Article by THEMBA MTWAZI*
The Malcolm X statue in the Audubon Ballroom, the Martin Luther King Jr National Memorial and the Rosa Parks building are all entities that stand to remind us of the struggle for black equality. A struggle that was in its own right a ‘world war’ encompassing racism, segregation and apartheid. For millennia since slavery, humans battled with this demon, and many were sacrificed throughout history; but amidst this chapter, and in this phase of our existence, the Stephen Lawrence murder was to change British society.
What happened and followed are events of familiarity. The laws were changed, communities were rearranged, but out of this tragedy the triumph was the creation of the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust. Twenty one years later, on its 14th annual memorial the dream of young Stephen’s ambition is now a beacon, helping to guide minorities, giving class and gender issues priority in the quest of pursuing architectural education.
The 14th annual RIBA Stephen Lawrence Memorial Lecture was a talk by renowned architect David Adjaye on 16 September 2014 at the RIBA in London. Synthesizing his background, inspirations and patriotic approach, he reflected on the sentimental experience of designing the Stephen Lawrence Centre in East London. The Tanzanian born architect took the audience on a journey across the African continent, from Cape Town to Cairo, speaking of an Africa before boarders and its post-colonial cityscapes. He mentally moved the crowd across seas to Moscow, extracting design from culture and the native vernacular; until he landed us in the ghettos on the flood planes of New Orleans America. On a “rusted rainbow” he finished off in Washington DC, showing his design for the Smithsonian African American museum that will pay homage to the iconic men and women of colour who toiled in the fight for civil rights.
For the evening’s epilogue: Clothed in traditional Ankara accoutre, mother and Trust founder, Baroness Doreen Lawrence stood up to say the final words and thanks, and at that moment, the spirit of togetherness and reconciliation that had built up in the Jarvis auditorium at 66 Portland Place became physical. Embodied in her every smile, was the proof of her slain son’s growing legacy.
*Themba is currently undertaking his Stage 2 on a BA Hons degree in architecture at the University of Kent. Born and bred in Zimbabwe, the former hip-hop and graffiti artist holds two diplomas in art and design ranging from levels 2,3 to 4 acquired at Tower Hamlets College London and Sheffield Hillsborough College.
Article by Georgie Day*
For someone who thinks of themselves as tending towards the experimental and progressive, perhaps it is strange that I am such a big fan of rules and constraints. This is because I strongly believe that it is only within parameters that humans can meaningfully push boundaries: pure freedom renders action vacuous, and leaves humans flailing around in the dark.
In the post-modern, liberal, hi-tech society we live in, boundaries break down by the day. In architecture, this has happened at an unprecedented pace in the last century, as a holy trinity of technological progress, economic growth, and artistic experiment transformed how we design buildings. Curvy ones, like Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum, tall ones like the Burj-Khalifa, gravity defying ones like Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House, or colourful ones like almost every new mid-to-high density residential block built contemporarily.
This, in a roundabout kind of way, is why I found my night in with ArcKit so entertaining. 385 pieces, 25 unique components, 10 ‘arckitexture printable adhesive’, neatly organised into one bespoke component tray. The all-white elements slot together in a significant range of combinations, as the illustrated handbook demonstrates. Not only does the kit allow for simple angular configurations of many different kinds, but the modular pieces enable makers to add corner windows, half-height walls, double doors onto interior courtyards, and numerable other cute detail any which would make any residential client pour over an architects three-dimensional imaginings.
ArcKit will appeal to architects for its elemental-ness. Much like Koolhaas’s theme for this year’s Venice Bienalle, ArcKit breaks down architecture into a set number of components – wall, roof, floor, window, stair and join/link components – clinical categorical groupings of objects, with incremental size increases on a fixed grid that translates at a scale of 1 square to 1.2m. It plays to the puritanical and often reductive streak, found in some of the more purist spheres of the industry, and at some level, within every architect. (The graphics will appeal also).
Personally, I found myself instantly engaged in the more extreme possibilities enabled by ArcKit, and I am sure many other architects will find themselves drawn to it in this way. I enjoyed making funny Escher-like stairs, exaggerated pitch roofs, perfect squares like you find nowhere in contemporary architecture. Part of this is my own personal childish disposition, but I also think it reveals something interesting about the nature of the ArcKit. That is to say that by constraining what can be done, within a realm of sufficient complexity, allows the explorative free-play and imaginative wanderings of the kind that children are so good at, and which I believe is at the heart of creative pursuit and genuine innovation. The fact that Lego have just brought out their own version of the kit, Lego Architecture Studio, plays more explicitly to this point. Who doesn’t remember those wild sprawling intricate Lego castles that you made as a child, of a curiously inquisitive quality, that you could never, for love nor money, hope to reproduce as a cynical and (dare I say) boring adult?
ArcKit doesn’t set out to be a tool kit for full scale design, and for that purpose it would be unfit. For starters, the 1:48 is out of my measly metric-brained comprehension. The reasoning behind this non-architectural scale (as is helpfully explained in the accompanying handbook), is for easy conversion to imperial, the more commonly used standard in much of the building industry. I couldn’t help myself rounding up to nice square, but inaccurate, 1:50. Additionally, you run out of parts – the building can’t be built entirely from glass for example as there aren’t enough pieces, and the walls run out at about the fourth floor story. Maybe that’s not so different from real building though, with its budget constraints and planning restrictions limiting development above a certain height. There are also no rounded corners, fixed floor-to-ceiling heights, and purely modular expansion, which are likely over-onerous restrictions on today’s choice-spoiled architects and their clients.
The majority of the limitations of the kit are (simplified versions of) prevalent norms of the contemporary residential building industry in the Western world. This however turns out to be another point in favour of ArcKit. Rather than the expansive and disparately varied house building industry we have today, a semi-standardised industry, where certain foundational elements could be taken for granted, might be a great thing. By coincidence, I read this quote in False Flat (by Aaron Betsky with Adam Euwens) only last night:
‘The reason for [Dutch architect’s] success… is the result of a situation in which the construction of housing has become so systematized that it has created a well-oiled machine to support the experimentation young designers embrace. Concrete shells and standard window assemblies can be deconstructed and reassembled in new ways.’
Counter-intuitively, if the building industry in the UK was more formulaic, then it might well produce better design as is typified by the Dutch design industry. We might even build more too, by making the design, construction, manufacturing and transportation processes more efficient.
In this way, ArcKit actually embodies something of the modernist vision as well as my child’s-play-within-constraints vision. The modernists believed in modular construction systems, such as the Laing’s concrete frame and shell construction, as a way of providing high quality housing on a scale and to a quality that could accommodate all people equally, rather than privileging good design only to those who could afford their own private architect.
In short, ArcKit is an excellent thing. To say that it releases your inner child is the highest complement that I could give; and you never know, it might also teach us some valuable lessons about the benefits of a degree of standardisation in design also.
*Georgie completed a BA Architecture (Part 1) at the University of Westminster after she had graduated from a BA in Politics at Oxford University. She has worked as an architectural assistant at Terry Farrell & Partners and muf architecture/art and is resuming her architectural studies by enrolling in her Part 2 at Cambridge University this year.
A timely reminder of his influence on the townscape movement, Suzanne Waters looks at an illustration by Gordon Cullen, from the collections of the RIBA…
This image commemorates the 100th anniversary of the architect and town planner Gordon Cullen (born 1914), and the 50th birthday of the Economist Building by Alison and Peter Smithson. Cullen captures the spaces in between these three office blocks grouped around a narrow piazza, raised up from the surrounding streets. He offers us a glimpse of Brooks Club (1778) by the architect Henry Holland, its pedimented façade contrasting vividly with the Smithsons’ abstract forms. In Cullen’s book entitled Townscape (1961) he argues for interesting focal points as a feature of urban planning, summed up in this view as “the gap in the streets”.
Article by Suzanne Waters
British Architectural Library, RIBA
Which building won the public vote for the title of ‘London’s Greatest’? Rosie Doud tells us how the voting went…Preparations for the day
Last month, RIBA hosted a workshop called London’s Greatest Building Knock-Out Challenge. This world-cup inspired competition was part of the Late Tuesday event whose theme was London’s Greatest Buildings. Sixteen buildings competed for the title of “London’s Greatest,” and attendees voted between opposing buildings by writing about or drawing their chosen buildings on a flag and sticking the flags into a mount. At the end of each round, the building with the most votes in its bracket moved on while the losing buildings were eliminated.
In preparing for this event, the first step for me was to research what makes a great building and to choose 16 competitors. This task seemed a bit daunting at first, as I knew very little about London’s architecture, but RIBA has a variety of resources including articles on architecture.com and the books, journals, and photographs in the architectural collections of the RIBA. In the process, I amassed quite a bit of knowledge about London’s great buildings, knowledge that I have since found useful in understanding more about this city. Doing this research also got me thinking about what exactly makes a building great, a question that RIBA asks every year when awarding the Stirling Prize.How the buildings were chosen
After research and inquiries to RIBA staff, I finally settled on 16 buildings to compete. The final list included buildings from a range of time-periods and styles, not all of which I personally liked, but all of which had aspects that made them stand out. Using Vitruvius’s conditions that a great building must have firmness, commodity, and delight to guide me, I considered many questions. These questions included:
After choosing 16 buildings that each had something that made them great, I collected photographs from RIBApix and wrote short descriptions of each building. Then came the crafty part; preparing the flags, labels and mount-boards.Drawing workshop: The voting begins
Finally, all the preparations were finished, and the event began. The workshop took place in the Florence Hall of 66 Portland Place, and a three-man band played songs ranging from jazz standards to creative renditions of rap and pop songs. People began filing in and out of the event, some simply surveying the options and grabbing a flag to vote, and others spending time pouring over the descriptions, carefully selecting a building, and drawing detailed depictions of their choices. The variety in the drawings we received is one of my favourite parts of the event because it makes clear that when looking at the exact same building, people see many different things. Although there were inevitably some people who were disappointed in the selection, every building got at least one vote in the first round, demonstrating the variety of ways a building can be great.And the winner is…
In the final round, it was a “Battle of the Saints,” and tension was running high. For a while, it looked as though St Paul’s Cathedral would take home the title, but in the end, a flurry of last-minute votes made St Pancras Hotel victorious.
It was bitter-sweet taking apart the bracket to make room for the quiz following the workshop. Together, the participants had made their own sort of architecture with various coloured flags and platforms, and the result was quite striking. On the bright side, the actual buildings competing in the challenge still exist and can be visited, although many of them are also changing at this very minute.
Article by Rosie Doud
Yale University / British Architectural Library, RIBA