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Summer Travels 2011…(18) – Final Crit…

Its a mixed bag as we walk back from the bus stop after the final crit…I have the tang of tear gas in my eyes as it wafts on the breeze from an incident just outside the Old City, and the usual euphoric weariness that accompanies the passing of hours post-crit…

But it seemed to go OK. We gave a good account of ourselves, mostly through Marcelo, with whom I’ve been working this past week. From an urban planners point of view on ‘urban management’, we presented an analysis of existing land legal structure (i.e. ownership), and ‘urban tools’ for development, which included methods such as ‘saleable development rights’ for empowering individual landowners to negotiate with developers and the municipality. For me, its been an interesting exercise in meta-design – we didnt actually design anything beyond a road layout – and one that I hope will inform the way any masterplan is carried out on the ground. Ive always believed that designers dont pay enough attention to the way these things actually affect the built reality of places, and so despite the frustration, I’m glad we took the time to try to communicate some of it.

However, our ‘presentation’ was pushed to the periphery of proceedings this evening, scheduled for the final half hour before sundown – and therefore, before the breaking of today’s Ramadan fast. Considering the fact that the majority of our jury was muslim, and that designers don’t know how to keep to time, it was no surprise that we began late, and that we were cut off by the canon from the old city signalling time to eat…our audience evaporated as the traditional feast was brought out, and despite some attempts to resume later, we suffered from a greatly diminished attendance.

Tucking in to the Ramadan feast...

The ‘cool group’ – having this evening acquired the moniker “new romantics” – faced tough criticism from the predominantly planning-savvy jury, and their work seemed to be misunderstood. I thought it had some real value myself – and my problem with these people has always been the exclusivity of their operations within the wider design team rather than anything based on their design methodology. The videos will certainly make some interesting watching when I upload them…

Romatics crit...

The ‘hardcore urbanists’ faced similar problems of communication, with a number of local architects and planners on the jury expressing their opinion that whilst the project was an ‘interesting research’, it simply “will not work here in this context”. “This is not the netherlands”, said one jury member.

'Hardcore Urbanists' crit...

The general feeling – although I put a lot of it down to politeness – was that IPCC are pleased with the output of the study, its diversity of focus particularly, but disappointed that we couldn’t bring it together under one body of work. I’ve said this all along, and so it is with some satisfaction that I hear my thoughts echoed – although ultimately with frustration and disappointment. They seem to expect us to work at this this week…but my sentiment – as I suspect is shared by the majority here – is that IPCC have another thing coming.

Marcelo presenting our work on urban management strategy. We pinned up outside 'for a change of scene'...

..and continued after the Ramadan feast, in the dark, to a greatly reduced audience...

Just off out, either to a bar in West Jerusalem, or for some beers on my rooftop, and then tomorrow to Masada and the Dead Sea…looking forward to it very very much!

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BD Blog Post – No.2 – The Review – What Is Our Education For?

***The published version of this post can be found here.***

Hey! Look at me! Im a student! Its brilliant, you can do anything you want…..so why is it so hard?

Doing what you want – or perhaps knowing what you want to do – is actually quite a challenge, and a source of almost constant anxiety for all but the most driven of students. The harsh reality is that if I don’t explore this idea, or do that drawing, then it is me that loses out, and my (expensive) education that suffers. And so, looking back to that all too fleeting ‘year out’, it is difficult not to long for a source of true validation. I can’t help but feel that by necessarily raising our expectation of what we could become, architectural education also heightens the debilitating fear of failing to meet such an ambiguous goal.

It’s certainly an interesting time of year at architecture school. I am writing this as I prepare for an interim review of my entire year’s design work, with the final review in two weeks time. Needless to say, I am experiencing the heady anticipation of an imminent challenge , accompanied by manic bouts of self-doubt and the all to infrequent flurries of frantic productivity and divine clarity –  not, I would say, a feeling unfamiliar to architecture students past and present. Some silently implode, some violently explode, and some cruise quietly through, miraculously stealing moments of leisure amidst the scraps of trace and plotter printouts. Some prefer the solitude of home working, fading to grey in immediate concerns of those seeking the collective therapy of the studio . Known ‘stressers’ drift between those who, having made their peace with the enduring prospect of too little sleep, have  permanently installed at desks and drawing boards.

Zoe Berman recently wrote in this blog about the nature of the ‘crit’ and the diversity of opinion surrounding its role in architectural education. It is interesting to note that here at Sheffield, teaching staff are keen to refer to the experience as a ‘review’ rather than ‘crit’, playing down the anticipation of conflict in favour of a positive conversation about our general learning, seeking to develop both our skill as designers and our projects as architecture. As we approach the review, there is much debate about the balance to be struck between ‘designing’ and ‘drawing up’, with a forceful argument made by our tutors that the divide should by no means be stark and absolute. This illustrates a core principal underlying the school’s pedagogical approach, that the goal of education – of any kind – is to produce autonomous, life-long learners rather than merely ‘knowledgeable persons’. By derivation, I should reflect on how I am working, rather than what I am producing.

So what do our readers think our education is for? And how do they think we should be using it? Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to light the other end of my candle….

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Plans from models….

As part of my ongoing process to develop my studio design project – tentatively titled the Academy of Added Value – I have begun a process through which I first give from through models, then draw a plan of the model, before critiquing and rationalising the plan and returning to models or exploring through section. I will also be exploring relationships between spaces diagrammatically as part of this process. These plans immediately need alteration – I feel that the scheme is too large overall, and that the architecture of the various programmatic elements (mentor units / CHP plant / canteen / reception (’embassy’) on the ground floor, and library / ‘silent’ space / roof garden / link to existing building of first floor) needs to link together better. However, its been good to get a ‘first iteration’ out, tangible, in order for it to be critiqued. I treat this plan as a point of departure.

The models to which these plans relate can be found in a previous post .

Ground Floor Plan – 1:100 @A2 – (PDF – First Draft – GF – 1-100 – A2)

First Floor Plan – 1:100 @A2 – (PDF – First Draft – FF – 1-100 – A2)

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Wick Curiosity Shop…and site visits.

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Just returned from London having spent three days in and around Hackney Wick, conducting site research and analysis and taking part in events run by the Wick Curiosity Shop. more to follow…


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Happenings in Hackney – Horrible and Happy

1/ Gensler’s ski-centre (Snow In The City), to replace the media centre for the Olympic Park in Legacy Mode…..is it really legacy if your adding it afterwards? Other phrases that spring to mind are ‘zaha’ and ‘wannabe’……..HORRIBLE!

2/ GHM Rock Townsend have received planning permission for this building right opposite my proposed site in Hackney Wick…having previously been criticised for being ‘of poor design quality’ and ‘too tall’.

I would maintain that these criticisms are still valid of the revised scheme. The area – particularly the building shown to the left in this image – is rich in existing vitality (particularly of the light manufacturing type proposed by sportswear manufacturer Pentland, who are the client for this building), and it seems far too intrusive an insertion to be appropriate for its site.

Even last minute concessions to change metal cladding to ‘local vernacular’ brick do little to help the building settle in to its site. From our experience of researching this area, it seems that although there is a history of architectural resilience in the area, there is also a tradition of humble, user-initiated intervention. This feels far too brash and new to be where it is. What happened to the idea of re-instating the pub?

A BD Article can be found hereHORRIBLE!


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Studio – The Make/Do Yard – First Review and Follow Up Tutorial…

Please find below the drawings I presented at Review last week. At the end of the post is a statement of intent for the next few weeks of the project…

The project is for a Yard (as both an architecture and a collective noun for a co-operative group of people), in Hackney Wick, east London. The site is Queen’s Yard, immediately adjacent to the Lea Navigation’s Hackney Cut which borders the future 2012 Olympic Park.

Originally conceived as a critique of legacy in the Olympic development, the Yard provides a point of expression for the vital communities active in Hackney Wick – artists and other alternative culture groups, craftsmen, breakers and community gardeners – who are familiar with a culture of transformation, re-use, and making the most of what they have. It considers education and learning as a personal reading of transformation and regeneration, and proposes that an interpretation of the Yard as a school (based around the core activities of making things) offers the opportunity to sustain this vital culture through the pressure of vast, imposed ‘regeneration’.

The collages below explore key themes in my project. The first demonstrates a technique, derived from Pete Sabara’s ‘Healthy Section’, that simply sets up ‘aspirational’ programmatic themes, in a basic spatial relation, so that they can be discussed and then refined. Therefore, my Transformational Section includes 5 core elements; The Embassy; The School; The Yard; The Spa; and The Mint…

The montage below represents The Yard,as an architectural idea. The process of montage using laser printed photographs, pencils and inks  is engaged – its get me away from the computer and out into the air – which underpins my thinking for this project. This particular drawing explores and illustrates the idea that what you don’t draw is sometimes as telling as what you do. The flexible, affording qualities of a Yard for interaction between tenants – for ‘soft space’ and indeterminacy – are simply not physically ‘designed’ in the normal way. The buildings around the yard are interfaces and the unbuilt space between them shares equal architectural importance.

The School montage explores basic spatiality of ‘learning’ in specific relation to act of making. ‘Classroom’ spaces might be disparate and dispersed, yet unified architecturally, sharing a similar typology of relation to the active Yard. A condition of tenancy of the Yard might be support of the teaching operation in its education activities – by which mechanism the school underpins –  is underpinned by – the community in which it is based. It usefully sets up a discussion about modes of education, their plurality, and the consciousness of those engaged in the process. Is teaching  delivered? Or do we learn together? Should we be conscious of our engagement with a defined process of learning? Or is it an aside? Concepts of asymmetric learning (whereby differences in current states of knowledge are acknowledged) and ‘nurture’ are afforded by a reinterpretation of learning environments, specifically considered

The Mint considers the role of finance and exchange in underpinning a productive economy and how the typology of institute emerges from the genesis of currency. We have become divorced from a physical relation to that which measures production and by derivation experience a reduced frequency of face-to-face encounters accompanying the contract of exchange; the same encounters that build relationships and strengthen communities. An aspect of my project will explore mechanisms by which these encounters can be instigated and perpetuated. Following the review, we discussed how the term ‘Mint’ might be restrictive in relation to the intent described above – perhaps exchange is better facilitated by the typology of market? The concept should be redefined in terms specific to this project, but remain as a catalyst for thought. How can economics catalyze the vitality and educative processes happening in the Yard?

The collage on Embassy explored the idea of a  functionary that regulates encounter with the Yard. Upon dissection, the term Embassy actually refers to a group of people – the Ambassador and his entourage – rather than to a building typology, which is in fact termed the Chancery. It is interesting to note that a Chancery is also the term given to the office where monks of certain religious orders engage with writing and record keeping. Therefore, the Embassy perhaps has a role in the Yard as the point of reference for those wishing to interface with it, and as a literal facilitator of the exchange of knowledge. If termed more appropriately as Consulate, this agency represents a valve through which the flow of resources is regulated (an Embassy both issues visas to incoming aliens and passports to outgoing nationals). Architecturally, the Consulate may need accommodating and the requirements of this will be explored further as the tenancy of the Yard evolves.

The Spa was introduced initially as literal programme with the intent of exploiting the historic tradition of social, public bathing in the Borough of Hackney, the aquatic amenity of the Lea Valley and the surplus hot water produced in Combined Cooling, Heat and Power (CCHP) generation at the Olympic Energy Center sited just across the canal from Queen’s Yard.

However, the Spa has actually come to allude to a less literal role in the experience of learning – the importance of reflection and juxtaposition. It also refers to the importance of casual exchange in ‘piecing things together’ and even to trust implicit in contractual agreements. There is the idea that in other places, different activities take place in Spas – most notably, Swedish business deals are sometimes made in the sauna when, being naked, you have nothing to hide. Restoration, regeneration, personal ‘growth’ through transformation, re-learning the link between mind and body, perception and embodiment – all are alluded to by the Spa as a programmatic element.

Thus the Spa has come to represent the idea of a ‘change of state’. Simply being somewhere else affords different perspectives which through juxtaposition reveal aspects of self and ones own situation. Thus the literal programme of Spa may remain, all be it on a smaller scale and by a different name to that which it began. I simply want to explore the way embodied juxtaposition and difference can support social interaction in an environment conducive to learning through doing. Again, the term ‘Spa’ is perhaps restrictive and should be redefined in terms appropriate to this project.

Considering British Waterways as a tenant gives me an opportunity to introduce an aquatic element to the programme. Through revitalization of the waterways, and under its remit to diversify their use British Waterways’ network of volunteers could use the section of canal bordering Queens Yard to demonstrate work that returns it to a state fit for bathing.

Elements of this project are appropriate to explore through case studies of precedent assemblages and organisations. Below is the example shown previously for Portland Works in Sheffield. In these studies I am interested in exploring a drawing style that communicates the complexity of spatial, social and material assemblages that underpin the condition of the Yard.

The previously explored precedent of the Steel Yard in Rhode Island, US is re-worked in this drawing style to illustrate the particular assemblages comprising that condition.

The assemblage technique is then applied – in several stages and different scales – to Queen’s Yard at Hackney Wick, to pull out existing tenant offering potential to the project.


Next Steps….

3 specific scenarios, based on existing tenants, that re-imagine their condition as learning situations. Drawings will add a different layer to the montage drawing method, developing the methodology through which I am exploring my project.

Personal Manifesto, exploring and stating what I would like to get out of the rest of 5th year.

Assemblages, to set up a discussion of the spatial, social and material conditions of my project as they evolve, considering them as interdependent networks.

Basic context drawings (figure ground / site plan / location / etc.) for the upcoming Design Review in Leeds (Wednesday 22nd February)



I am pleased with the methodology that I am developing for this project – of fundamental importance is the fact that it gets me away from the computer and makes me engage with physical material and process. I believe this supports the very ideas I am trying to explore with this project.

The collages presented in this post represent the first chapter of programmatic exploration. The next chapter will be an evolution of the same technique, adding a layer of specificity by appropriating real, physical spaces that can be represented in the drawings.

The technique lends itself to the duality of complexity and simplicity that is a condition of the Yard. Very specific determinacy of tenancy and activity is complimented by the indeterminacy of the spaces between buildings. Both are important.

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City Mine(d) – Micronomics Project

Micronomics is a movement – based on empirical ‘doing stuff’ – that has resulted in a charter providing a ‘springboard’ for bottom-up urban action…

Currently limited to Belgium, micronomics events use performance and ‘event’ – kind of like a forum or travelling Fayre – to bring people together and demonstrate what is possible. Three main themes emerge in these workshops, that could be read as relating to essentials elements of human behaviour;


2/Making Things; and

3/Artistic Expression

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Tutorial – 20/02/2011

Just had a really successful tutorial…one of those moments where you think you have nothing, and only a few drawings to explain nothing with, and then it all comes together when you start talking to someone. I guess there is a bit of a need for ‘tutor validation’ in this, but maybe this is actually just a need for ‘validation’. Its human to need the support of others…

Anyway, outcomes and goals;

–   …the tutorial was successful because I chose a good ‘journey’ through the project to explain it. I gave it a good angle by admitting contingency (‘i.e. living with Hellen; my experience of social enterprise ‘assemblage’ and HHW), as this illustrated my learning experience well. I want to mimic this for the Reviews in a couple of weeks’ time.

–    …quick drawings can be great for making connections and pulling things out. I should do more of these. I identified a set of drawings to do, as experiments without fear of mistakes, and this is now pinned to my wall in our re-arranged studio.

–    …rearranging the studio was also a good move, as I now feel like I have the space to survey what I have achieved so far, and establish my next steps.

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Scenario & Programme – Attitude to studio project…



1.0               INTERVENTION

2.0               TRANSFORMATION

3.0               ROLE OF ARCHITECTURE

4.0               LEGACY

5.0               POTENTIAL HYPOTHESIS

6.0               THEMES

1.0          INTERVENTION

The condition that I was looking at in my intervention was that of temporary land use – I’d like to find a phrase that more eloquently sums up what I mean by this; perhaps ‘contingent use’ is more appropriate. Essentially, I am interested in how the use of a particular piece of land is affected by the ‘resonance’ of things near it; their past and futures, as well as its own.

With (an eventual resort to) playful exploration of the spatial agency of Ice cream Vans, the Factory, Makers and Drivers, I wanted really to look at the transformative condition of the Wick…


In economics, reading ‘growth’ as ‘transformation’[1] leads to a more developed understanding of motivation for an activity, in relation to time. Businesses, organisations, agencies seek to transform themselves through their activities, ultimately becoming more resilient through diversity and adaptability – an agility, or ‘softness’ in operation.

Transformation is often what we mean by ‘personal growth’ – we too seek to become more resilient to the world and accepting of it through learning, gaining new skills and building new personal networks.


The role of architecture is fundamental to ‘transformation’ – building is a conscious act, singularly a summary, assessment and statement of intent. The farmer that builds a classroom to signify his intent to diversify his business into education[2]; the artist that moves to the ‘Wick for solitude and ‘space’. The first act of any cohesive immigrant group is often the construction of a religious or community building[3], a visible gesture announcing arrival; solidarity; resilience; identity.

Departed structures leave traces on the fabric of others, whilst the prevalence of workshops and scrap-yards value re-invention over replacement, perpetuating architecture centred on the event – that of transformation.

4.0          LEGACY

Legacy, then, becomes an obvious theme. The ‘Wick holds evidence, physical or psycho-geographical, of its past uses and presences, whilst the Olympic park looms ominously over its future. It is due to transform.

From the rural-urban shift – following the infrastructural trauma of rail and canal – through the crystalline growth of slums following rapid industrialization, wartime bomb-damage, post-war housebuilding, late 20th Century demolition, and on to the regenerative (degenerative?) engulf of the Olympic development with its affect on property value and ensuing colonisation by artists – Hackney, and specifically Hackney Wick, is a place of transformation and resilience. So, in any act or intervention, what remains as time moves on? Who says what stays? Who values the process, as well as the product? And how have people and place become more resilient through the experience?


Transformation and Legacy can be read in two distinct ways in relation to our particular site and its resonant / contingent context;

1/ The obvious comment can be made concerning the highly contentious Olympic Legacy. In transformation from ‘games mode’ to ‘legacy mode’ the Olympic park will undergo the removal or relocation of large quantities of physical material. This reconfigured park – and direct re-use of removed material – has been addressed by Johnathan Walker, of the University of Westminster, in his project ‘The Bladders’[4]. A critique of this project might reveal a narrow focus on the park itself, ignoring the wastefulness of the construction industry as a whole and the sites own geographic contingency. Is this wastefulness economically driven? Or socially? Do we just not know how to use things, craftsman-like, elegantly and inventively? What, then, is the potential for Hackney Wick to serve London as a whole as a ‘clearing’ house for unused construction material? One man’s waste is another man’s treasure….

Olympic material could be used as a catalyst to kick start an assemblage of individuals (metal-workers, scrap-dealers, artists, architects…) into action, with the act of ‘making’ offering a deeper connection between ourselves and our world. Essentially part, or all, of the Wick could be considered as London’s ‘reclamation’ yard, in multiple senses of the word.

2/ History offers a reading of the Wick’s inhabitation in the not so distant past. Water has been a theme, and is a useful metaphor for transformation[5]. ‘Washing clean’ is an attractive proposition in our lives at a number of levels, from the morning shower through to religious ritual. Bathing has served both a functional and social purpose in the ‘Wick area; the natural pools of the Marshes offered a free resource for washing and bathing to local inhabitants in the decades preceding the industrial revolution, until a combination of disease and industrial pollution necessitated the introduction of infrastructure; the Public Baths and Wash-houses Act of 1846 enclosed a once openly public activity. Whilst the Olympic Park celebrates water and the historic contribution of the Lea Valley to the City of London, it does not return the waterways to subjective usage. As such, it does not truly celebrate water as a transformative force in our society.

Transformation requires an input or catalyst; it requires energy. The Energy Centre for the Olympic site is perhaps over specified for ‘legacy mode’ – or perhaps just represents a valuable resource inappropriately applied. Whilst in is intended that heat from the CCHP system will continue to heat the Aquatics Centre, this is exclusive in that the pool remains a facility for elite athletes rather than the general public. Perhaps energy is more appropriately diverted to the nearer ‘Wick? This place could once again become a place of social necessity – bathing; washing. Laundry could serve the transient community, creating a forum that people attend initially through necessity and later for connection. What does bathing mean for the communities established in and around the area? How does access to water empower and transform us? This hypothesis proposes the establishment of a ‘mission’ for a ‘community’ (itself a transformation, perhaps incorporating members from different ‘tribes’ and acknowledging that people can belong to multiple communities simultaneously) facing an imminent energy-poor future, based around water.

6.0          THEMES

1/            Personal / Organisational transformation.

2/            Resilience through the ability to transform

3/            Temporary – a fleeting moment in time / traces and presences / Legacy.

4/            Role of Architecture – a gesture / catalyst / indicator of / commitment to transformation

5/            Role of the Architect – a transformative agent / facilitator / learner-educator / Human botanist (anthropologist) / choreographer.

[1]Transformation Thinking’ – Joyce Wycoff

[2]Farmeco Community Care-farm’ – Hill Holt Wood Design Team

[3] Hackney Museum

[4] ‘The Bladders: A Legacy Project’ – Jonathan Walker; University of Westminster; http://www.presidentsmedals.com

[5] Susan Derges in ‘Shadow Catchers: Camera-less photography’ – V&A Museum, London

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