: Who is the message for?

Language: What language will you use to project your message- mythology, narratives, fictions or metaphors etc.

EPOCH/time: In the age of… (Myth-Science/ Myth-Technology/ Myth- Culture/Myth-Society)

Place: 4th Years, London but project driven site choice. 5th years, anywhere in the world/fictional but project-driven site choice.

                                                                    Make the Object Talk


Field Trip:  Trip into the Imagination J The only safe(ish) place to go.


Open Lecture: Peter Barber


Thursday 5th March 2020, 6.30pm

Tessa Blackstone Lecture Theatre [0003]