Common Ground: Architecture, Topography & Sculpture (The Cass 2009–10)
This project was undertaken with our Masters students at The Cass 2009-10, and involved us in "uncovering" the relationships between the riverine topography and urbanity of The City of London and The City of Westminster, now submerged by Road Engineering based urbanism, and modern transport technology.
‘This special human dimension is the in-built capacity of man to think beyond his own life in the world, to think about death… It is precisely the excess beyond what is necessary for the mere preservation of life that distinguishes his actions as human action.’
Hans-Georg Gadamer, ‘What is Practice? The Conditions of Social Reason’
The status of ‘Ground’ is often confused and complex in the modern city. In order to uncover the grounds for a renewal of public life the economic and material geology - the infrastructure that ‘underpin’ building design - needs to be considered. The revelation of ‘hidden nature’, buried beneath technology and modern transport systems, opens up spaces of imagination, places for potential inhabitation and appropriation. The representational and mythical aspects of culture, including the complex relationships between program and type, and between festive and permanent uses of spaces, suggest a deeper ground of meaning than the simple functionalist or formalist paradigms that typify most architectural rhetoric today. Both festivals and ornament have their origins in representations of nature understood as regenerative. Any ecological thinking needs to acknowledge Decorum and poetics as the characteristics that make places worth caring for. Traditionally, urban rooms were adorned with sculptures and architecture incorporated artworks into interiors and facades. We want to investigate how contemporary sculpture offers alternative ways of thinking about territory and time, materials and perception.
Work began with study of some key buildings in London that incorporate representational figures into strongly topographical sections. Visits to Cass Sculpture Park in West Sussex were followed by detailed studies of a sculpture in terms of its material presence and its spatial ambitions and its relationship with landscape other man-made structures. The field trip to Oporto enabled us to look at the roles sculptures play in articulating public spaces and also the ways in which modern architects have responded to the extreme contrasts between topography and representation in a riverine city setting.
The site for our design project is The River Fleet, which is buried today beneath Farringdon Road but which used to be a major transport system and up until the 19th Century defined the identities of London districts. It is not a parcel of land objectified as property, and it is not a place; but a gap that registers today as transport mess and an unmemorable boundary. This ‘non-site’ opens many possibilities of connecting past, future and present. Some students chose to work on adjacent sites and presented collaborative visions, and these seek to articulate forgotten aspects of Clerkenwell as well as creating new city quarters that span The City and Westminster. Programs and landscape strategies were developed in response to both the material imagination and the spatial and formal imaginations inspired by studies of the hidden river. We made detailed 1:20 studies of rooms dedicated to particular rituals and typical situations, and axonometric drawings of thresholds that ground these activities in the life of the city. We believe that collaboration between architecture and landscape and art is a compelling way to think about the participatory nature of creativity and of praxis today.
Download ‘Scultpure and Architecture Unit 2009–10’