Recently, London’s mayor suggested that the city should seek greater devolved powers from the United Kingdom. This sprawling urban area generates a significant proportion of the nation’s wealth. It does so by selling knowledge and services, to the world. If it became separate, it would take its place among very few autonomous cities that operate without any natural hinterland, thriving off the abstract movement of international trade. It already has formed an international community through its inveterate appetite for immigration. Almost no one in London is from London. To be really at home there you need to be from abroad.
How would you make public architecture in a city so divorced from the key determinants of place: people, landscape, ways of making things from what lies nearby? Architects in the twentieth century produced an abstract language for buildings to signify this duality - everywhere/elsewhere. It gradually replaced classicism as the representative system of choice to embody the more abstract institutional values associated with modernity. We wonder whether it is possible to reconsider the representative capacity of architecture. At heart, public architecture has always laid claim to be a representation of the world. In this semester, we will look at the possibility of designing buildings in London that can create public meanings in the context of an autonomous world city.
We are interested in how cities emerge over time through a repeating process of doing and undoing. There is no final form, only the next iteration. In this, we observe an analogy with the design process itself. Perhaps design could be a process of doing and undoing; one in which ideas emerge through making, and making is stimulated by emerging ideas. In order to explore this, we will ask you to make large-scale models of your proposals throughout the semester. Each one will answer the previous version and prompt the next. Doing again and again is about testing, rehearsing; shifting your point of view. As a process of trial and error, doing and undoing suggests the production of difference, the gaps that exist between intention and outcome, between the previous and the next. Doing can also be seen as a ritual act analogous to everyday habitation, the rhythms, cyclical repetitions and irregularities that determine the social life of buildings and cities.
We are particularly interested in addressing the question of architecture’s representative capacity through the relationship between ideas and material practice. We see instances in architecture where meanings have evolved out of material or constructional necessity. Conversely, we often see new kinds of material practice being brought into being to answer the challenges of novel ways of conceptualising the world. This discourse between concepts and things will be central to our design practice. We are interested both in the truth and fiction of materials: their ability to reveal and to deceive. ‘To fabricate’ means to make by skill and labour, or by assembling parts or sections, but also to devise a legend or a lie, to fake or forge a document. We find the idea of material metamorphosis and the ambivalent potential of fabrication inspiring for architecture today. We question the extent to which materials can continue to reflect the geography and socioeconomic position of a specific site and we look for material innovations that can transcend the limits of place.
You will be asked to design a public building on a compact site in an imagined newly autonomous London. This will be a public building that embodies in its materiality and fabrication new democratic configurations. We will visit the city, studying its past and speculating about possible versions of its future. All the time we will ask you to explore your ideas through an iterative process of making. While we embrace digital fabrication, we are primarily interested in what happens between the hand, the eye and the mind as the design emerges.