MArch Unit 19 :: A TORPEDO IN THE ROUGH SEAS OF TIME (OR SUCK, BLOW AND SCREW) :: Professor Neil Spiller and Phil Watson :: 2016/17


There is an oft-repeated Fernand Léger anecdote that places him with Marcel Duchamp and Constantin Brancusi at a Paris aviation exhibition in 1912. While looking at a propeller, Duchamp turns to Brancusi and says something like, “Painting’s washed up. Who’ll do anything better than that propeller? Tell me, can you do that?” No one knows when Léger first told this story, nor to whom, nor what Duchamp’s exact words were, nor what Duchamp might have meant by warning a sculptor about the future of painting.

Michael Cook March 24th 2016

“International Arts and Culture”


Architekturbüro Bolles•Wilson:

Railway Tunnel Site Planning Study, Rotterdam 1988

This year the first year students in Unit 19, in the first 6 weeks of Term 1, will develop a masterplan for the Greenwich/Blackheath area. The masterplan will be developed as a group, swiftly, in a workshop with tutors in week 2. The groups primary tool for masterplanning will be the bridgebuilding. The bridgebuildings are to be of appropriate urban scale, augment their situation, enable architectural expediency and be full of delight, they will fit like a highly engineered watch part into their context – a sensitive insertion yet also a optical machine. The proposals will have a time based legibility, phasing and will delineate the distinction between longer term infrastructural pieces and more transient architectural elements

The existing historical Fan museum is housed in Greenwich. As technology has advanced the Fan has been mechanized it has become the propeller, the vacuum cleaner and Air conditioning units, it has been assimilated into the car, the ship and the plane amongst many other things. It has been at the root of Modernism in Art and architecture. It was a crucial reference for Futurism. The slipstream and fluid dynamics are unseen but certainly architectural frictions in all that we do in contemporary environmental design. In the second six weeks of term 1 you will develop a fully planned, structured and serviced building. The building will be a “FAN Museum for the 21st Century” it will contain content of your choice (and be agreed with your tutors) as long as it demonstrates the crucial importance of Fans to contemporary life and has an intellectual point of departure that intersects with the history, theory and future of architecture. This will then lead on to the development of the Design realization document in term 2 –  which will be introduced separately.

Second year will negotiate their architectural agenda with Neil and Phil.

Things we know

Architectural design is not what it used to be. We know we are part of the planet’s infinitely scaled natural ecology. We know that we are on the verge of creating biotechnical architectural devices. We know that a Luddite approach to sustainability will not work. We know that the purely anthropocentric perception of architecture is the blinkered short-sightedness of last century’s architectural donkeys. We know our cone of vision is not conic anymore. We know we can see and sense with a myriad of prosthetics and because of this our spacescape changes second by second. We know that the great hallowed halls of computing are now small enough to fit in our back pockets. We know we will drag the profession into the new millennium and the reactionaries (even the ones masquerading as avant-garde), will have to suck on it.

We know that as the twenty-first century dawns we are capable of making exceptional architectures that immerse themselves in their peculiarities. These conditions can be intensely ecological, systematically open-ended, driven by imperatives of chance, glocal, intellectually founded, enabling, concerned with time and duration, synthetic with natural landscapes, use computational power not just as a means of representation but as a editing spatial engine and above all, we can create reflexive architecture that can embroider space with swift and changing exquisite cybernetic chunkings.

Fan the Flames of this Surreality !

Unit 19 Bibliography:

  • Sarane Alexandrian, Surrealist Art, London and New York, 1970
  • André Breton, Manifestoes of Surrealism, trans. Richard Seaver and Helen R. Lane,       Ann Arbor, MI, 1972
  • Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities [1972], trans. William Weaver, San Diego, New York, London, 1974
  • Jennifer Mundy (ed.), Surrealism: Desire Unbound, London, 2001
  • Nan Ellin (ed.), Architecture of Fear, New York, 1997
  • Haim Finkelstein (ed. and trans.), The Collected Writings of Salvador Dalí, Cambridge, 1998
  • Arie Graafland, Architectural Bodies, ed. Michael Speaks, Rotterdam, 1996
  • Lewis Kachur, Displaying the Marvelous, Cambridge, MA, 2001
  • George Melly, Paris and the Surrealists, London, 1991
  • Thomas Mical (ed.), Surrealism and Architecture, London and New York
  • Aldo Rossi, The Architecture of the City [1966], trans. Diane Ghirado and Joan Ockman (revised edn by Aldo Rossi and Peter Eisenman from the original published in Padua in 1966), Cambridge, MA, and London, 1982
  • Colin Rowe and Fred Koetter, Collage City, Cambridge, MA, and London, 1978
  • Robert Venturi, Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture, New York, 1966
  • Anthony Vidler, The Architectural Uncanny: Essays in the Modern Unhomely, Cambridge, MA, 1992