MArch Unit 13: The Body Exquisite: Dress, undress, redress. Dan Wilkinson, Ifi Liangi & Naomi Gibson

The Egungun Festival of The Yoruba, 2017

This year our unit will look to design outwards from ourselves, with our bodies being the detail around which we will weave architectural proposals between the scale of the costume and the installation. Working with ceramics, textiles and other manual modes of thought, we will use ourselves as pedestals for propositions, or at least as their starting point. Like clothing, we will consider architecture as a second skin, existing anywhere between the intimate and the colossal.

Ideas of dress and soft propositions have played a minor role within the history of architecture, but not so long ago it was expected for an architect to be as equally familiar with the designing of outfits, theatre sets, pyrotechnics and even snacks, alongside the designing of buildings – for centuries these activities were considered as inseparable. Alongside being a military expert, artist, theatre designer, engineer and architect, Bernardo Buontalenti also found time to invent ice cream in the 16th century. For all of the Bramantes, Borrominis and Berninis that make up the tourist trails of Rome, it was really with their ephemeral papier-mache structures, designed to be burnt, that worlds previously unimaginable were to be found. Our group will consider the architecture of history itself. Away from the same old references and givens, what if Niki de Saint Phalle’s Tarot Garden is taken as the true architectural masterpiece of the 20th century?

Whether working at the scale of a costume or an installation, we will address ideas of the body through our own presence within them. Our designs will exist at 1:1 – our bodies dressed with spaces that suggest other worlds and future histories for architecture. The houses in which we live can be seen as enlargements of our own bodies with the walls forming a second protective skin and with entire rooms, like the bedroom or the kitchen, being devoted to a single bodily function like our organs.

The Site

‘It is a place where you can lose your inhibitions. It’s different from anywhere else’ – Francis Bacon, on Soho.

Soho will provide the sites for our explorations, with our projects looking to relate to the area’s rich history of tickling the senses. The theatricality of the district, both past and present, will be used to embroider our proposals with the realities of urban circumstance, the weather and the holding of bodies. Through its history of fashion, dandyism, theatre, film, tableaux vivants and food, along with its more sordid pleasures, we will look to entertain Soho in the manner that it has entertained many before us. While a costume can obviously be stitched, so can a room or a building on a site. The ultimate aim of your designs for Soho should fall outside of the portfolio, and perhaps your portfolio could even be marked from within an iteration of your design. We’re interested in developing tailor-architects, sculptor-architects, dramatic-architects and everything in between. We will use a variety of tools to weave reality and fiction, the every day and the magical, with the proximities between our own flesh and its enclosure determining compositional principles, informed by the strange projects and practices hidden within the history of the discipline.