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ADS2: National Park

Tutors: Ahmed Belkhodja, Diana Ibáñez López & David Knight

It is said that the designation of Yellowstone as the world’s first public National Park was initially proposed around a campfire in 1871 by a team of US geologists, who came up with the notion that its 9,000km2 territory should be kept in public ownership in perpetuity. One year later this radical vision became law, however the site was then guarded by a special military garrison for the next 30 years as the designation took many years to come into effect. As with other examples around the globe, the consequences of this delay are still being contested. Today, the aid-funded militarisation of National Parks is on the rise in Asia and Africa in an attempt to curb poaching. Google is investing in WWF research into drone surveillance systems for wilderness reserves. In the Himalayas, the Siachen glacier – in a National Park – is a highly militarised international border and, at over 5,000m, the highest conflict zone on earth.

Powerful tensions resonate throughout the global history of the National Park – public versus private, preservation versus development, fencing off versus opening up, individual versus collective, coercion versus care, wilderness versus civilisation, race versus race. When we consider the designation and design of the National Park, we are confronted with urgent questions about the agency of humanity in the context of a world in crisis.


The need to balance preservation with human access has led to some unusual architectural hybrids, including the Old Faithfull Inn at Yellowstone, perhaps the largest woodcutter’s cabin in existence.
The need to balance preservation with human access has led to some unusual architectural hybrids, including the Old Faithfull Inn at Yellowstone, perhaps the largest woodcutter’s cabin in existence.

What happens when a nationally-designated territory has international implications? Can the designation of a park be detrimental to its neighbours? Or even to the ecosystem it seeks to guard? What is the contemporary significance of the cultural and aesthetic readings that first defined the national parks? In a world where borders continue to dominate political discourse, how might we reimagine or redesign the territories of the national parks? How can we balance the need to democratise these landscapes with the need to preserve or enrich ecosystems? Can national parks continue to satisfy our desire for escape as visitor numbers balloon and rangers report traffic jams caused by visitors queuing for the ‘perfect shot’? How will National Parks survive the drain on their natural resources caused by increased deregulation and demand?

In the UK, as elsewhere, National Parks have followed broader patterns of species decline. Recent rewilding projects, such as on the Nash-designed Knepp Castle estate in the South Downs National Park, have attempted to address this.
In the UK, as elsewhere, National Parks have followed broader patterns of species decline. Recent rewilding projects, such as on the Nash-designed Knepp Castle estate in the South Downs National Park, have attempted to address this.

Architecture and National Parks can have a problematic relationship. Frank Lloyd Wright’s Banff National Park pavilion was seen to put national policy over local need, and was demolished. Now part of the Park’s heritage, there are proposals to rebuild it.
Architecture and National Parks can have a problematic relationship. Frank Lloyd Wright’s Banff National Park pavilion was seen to put national policy over local need, and was demolished. Now part of the Park’s heritage, there are proposals to rebuild it.

National Parks are vast territories that are defined by complex political and bureaucratic protocols. They contain human settlements, ecosystems and powerful ideas of regional and national identity, rhetoric, exclusivity, nostalgia, territory, colonialism and utopianism. Their designation is not only a collective statement of what we value about our environment, but also our societal vision of the ‘best’ of what we have and what we are. While these places allude to permanence, they are also loaded with conflicting and contradictory visions of what this permanence might mean. Designation can suppress as well as celebrate, exclude as well as nurture.

This spring, the deadly queues to ascend Mount Everest were headline news. Even the world’s hardest to reach places are now overcrowded, causing significant infrastructural and managerial challenges.
This spring, the deadly queues to ascend Mount Everest were headline news. Even the world’s hardest to reach places are now overcrowded, causing significant infrastructural and managerial challenges.

30 illegal gold mines were discovered in just one of Colombia’s 43 National Parks last year, and up to a third of protected landscapes in the country are used as cocaine plantations, causing deforestation and a high incidence of park ranger death threats.
30 illegal gold mines were discovered in just one of Colombia’s 43 National Parks last year, and up to a third of protected landscapes in the country are used as cocaine plantations, causing deforestation and a high incidence of park ranger death threats.

ADS2 began its engagement with the politics of development by studying the ‘big’ planning ideas, which emerged as part of the ‘post–war consensus’ – the Metropolitan Green Belt (2013-14) and the New Towns Act (2014-15). In 2019/20, we return to that legislative world. Our projects will be set in the ‘condition’ of the global National Park, whether understood as either a tangible place, policy framework, cultural idea, or combination of all three. Understanding National Parks as something that is not only designed, but also lived, we expect projects that create, destroy, modify, challenge and reimagine National Parks, with an overarching aim of revitalising their environmental, climatic and social potential. This might be through the design of a Park itself, or an intervention at the scale of a building, town or landscape that challenges, re-codes or reimagines an existing National Park. Our year will begin with a global study of National Park conditions, using design and research tools at the same time, from which each student will evolve an individual stance. This stance will then be developed throughout the year to arrive at an intervention, which will be thoroughly tested at the scale of architecture. 

About ADS2

Since 2013, ADS2 has explored the politics of development and creation of new forms of architectural agency. Our explicit aim has been to use architectural thinking to shape the forces that shape development. Our graduates have gone on to work in key roles – as architects, clients, planners, policymakers, activists and researchers – and are part of a wider movement to re-engage architects with the public sector. Increasingly, we want not only to engage with this world of ‘the public’, but also to challenge it by exploring ‘new publics’ in which a reinvigorated public sector might take on new forms, challenges and relevance. This approach is enriched by a commitment to the popular – the mechanics and processes of wider society – whether aesthetic, cultural, political, economic or social.

Our projects are unconstrained in both design and political ambition. These projects use architectural agency, form and language – both critically and with character – to engage in a wider sphere beyond architectural practice alone. We think big, but recognise that to do so involves working through means that are complementary to, but distinct from, architectural design. We work with students to define their own brief, forms of professionalism and modes of design agency. This year, we will expect students to work as designers from the outset, not waiting for research to ‘suggest’ design, but rather to employ design as a protagonist in the thesis. Workshops and briefs throughout the year will develop particular design skills and explore architectural, urban and landscape precedents in order to frame design proposals.

ADS2 projects consider the issues and forces at play in development and society. We are interested in producing architectural research and design that exploits the potential of studio research to challenge the world in which architects operate. Students’ projects have an uncanny habit of coming true and graduates often develop them beyond the RCA. For example, in 2013, our collective mapping of the Green Belt was published by The London Society, the green belt’s originators, and made the front page of the Observer Review.

ADS2 work to build a collective research agenda that allows powerful collaborations and conversations to take place across projects, regardless of year of study. We encourage individual, distinctive thesis projects. There is no house style. Students are expected to design across levels and scales from policies to objects, work collectively on publishable research and draw on this research in individual thesis projects. In the tradition of the studio, publishing and working ‘in public’ are part of the process. We are interested in communicative architecture in the broadest sense.

Teaching is regular and all three tutors will be present throughout the year according to a timetable shared at the outset. We will travel widely and teach outside the studio some of the time. Teaching will be supplemented by regular invited guests including former ADS2 tutors and alumni.


Tutors

Dr David Knight is a a designer, author and founding co-director of DK-CM, an architecture and research studio based in London. DK-CM’s work focuses on civic and public projects from policy through to detailed design, with the practice recently producing design guidance for villages in South Cambridgeshire, a new building for a primary school in Norfolk, urban strategy for Old Oak and Park Royal Development Corporation and civic architectural projects in Bruce Grove for Haringey Council. David has lectured, taught, published and exhibited internationally, including twice at the Venice Architecture Biennale. His PhD research at the RCA represented the UK at the Hong Kong & Shenzhen Biennale of Urbanism & Architecture. He serves as a trustee of The Architecture Foundation and has taught extensively, including as external examiner at KTH Stockholm. He has taught ADS2 since 2013.

Diana Ibáñez López is a Senior Curator at Create London, an arts organisation dedicated to making projects that are useful to society and tackle longstanding inequalities in cities. Current projects include A House for Artists;  a cultural vision for Ferguslie Park in Paisley; and a youth-led review of planning policy terms in collaboration with OPDC. Diana has worked at MVRDV in Rotterdam, Phaidon Press on two architecture atlases, in the public sector in London, and since 2015 has been an associate of The Why Factory future cities think tank headed by Winy Maas. She has taught at Central Saint Martins, the University of Delft, UCL, and last year was a visiting professor at Karlsruhe University of Arts and Design.

Ahmed Belkhodja is a Swiss architect and founding partner at FALA in Porto. He studied at EPF Lausanne, CTH in Gothenburg and ETH Zurich, where he graduated in 2013. His work on migrant worker housing in Singapore, conducted as part of ETH's Future Cities Laboratory, will be part of a forthcoming book. Prior to establishing FALA, Ahmed collaborated with various international offices, including Atelier Bow-Wow in Tokyo, Obra Architects in New York and Harry Gugger Studio in Basel. Since 2015, he has been visiting tutor and critic for several universities across Europe, including IUAV in Venice, EPF Lausanne and KTH Stockholm. FALA’s work has been exhibited in the Portuguese Pavilion of the Venice Biennale, Chicago Biennale of Architecture, Casa da Cerca in Lisbon and various other institutions. It has been published extensively and is the subject of a coming issue of 2G.

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