MArch Unit 14: The Long Project. Mike Aling

Image: Lucas Cranach the elder, Der Jungbrunnen (The Fountain of Youth)

As the slow wheels of progress turn and healthcare provisions improve, we clamber forward into what has been termed an Age of Longevity. As a species we are living increasingly longer lives, and the UK is no exception with its top-heavy age demographic model. Even London – the youngest region in England – is ageing, albeit at a slower rate than its neighbours. In cities across the world, for example in Tokyo or Seoul, a number of services for growing ageing populations have been introduced to keep loneliness and boredom at bay, from cheerobic workouts to rugby clubs and raves.

But longevity is not limited to those in their twilight. With a longer life comes a longer youth, a longer period for our inner puer or puella aeternus. And consequently, it offers a longer stretch to bathe in the splendours of middle age. The constraints of being seen to ‘act your age’ are gradually being disregarded and reformed; we find septagenarian parentage on the rise, and the FIRE movement (‘Financial Independence Retire Early’ retirees, usually in their 30’s) gaining momentum.

Ideas around the desirability, or sheer horror, of living an unimaginably long life, or the dream/threat of immortality, have long permeated through culture, a history abundant with elixirs of life and fountains of youth. Sci-fi and speculative fiction has a rich canon of immortality-imaginaries, including Shelley, Wilde, Borges, Moorcock and Doctorow to name a very small but notable handful. The role that technology plays in our longevity is ever more intrinsic, both in fiction and in reality.

This year Unit 14 will explore programmes for architectural proposals that are intentionally age-inappropriate, as we prepare for a future with altered attitudes towards longevity. We aim to question the assumption that our social behaviours follow a linear nature in line with getting older. We will challenge age specific, and age discriminate spaces, in all their forms, and for all their age ranges. The Unit will continue its fascination with current and emerging technologies and ask how they might be utilised in relation to our ageing processes, both psychologically and physically/bodily.

Unit 14 will begin the year by investigating how longevity manifests through the canon of architecture’s long projects. These projects, both built and unbuilt, span extended periods of their designer’s life (and beyond). From Ledoux and Lequeu to Webb and Spiller, from Cheval and Rodia to Constant and Kiesler, we will explore architecture projects of entire lifetimes, projects that shift with the concerns of their designer through their changing life situations. The unit will travel to Barcelona to visit Gaudi’s as-yet-unfinished Sagrada Familia, currently 137 years in the making, amongst other delights.

The unit agenda is to develop projects through the processes of modelling and the outputting of models. 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. Our models will be long projects: additive investments over the entire academic year. 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). At its most ambitious, Unit 14 is interested in how modelling has the capacity for both worldbuilding (the construction of an imagined worldspace) and Worldmaking (the design and making of the actual world): architectural projects as thought experiments of vast scales and complexities.

Y1 students will be asked to develop building programmes in the more mature constituency of Bromley.

Final year students will develop their (long) projects based on their individual themes and agendas.

“The model is the entity… the object is mere hard copy”.

– Bruce Sterling, Shaping Things