MArch Unit 21 :: The Gentle Art of Making Enemies: Curiosity Abounded :: Dr Shaun Murray and Simon Withers

In May 1859, James Abbott McNeill Whistler took lodgings in Wapping from where he explored Limehouse, Bermondsey, Rotherhithe, Deptford and Greenwich, etching this singular strand of riverine London and producing the ‘Thames Set’. For hundreds of years, dangerous, infectious, and foreign ideas had landed along this shore, ebbing and flowing with the tide, arriving, departing, and transforming this city. The giant shipyards at Deptford and Woolwich, the inland seas of Greenland, Russia, Stave, Lady and Lavender Docks, sites of exchange hosting vast quantities of unfamiliar ideas, materials, sensations, tastes, forms and sounds, were epicentral distributors of change, sites of turbulence, friction. Whistler’s painting ‘Wapping’ (1860-64) looks from the ‘Angel’ in Rotherhithe across the water to Wapping. The masts, rigging and jettied window structure incisively fragmenting and framing multiple views and multiple events, each frame becoming a border, a container adjacent to but sheared from its context, the dynamism of the vital river trade contrasting dramatically with the static incorporeal figures.

To be curious is to be an architect – to have a desire to engage with the new, to use architecture to reflect the world around us. Our site forms a triangle. From the mouth of Deptford Creek walking upstream via the newly fire-sunk disco boat, along Creekside to meet with the High Street, turn and follow the market northwards, to the east Archer’s insular composition of improbable alien elements, passing Sayes Court and on to Convoys vast underground docks, turn again and take the beach seaward to begin anew at the Creek.

Our current research focus will unpack how education and technology have opened up a huge chasm fraught with dangers, and also opportunities. You will investigate this through multiple grounds which will therefore have multiple consequences – the participants are varied. Current models tend towards de-centralisation, what for example will be the possible consequences for pedagogy of the blockchain?

In the first three weeks you will explore and analyse forensically the Deptford Triangle, collecting architectural, environmental (luminance, sonic, temperature, biological and meteorological variations), physical, social, political and historical data that will form the basis of your project library. This library will be added to continually throughout the year and will contain the key references for your project, becoming the source from which you develop complex design decisions and research for your DR or thesis. Your library will form part of your portfolio and will be used in crits to the context for your project. These acute observations from within the Deptford Triangle will be used to design intricate spaces for multiple occupants, developing a complex ecology which will be communicated through highly detailed cut-away birds eye and worms eye perspectives, along with physical models, supported by the Future Representation module.

“The new structures might contain freespaces, the forms of which do not invite occupation with the old paraphernalia of living, the old ways of living and thinking. They are, in fact, difficult to occupy, and require inventiveness in everyday living in order to become habitable. They are not pre-designed, pre-determined, predictable and predictive. They assert no control over the thought and behaviour of people by conforming to typologies and coercive programs of use, to pre-established ideologies and their plans to predominate in human activities under the name of an enforced unity of meaning and materiel. Rather they offer a dense matrix of new conditions, as an armature for living as fully as possible in the present, for living experimentally. The freespaces are, at their inception, useless and meaningless spaces. They become useful, acquire meaning, only as they are inhabited by particular people. Traditional links with centralised authority, with deterministic and coercive systems are disrupted. People assume the benefits and burdens of self-organisation. Existence continuously begins again, by the reinvention of itself.”


Year 1

You will develop a small building in the complex urban environment of Deptford. Your architecture will operate as an ecology of architectural spaces through material, species and participants that operate within them.

Year 2

Your architecture will be an ambitious architectural project in terms of research integrated through design. You will be an expert in your specific field and your architectural language will be personal and highly tailored.