Kingston Unit 7
Some people think that architecture is an autonomous discipline that talks to itself, while others explore the ways that the process of making architecture can embody the voices of its many collaborators. Since October 2019, Unit 7 has identified and tried out various approaches along the spectrum between these two positions – at one end embedded in an excitingly exclusive, deeply cultural and fundamentally Eurocentric formal language, at the other emerging from long discussions and varied viewpoints through consultation.
At the beginning of the year, Unit 7 collectively analysed the work of four different architects and artists: Robbrecht en Daem, Hans van der Laan, Agnes Martin, and Peter Märkli to see what kind of formal and spatial languages they might employ, or even have invented. In groups of three, the fifth-year students made folding book-posters that explained their findings to the fourth students, using the proportional systems and other grammars that they discovered. In many ways, conversations around these planted the seeds of variously branched and beautifully flowering conceptual frameworks for the different thesis projects that have emerged around our theme of Settlement.
As the clocks changed and the nights got darker, we visited the Craignish peninsula on the west coast of Scotland to reiterate our first explorations of architectural languages, through building. Mixing up the groups, four installations in a ruined steading overlooking Loch Craignish interpreted the spatial, material and atmospheric reality of the site. Through reassembling standard sheets of CMS cut to the proportions of a Märkli, a van der Laan, a Robrecht en Daem composition these abstract languages produced tangible architectural ideas – wall linings, shutters, framed openings and inglenooks – that critiqued and inhabited the place and the setting.
As the solstice passed, we began to work on ideas of temporary encampment and permanent settlement. The notion of settlement was explored through a shorter project looking at temporary accommodation within a ruin of a historic settlement – traditional crofter housing. This preceded the main thesis study of a permanent settlement for around 70 units within two sites within the peninsula. Reflection on the potential of architectural languages was introduced through a series of readings and discussions. One of the first texts we discussed was Christopher Alexander’s A Pattern Language, which we contrasted with Lazlo Moholy-Nagy’s visual language in his film of London Zoo. Other writers and artists we engaged with include bell hooks, Álvaro Siza, Alan Colquhoun and Martha Rosler whose film Semiotics of the Kitchen in an explicit but humorous way dismantled the assumptions we make about the domestic realm. A visit to Malagueira in Portugal gave us the opportunity both to explore Siza’s architectural languages in real life, and to unpick what the vernacular can be in our time and place.
Out of these conversations and through their engagement with the thesis question – how to make a settlement for around 200 people in a remote rural place, each student has developed an individual and bespoke approach to the question of what architectural languages might be. Echoing through the proposals are the tartan patterns of van der Laan, the layers and linings that came out of the installations, structural systems and framed facades that repeat and reflect the rhythms and rhymes that have reverberated through the year.
Dr Helen Thomas
Roz Barr Architects