End of Year Exhibition

June 15th, 2012

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ON THE INDUSTRIAL RUINS

Continuity in Architecture has run two projects this year, both in post-industrial cities: Preston and Barcelona. Each city has approached the problem of how to transform the unban environment to accommodate the needs of the twenty-first century population in a different manner. As always we began with a study of the urban environment, within CiA, the emphasis is always directed towards the site, the place, the situation. Relationships that exist between the different textures within the condition of the location can be explored, translated and interpreted. And thus the form of the new is influenced not by the function but by the form of the existing, and so it is not form follows function, but form follows form.

Coketown

It was a town of red brick, or of brick that would have been red if the smoke and ashes had allowed it; but as matters stood, it was a town of unnatural red and black like the painted face of a savage. It was a town of machinery and tall chimneys, out of which interminable serpents of smoke trailed themselves for ever and ever, and never got uncoiled. It had a black canal in it, and a river that ran purple with ill-smelling dye, and vast piles of building full of windows where there was a rattling and a trembling all day long, and where the piston of the steam-engine worked monotonously up and down, like the head of an elephant in a state of melancholy madness. (Charles Dickens, Coketown)

Blind with Love for a Language

The prospects of the Barcelonese worker remained the same throughout the nineteenth century: grinding, brutish, and without much hope of change… They lived cramped in garrets and basements, without heat or light or air. Midcentury Barcelona made Dickensian London look almost tolerable; Cerda` found that its population density was about 350 people per acre, twice that of Paris, and that workers had a living space of about ninety square feet per person. (Robert Hughes, Barcelona)

 

Remember, Reveal, Construct

On the Industrial Ruins

September 20th, 2011

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On the Industrial Ruins

Over the last forty years the western world has witnessed massive social and economic restructuring. The old heavy industries, upon which our society was constructed, have collapsed. Countries such as the UK and Spain, once the workshops of the world, are now reliant upon the new service and information-technology industries. The urban areas within these countries contain a vast wealth of memory and experience. We need humility in the face of such grandeur of industrial legacy if we are to construct new elements in these neglected areas. Within the cities of the industrial revolution a new form of spatial production is needed to invest the dying urban patterns and decaying fabric with meaning.

 At this important juncture, we need to understand the nature of human interaction, the consequences of cross-disciplinary communication and experiences, and the affect that this has upon events and environments. The blurring of boundaries between different activities, subjects and the level of interaction starting to be developed between specialities means that old ideas of space, form and use are now being questioned. This means that concepts that would have sounded barmy forty years ago have become common practice. Massive advances in technology have facilitated this, and at the beginning of the second decade of the twenty-first century, our pluralistic both/and society is now in a position to understand and take advantage of the consequences of this. The manner in which most people now operate encourages them to actively embrace mobile technology. Wireless systems mean that we are no longer constrained by cables and sockets and big, deep pieces of machinery. This will allow us to further rethink the urban, the working, and the domestic environment; environments in which technology will propose itself as the architect of our intimacies.

 Buildings outlast civilisations

Continuity in Architecture will run two projects both in post-industrial cities. Each city has approached the problem of how to transform the unban environment to accommodate the needs of the twenty-first century population in a different manner. We will examine the qualities and character of the places before making design proposals.

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 Coketown

It was a town of red brick, or of brick that would have been red if the smoke and ashes had allowed it; but as matters stood, it was a town of unnatural red and black like the painted face of a savage. It was a town of machinery and tall chimneys, out of which interminable serpents of smoke trailed themselves for ever and ever, and never got uncoiled. It had a black canal in it, and a river that ran purple with ill-smelling dye, and vast piles of building full of windows where there was a rattling and a trembling all day long, and where the piston of the steam-engine worked monotonously up and down, like the head of an elephant in a state of melancholy madness. It contained several large streets all very like one another, and many small streets still more like one another, inhabited by people equally like one another, who all went in and out at the same hours, with the same sound upon the same pavements, to do the same work, and to whom every day was the same as yesterday and to-morrow, and every year the counterpart of the last and the next.

(Charles Dickens, Coketown)

 

Blind with Love for a Language

The prospects of the Barcelonese worker remained the same throughout the nineteenth century: grinding, brutish, and without much hope of change. Statistics altered and demographic shifts were seen: for instance, the more machines were used in the mills, the more demand there was for women to run them, since machinery did not require as much physical strength, and women could be paid less. But the vile calculus of human misery was unaltered… They lived cramped in garrets and basements, without heat or light or air. Midcentury Barcelona made Dickensian London look almost tolerable; Cerda` found that its population density was about 350 people per acre, twice that of Paris, and that workers had a living space of about ninety square feet per person.

(Robert Hughes, Barcelona)

p1040995.JPG                                                                                                                       p1040972.JPG                                                                                                                                                              To the east of Barcelona lies the small town of Colònia Güell. This compact settlement was constructed to house the workers and the factories upon which Eusebi Guell’s fortune was based. On the outskirts lies the local church, or rather the crypt of the unfinished church. This is an expressive and atmospheric structure designed by Antoni Gaudí. Of course Güell and Gaudí had a long and fruitful relationship, with the construction of a number of much more well known buildings. This structure nestles into the rock of the hillside and is obviously intended to appear as if it is part of the landscape. The building is random yet exact. The stone is irregular at the building’s corners with what looks like a volcanic infill.  The columns rise at acute angles from the earth and almost become flying buttresses as they struggle to hold the crypt itself in place. The interior is equally mysterious, the large open space is calm and organic, the unfinished quality adds to the drama. The only slight anomaly is the recent pavings, which is set in a regular manner around the building and becomes a podium upon which the building sits, thus breaking the illusion of the building growing from the landscape. The crypt is certainly big enough to hold the congregation, so perhaps that is why the ambitious building was never completed, but then again Gaudí and Güell have a reputation for taking their time.

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On a recent visit to Barcelona it was a great pleasure to see once again his Carme Housing in the Raval District. This was always a modest building and seems even more so now that it needs a coat of paint and bit of a clean. However, the controlled forms combined with the close integration into the context means that the apartment block is both unpretentious, while still commanding a strong presence.

Two colliding rectangular blocks dictate the form of the building. The point of intersection creates a slight setback, which encourages the narrow street to expand and thus allows the building to breath. In what seems like a common practice in Barcelona, the corner of the building is set at 135˚, and thus the covered balconies project into the street. The green window shutters, which are flush with the walls, seem untraditional and slightly strange given the apparent extreme attempt to integrate the building into its particular location, but I am reliably informed that the city council actively discourages the construction of new open balconies.