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ADS1 The Shape of the City, The Shape of the Home

Nicholas Lobo Brennan, Astrid Smitham & Douglas Murphy

The purpose of architecture could be said to be two fold: the making of environmentally controlled spaces for human inhabitation; and the definition of an outside from an inside, whether material or immaterial. Architecture in both senses is the making of a world that is distinct yet related to a wider world.

Addressing the first; the studio will work with the idea that the earth could now be described as a single artificial space, an architecture at the largest possible scale, where human activity has altered the climate of the planet. The causes, results and management of the break between the natural and artificial must be recognised in the background of how we think. But the expansion of the artificial must also become an opportunity for nature and human cultural production to be brought together in the foreground as a way to create new forms of human environment. After all the objective of the idea of the city was to create a highly altered environment where human skill, intellect and desire could be pursued to its heights. 

Addressing the second; the definition of a ‘within’ from a ‘without’ persists as a primary tool of the apparatuses that organise global life at all scales, from the lines drawn on maps that form nations, to the formation of institutions, to the coded limits of identities, to the idea of property, to the materialising of walls and structures. The studio will work with the idea that the drawing of a line and subsequent dividing of matter must result in a bringing together, a point of meeting and sharing. After all it is the dividing up of a loaf of bread that allows it to be shared. 

The role of architecture here is to resist oppressiveness though an ambiguity of definition between within and without, and to retain a double function of simultaneously joining and separating, whilst never becoming solely one nor the other. In this way architecture becomes a catalyst for the unknown and chance, where both formal and informal occupation can be given an opportunity to thrive. In other words, how can each act of architecture have the qualities of the city (the city being a shorthand of an interlinked set of desirable qualities with all the collaboration, conviviality and equality that it should imply) and contribute to the foundations of community?

 At the heart of the human environment and community is the dwelling. This year the studio will look at the dwelling’s role as a radical primary generator of the city. London will be our host and test bed as we examine its history of producing urban scale interventions for dwelling. We will produce new forms of community that can exist alongside London’s existing historical forms of shared dwelling: concrete towers in the sky, concealed stone monasteries, labyrinthine brick city blocks, industrial steam curved timber structures, inhabited metal frameworks.

Community: Collective, Shared and Self-sufficient LifeDwelling is the most vital topic for architects to address at this very moment. Dwelling produced at scale is in a state of acute crisis throughout London, the UK, and beyond. New models are being sought and architects today must be ready to contribute new ideas of dwelling to the formation of new human environments and communities. The central theme of the studio will be to investigate and produce innovative 21st century responses to the question of dwelling.

Everyday life and the spaces in which it occurs are being transformed by developments in technology, in the nature of work, in legal frameworks and regulation, in the economics of land and space, in our social and political relationships with each other and our dependence upon and impact on the natural world. If architects are to be at all useful going into the near future they will need to be thinking one step ahead on all these issues. The studio will look deeply at the built landscape of London in an effort to see into the future.

In the UK there is a production shortfall of hundreds of thousands of housing units every year, an affordability crisis in the south east and a market collapse in the north. What housing does get built is frequently of the wrong type, and in the wrong place, as towers of luxury apartments grow by the side of the Thames, while families are dispersed away from areas they have lived for generations through lack of affordable accommodation.

Even in better times, the housing architecture of the UK has always been at some remove from the rest of the world. British cities still bear the traces of the industrial slums that so horrified Engels and Dickens, changing the course of world history in the process, while Georgian and Victorian speculative house builders created generic yet versatile housing types that are iconic the world over.

Domesticity - The Home as a Space of Cultural Invention, Liberated from External Pressures and Desires. Project house by Lampens
Domesticity - The Home as a Space of Cultural Invention, Liberated from External Pressures and Desires. Project house by Lampens
Two tendencies marked the 20th century in British architecture – suburban expansion through first the railway and then the motor car, and the post-war rebuilding of British inner cities. Architecturally, suburbia took the garden city ideals of Parker & Unwin and mass-marketed them, creating a much disdained but perennially attractive image of quasi-rural Britishness. Meanwhile, the post-war building boom attempted to bring the internationalised architectural language of mass-production to the UK, and in the hands of talented and ambitious architects and planners, supported by a sympathetic political establishment, the UK was for a generation at the cutting edge of world architecture, a position which it has subsequently retained only in the field of education. 

The housing situation in the UK can only be understood with regard to the political transformations of the last 35 years. The enthusiastic modernity embodied by the postwar building boom was first publicly discredited, and then politically (and frequently physically) dismantled. Modern housing architecture became associated with squalor and failure, the embedded knowledge of a generation was scattered, and the discourse around British architecture is even now yet to fully recover its ambition and boldness of vision.

The studio will look deeply at the built landscape of London. We will investigate ways of living in the city. We will analyse at massive scale and at the level of the minutiae of everyday life. We will use walking the city, carefully constructed photography, drawing, large scale model-making and 1:1 construction as our key analytical tools. 

The gathering of material is inseparable from the bringing together of people and vice versa. We work with the idea that architecture is inherently political, and offers opportunities to build social relations, from the planning stage, to construction and occupation. We are seeking to develop a technically, socially, formally ambitious architecture of dwelling for the future.

Taught by Nicholas Lobo Brennan, Astrid Smitham & Douglas Murphy