ADS1: Pomp & Circumstance
The 2020/21 academic year begins in a moment of severe uncertainty in the UK. The Covid-19 crisis has disrupted normal social functioning, and an economic crisis of unprecedented form has been triggered. Political institutions are fragmenting, with polarisation, incompetence, demands for justice and revanchist reaction all gathering pace. The contradictions are extremely obvious and yet impossible to see clearly.
Our studio will once again look to the past in order to predict the future. We begin by studying architecture from two critical moments in the history of the UK – the work of Edwin Lutyens and Richard Rogers. We are not looking to them as heroes, or as geniuses, but as critical lessons in an ongoing culture of architecture, into which we will intervene.
Lutyens, Rogers, Architecture and Crisis
Richard Rogers (b1933) recently stepped down from the practice he founded in 1977, bringing to a close one of the most influential careers of the late 20th century. Emerging from the ferment of the counterculture, the ‘white heat of technology’ and the progressive energy of post-war reconstruction, the story of Rogers is that of idealism, influence and the recuperating force of the establishment. Rogers offered a vision of a radical, technocratic, ecologically competent modern city, which fell foul of entrenched conservatism and was eventually reconciled to modern capitalism. The story of Rogers is one of utopia and disappointment.
Edwin Lutyens (1869-1944) was arguably the most gifted English architect in history. A startling talent even from his teenage years, his skills in formal composition and inventiveness are unsurpassed. He played a vital role in defining not only the conservative individualism of the English suburban house, but also the monumental forms of the British Empire, its martial ideology and its global exploitations. For better and for worse, Lutyens is one of the biggest influences on the contemporary British urban landscape.
Comparing the work of these two architects generates important contradictions: utopian egalitarianism against anti-democratic elitism; technological liberation against nostalgic eclecticism; lightness and heaviness; continuity and change. The gap in time between the generations of Lutyens and Rogers is equal to that stretching between Rogers and postgraduate students today. Studying these architects’ responses to the challenges of their different eras will allow students to focus on the formal, technical and social challenges of architecture that they will be deal with in their professional lives.
"Most buildings, whether they're Gothic cathedrals or Romanesque ones, were high tech for their time".— Richard Rogers
The studio believes that architectural production is being irrevocably changed by the climate crisis. We must wager, however, that buildings will continue to be built and architecture will persist. Our approach seeks to understand how architectural expression might respond to these changes.
Looking back at the oeuvres of Lutyens and Rogers provides us with a series of strategic hunches and strategies to approach the possible contribution of architecture in the fight against climate crisis. In Lutyens, we find the seeds of an extremely resilient architecture, potentially built to last forever, combining in its local stones and bricks an extremely low–carbon intensive material of extreme durability. It suggests a mono-material architecture of walls and vaults, able to withstand the passing of time and fashion, while being generic enough to adapt to future uses and societies. It is always out of its time – conceived in a cultish study of Palladio, Wren and Jones – but because of which, it is potentially ahead of its time and future-proof.
In Rogers, all the promises of High-Tech are present, with this mirage of a new, salvific architecture – light and responsive to all needs. The neo-Gothic structural reduction to the essence of force-management, combined with the promise of a dry, cleaner building site and future de-mountability, allow us to flirt with tent architecture starting from a precise and generous legacy. Beginning as joyful machine architecture for the post-’68 ecologically conscious society, Roger’s architecture sadly declined to the point of designing airports and luxury penthouses.
Both of these architectures, we believe, are good starting points to re-discuss the equilibrium of the city and its territory in these pandemic times. Especially as urbanity and anti-urbanity are recurring themes in their work. They present opportunities to discuss tradition and abstraction, popular and elite cultures, deep time and capitalist simultaneity.
The Cave and the Tent II
In 2019/20, ADS1 introduced the theme of the Cave and the Tent – this year extends and develops this concept. These two archetypes offer an analytical frame for understanding current architectural challenges.
Caves represent survival and stasis. They suggest massive construction and mono-materiality. Instead of fragile multi-layered walls, a logic of mass, inertia, and surface compactness is adopted. To create a cave-building we have to understand what is going to be changed in a decade, in a lifetime, and what is going to last potentially forever.
If the cave is wall-architecture, an architecture of obstacles, Roman in character, then the opposite archetype is the tent, the light, endlessly re-mountable and potentially re-configurable architectural device. Its origin is linked to cultures of nomadism and temporary needs, of movement and change, and as such belongs partly to pre-history, partly to our unfolding future.
The tent is undemanding of material resources. Thermal control is achieved through light and ventilation management rather than by mass, it leaves no trace on the ground after removal. It is without history, and tends towards an anti-architecture. It is an incarnation of the Semperian idea of the textile origins of architecture. It is all about roofing.
"There will never be great architects or architecture without great patrons".– Edwin Lutyens
"Form follows profit is the aesthetic principle of our times".– Richard Rogers
"I can’t listen to music very often, it affects my nerves. I want to say sweet, silly things, and pat the little heads of people who, living in a filthy hell, can create such beauty". – V.I. Lenin, on Beethoven.
Unfortunately, good work is not often made by good people, and architecture of all the creative cultural forms is most striated by its relationship to power. Our chosen subjects offer us conflicted historic examples that provide a framework for making our own architectural projects, whose critical engagement is not naive or simplistic.
Themes latent in the study of Lutyens and Rogers include: colonialism and its legacies, internationalism and identity, technology and power, elites and the masses, the reification of “genius” and neglected networks of collaboration, and many more. Furthermore, the United Kingdom is our case study. It is a problematic country, in both its history and its current situation, and our projects will by necessity reckon with this.
ADS1 investigate ideas through the medium of the architectural project. A culture can be read through its buildings, and through close reading and careful study of architectural history, various methods by which form contributes to society can be learned. The crises of our time – political, economic, ecological – pose questions not only of technique and organisation, but also of architectural form, content, and expression.
The studio operates according to the techniques and strategies that lead to the creation of consummate architectural projects. This involves the reciprocal iterative development of ideas through the intuitive work of the hands, in conjunction with critical self-analysis. The studio focuses on the fundamental techniques of architectural design – orthographic drawings, models and careful visualisation. Successful projects demonstrate a synthesis of the intrinsic challenges of site, programme, structure, etc, with the student’s personally developed critical and aesthetic positions.
The strength of the studio is the opportunity to combine highly researched, critically engaged speculation with the ongoing long history of architectural culture. In tutorials we find ourselves equally discussing the political economy of a project and how to properly arrange its floor plan. Architecture is a wonderfully rich subject with a great many contradictions, and ADS1’s methodology aims to navigate the passage between non-propositional critique and the uncritical ‘beauty’ of pure form.
Douglas Murphy is one of the foremost voices in architecture in the UK. Author of Nincompoopolis, Last Futures, and The Architecture of Failure, and a regular contributor to publications such as The Guardian and the Architectural Review, his work combines architectural practice, writing and broadcasting, and academia. He has been a tutor at the RCA since 2016.
Andrea Zanderigo is a partner at Baukuh. He studied architecture at IUAV in Venice, where he graduated with honours. In 2002–4 he was teaching assistant at IUAV for Stefano Boeri and a Visiting Professor at PUSA in Aleppo (Syria) from 2006–7. Since 2009 he has taught continuously along with Kersten Geers at various universities, including Mendrisio Accademia, TU Graz, Columbia University and EPFL. In 2010 Zanderigo founded the magazine San Rocco with a group of architects, graphic designers and photographers.