The Studio will explore the fragile and fundamental relationship between architecture and landscape over time in the design of a new national library archive. The project will simultaneously look hundreds of years ahead into the future lifespan, for the intended preservation of physical knowledge and culture, as well as millions of years back into the natural history of a given site.
Our town and city centres, which have physically and socially evolved over decades, centuries or even millennia to meet the needs of their communities, are being rapidly hollowed out by changes in the way we consume products and services. To meet these changes, the countryside, once productive landscape, now provides limitless opportunities to construct distribution or ‘fulfilment’ centres to speedily meet the needs of this insatiable consumption. This architectural type is seemingly located, scaled and designed only by the parameters of provision. This new breed of “post-human architecture” as Rem Koolhaas calls it, is at such a scale that it no longer fits within our cities and is often conceived and delivered without regard or conscience to issues of social and physical context. More often than not it is built without the intervention of architects.
The Studio proposes to challenge the preconception that such structures need only be considered as merely pragmatic or even benign in terms of their relationship to their context or purpose. By re-considering the lifespan of these buildings in terms of hundreds-of-years rather than tens-of-years (or fewer) refocuses value judgements about presence of the building as a figure in the landscape, experience of the material substance of its vast facades over time.
A national repository and distribution centre for the British Library was founded at a World War II munitions storage facility at Boston Spa, West Yorkshire in the 1970s. The location of the site was originally favoured in wartime for its distance from built-up urban areas, yet relative geographical convenience roughly placed at the centre of the United Kingdom. In peacetime, this location was also considered advantageous for its network centrality to service daily inter-library book loans throughout the country. The first building representing this new form of library was modern and civic in architectural language, despite its rural location, and inside prototyped radical categorisation systems and mechanisation of storage and retrieval. Each subsequent decade has seen a new building constructed to represent the emerging technological development in knowledge categorisation, storage and retrieval of an expanding collection. Gradually, the site’s character has developed from its original military purpose into a collegiate campus.
Despite the way we now consume knowledge digitally it seems however we are not producing fewer books physically. The British Library, which has a statutory obligation to acquire, protect and make available for reference a copy of every book, newspaper and journal published in the UK in perpetuity, increases the volume of the national collection by several linear-kilometres of books every year with no expectation of this figure declining in the future. This accumulation has itself become a physical manifestation of recording time.
The Studio will make a hypothetical proposition for the next generation of library archive, fit to ingest, preserve and distribute physical knowledge nationally and internationally for several hundreds of years to come.
The Studio will explore:
- The critical conciliation of the technological and humanistic purposes of this unusual building typology.
- Architecture that can mediate the natural and cultural histories of the landscape with technology of building at a sublime scale.
- Architecture which fulfils punctual requirements for the here-and-now but projects a lifespan of itself hundreds of years into the future.
- Architecture at the mercy of the effects of time – of weathering, decay, use and misuse.
The semester will be divided into three inter-related projects which address the Studio Objectives at a range of scales linking the experience of landscape to architectural detail.
The Studio will begin by examining the un-self-conscious beauty of existing industrial architecture in the photography of Bernd and Hilla Becher and the representation of the sublime in picturesque English landscape painting.
Due to pandemic restrictions, travel to the location of this fictitious project will not be possible. However, students will construct their own narratives and visual manifesto about the site based in their research into the geological, ecological, environmental, historical and societal histories of its context.
The major project will be explored in a series of large scale physical models as well as large scaled detailed architectural drawings which speculate about the pictorial qualities and long-term future of a construction within the landscape. (Michael Gandy’s paintings of Sir John Soane’s architecture solved the problem of representing a finished project by depicting them as ruins).
The Studio will produce a book compiling the semester’s work which will be published in the UK and submitted to the British Library for their collection.