Addition and Subtraction

October 8th, 2014

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Letterfrack concept sketch

RIBA Gold Medal winner, Sheila O’Donnell made an inspiring address to the Manchester School of Architecture as her delayed contribution to the Sinister Dialogues Symposium. She admitted that the title was the wrong way round; the process of design employed by the practice is one of stripping away before making any additions and thus the talk should really have been called: Subtraction and Addition. The unfinished Letterfrack Furniture College and the stalled Good Shepherd Convent projects formed the foundation of the talk; both projects dealt with transformation of institutions, and questioned whether it was possible for the building to retain guilt. The existing building, she explained, becomes a participant in the project, something strangely familiar.

But Shelia couldn’t also resist the temptation to discuss her own Stirling Prize contender, the Saw Swee Hock Student Centre at the LSE, and where better to examine this than in the lecture theatre of one of the other shortlisted buildings…

Procession to Preston Bus Station

November 10th, 2013

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Despite the wind and the rain, the procession through the centre of Preston, from the Corn Exchange, into the Flag Market and onto the Bus station was an unforgettable experience, and in what was an extraordinary piece of luck, the sun came out just as the procession reached the Bus Station itself, thus, for a few minutes, the highly articulate modelling of the parapets was clearly expressed on both the building and the model. This project was a collaboration between MArch CiA and the 3rd Year unit: Processional Cities.

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 Continuity in Architecture have just returned from the 2013 Heritage and Architecture of Urban Landscape under Productions Workshop. This international project, which was based at the Università Iuav di Venezia (IUAV), was a collaboration between the schools of architecture in Manchester, Venice and Granada. It was completed between 16th September 2013 and 28th September 2013.

The basis of the design workshop was an examination of the still abandoned parts of Arsenale in Venice. The area, which until recently, was still used by the military, is gradually being assimilated into the city. Great discrimination needed to be taken with this absorption. The city of Venice has an incredibly distinct character, and any changes must take into consideration the qualities of what is there in combination with the needs and technology of the Twenty-First century: pastiche is not an option!

The Arsenale itself is an impressive and complex cluster of boatyards, armories, and wet and dry docks, assembled around two large harbours, all of which is protected by high brick walls. It was responsible for the bulk of Venice’s naval power during the middle part of the second millennium AD. It was one of the earliest large-scale industrial enterprises in history. Even Dante was impressed by the sheer presence of the place:

As in the Arsenal of the Venetians


Boils in winter the tenacious pitch


To smear their unsound vessels over again


For sail they cannot; and instead thereof


One makes his vessel new, and one recaulks


The ribs of that which many a voyage has made


One hammers at the prow, one at the stern


This one makes oars and that one cordage twists


Another mends the mainsail and the mizzen…

As always, we started with a thorough examination of the site, its surroundings and what can only be described as a Venetian coach trip; our own personal Vaporetto ride around the islands of the Lagoon. The visits were accompanied by a series intense lectures and talks by the curators of the sites. The passion of the conservation architect can not be overestimated; the enthusiasm that they held for their subject and the remains in their custody was inspirational.

The group of students was divided into small inter-nationality group, each containing one student from each institution. This inevitably initially caused much tension. The problem of language, difference in approach and differing priorities will create anxiety and disagreement, but it also encourages cooperation, understanding, compassion and eventually synergy. And so it was here, initial distrust was gradually replaced by firm friendship. There was a great amount of professional support for the workshop, and this involvement included the architects and conservators to the Arsenale, structural engineers, architects, conservation architects, as well as two or three academics from each participating university, almost an embarrassment of riches

The students were encouraged to analyse the qualities of each place before attempting to make changes. They looked particularly at the context, that is the history, topography, geology, the very nature of the place. From this analysis they developed an understanding of how the place could be activated. They needed to feel confident that the proposals that they were making were totally appropriate to the qualities of the sites. The students all worked hard to produce proposals of great quality and worth. They endeavoured satisfy all of the often conflicting demands of the conservators, users, consultants and academics, but what was created were truly context driven proposals, which explored the relationships between the water, the buildings, the climate and the place.

This is the fourth collaboration that CiA have made with IUAV, and the second with Granada. Every year the students work incredibly hard, they put in long hours in the studio and then always an enjoyable night in the squares, bars and restaurants of Venice. And again, this year all of them embraced the project with enthusiasm and plenty of intellectual inquiry, and all were a credit to their own institution and the project. Everyone travelled an enormous distance; physically, intellectually and emotionally. The manner in which architecture is taught and discussed varies from one institution to another and certainly there were often great divides between the approaches of each nationality, but of course, there were also great similarities. This was a project that served to bring together the North and South of Europe. It showed how a love for storytelling combined with an understanding of history and technology could bind together a group of disparate and distinct individuals into a forceful united team. This was a project that ventured to create something appropriate, distinct and contemporary from the variously eccentric approaches of our enormous continent.

The design proposals can be viewed here:

Preston Interrotta

July 3rd, 2013

“Preston has a picturesqueness of outline and a suggestion of spaciousness from a distance which distinguish it from most Lancashire cotton towns.”1

The Twenty-First Century city is a combination of two different ideas; the traditional city of streets and squares, and the modern city of isolated elements surrounded by parkland. The traditional city is really composed of spaces, which are lined with buildings. So, for example, the primary street within an urban environment is a long thin space through which people travel, which is bounded by structures that face onto this space. The shapes of the buildings are somewhat deformed to accommodate the pure nature of the street, and thus it is the space which is the predominate element of the composition. The city-in-the-park is the opposite; isolated buildings set with open land, thus emphasising the building rather than the space, which just surrounds the structures in an ill-defined manner.

Preston, a small provincial city in the north west of England is no exception; it has evolved into this awkward mixture of the traditional and the modern. Neither situation really responds or compliments the other, and so the city has grown into a collection of individual structures and spaces.

Preston is well positioned on a ridge above the flood-planes of the River Ribble. This line or edge, known as Fishergate, is part of pre-Roman route which crossed the country, and intersects at the Flag Market square, with a north-south track, Friargate, which was formed by its connection with the lowest crossing point of the Ribble. The Minster marks the eastern end of the city centre, while the train station is positioned at the western point and Fishergate is stretched between them. Close to the Minster are the open Flag Market, the Harris Art Gallery, the Victorian cast-iron covered markets and the Town Hall. These civic elements are testament to the wealth of the city.

In some respects it is a typical industrial city, the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries brought massive expansion, and by 1867 it possessed seventy factories. This rapid development destroyed many of the mediaeval structures, but the pattern of the city centre, to the most part, was retained. Indeed, many of the small streets or weinds to the south of Fishergate reflect the pre-industrial routes and field patterns.

The “marvellously brutal”2 Bus Station was constructed to the north-east of the Town-hall and the markets. The area was at the time densely occupied with mills and terraced houses. The building is situated a couple of blocks from the Townhall, but is very simply parallel to it and therefore to Friargate. It is placed within an open expanse or concourse, which was designed to allow the buses to flow freely around the building. Pedestrians were separated from the traffic with distinct unground routes. It is an enormous and elegant 171 meters long (560ft, it is, after all, a pre-decimalisation building), and can quite fairly be described as a landmark, and therefore an important element within the collective memory of the city. When constructed it paid little heed to pattern of pattern of the place, but has become a well-loved element within the bricolage of Preston. “Some ideal forms can exist as fragments, “collaged” into an empirical environment…”3

It is obvious that its position within the city doesn’t work. The Bus Station is essentially cut-off from the centre by the Guild Hall, the St. John’s Shopping centre and the concourse itself. The relationship with Church Street is lamentable, in fact, this area of the city, which was once thriving and profitable, has become, in places, derelict. The ring road has exacerbated the problems; effectively cutting the north of the city from the centre, and thus the land to the east, beyond the Bus Station, is almost inaccessible. This is not something new, it was actually foreseen by Derek Linstrum in his mostly ecstatic 1969 review of the building: …“the failure to estimate the building’s potential as an important addition to the town’s social life.”4

Gate 81 is a series of projects that intends to raise the profile of the building, and therefore increase the chance of saving it from the intended demolition. The latest project was a one-day charrette hosted by BDP Architects, ironically the architects of the original building and the now-abandoned Tithebarn shopping centre that was intended to replace the building. Academics, and students from the schools of architecture in Manchester, Liverpool and Central Lancashire, as well as professional architects and designers attended the charrette. BDP’s chairman David Cash, who quite romantically remembered the time that BDP was still in Preston and the legacy of the George Grenfell-Baines, launched the event. Kevin Rhowbotham delivered the key-note talk, well, call-to-arms. He invoked the memory of Collage City and pressed us all to consider the dialectical opposition of the Object and the Field, and how each can distinguish the other.

Five groups were created, each contained a mixture of professionals and students, and each approached the problem of how to revitalise this area of the city of Preston in a distinct and individual way. However, what linked all of the proposals was the appreciation that the project is much larger than just the remodelling of the Bus Station; it is an Urban Regeneration problem. All of the proposals considered the link between the city centre and the building, the  hinterland to the east and relationships that exist between the key elements of the urban environment.

“As in a cubist painting, where the organisational geometries do not reside in the objects themselves, the possibilities of combining various buildings within a system of order which attributes to each piece a bit of the organisation becomes almost infinite.”5

Group 1: Undivided

Preston Bus Station is shelter-like structure elevated upon strong concrete legs; this evokes comparisons with the cast-iron covered markets. This group proposed to raze the low quality structures directly next to the Bus Station concourse and thus create physical connections between all of the “roofs with legs”. The resultant public space or garden could support communal activities and also encourage public movement through the now open structure of the Bus Station, into the more formal area of distribution between the building and the Ring Road

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Group 2: The Urban Arboretum Project

Preston’s Indoor Market is situated within a dark and somewhat isolated building, squashed beneath a carpark next to the Ringroad. This group considered the Bus Station as a perfect venue for the new market; it would be easily accessible and very easy to support. The areas behind the building could accommodate allotments and market gardens, while the concourse could hold performances and other communal activities. The top floor of the building also offers opportunities for growing stuff. The element of time and evolution was an important aspect of this project.

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Group 3: 50 - 50 Group

This group considered the possibility of creating a direct link between the city’s cultural buildings and the Bus Station. By removing the substandard structures next to the concourse, a vista or connection could be established. This combined with moving all of the bus movement to the rear or east side of the building would create a collection of public spaces that could naturally evolve from temporary to permanent use over the course of a couple of decades.

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Group 4: Going Underground

People need a reason to visit a place and therefore this group asked what Preston City Centre was missing. It is widely acknowledged that most casual city-centre shoppers follow a distinct circular route around the shops. If this circuit included a substantial flagship department store to the east of the Bus Station, that is the non-city centre side, then shoppers would be actively dragged through the building en-route. This would act to invigorate the building and any activities would naturally evolve within it.

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Group 5: Artefact Park

Preston Bus Station is dramatic symbol of the city. When seen from the ring road it appears as a substantial and protective wall. This group considered the effect that extending the building would have upon the urban environment. To the north, it would recreate the connections that have been lost by the intrusion of dual carriageway, and to the south, relationships could be re-established with Church Street. The area of land to the east, beyond the massive wall could be considered as a garden of lost memorabilia.

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1, Derek Linstrum, AJ 6th May 1970. 2, Clare Hartwell and Nikolaus Pevsner, Lancashire North. 3, Thomas Schumacher, Urban Ideals and Deformations. 4, Derek Linstrum, AJ 6th May 1970. 5, Colin Rowe and Fred Koetter, Collage City

Projects in Cartmel and Venice

This year we have studied two locations, one home and one away. Both have a direct connection with sanctuary and with water. It is fabled that Cartmel Priory was founded in a place where fresh water flowed in opposite directions, and Venice, for whom water is not a problem but a theme, was originally a refuge for those locals who were driven into the muddy lagoon by barbarism, brutality and heresy.

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See more CiA work here 

The aim of these projects was to find a formal solution to a site specific problem through the medium of contextual analysis, choice and manipulation. Ordinary things contain the deepest mysteries and the architect needs to have the capacity to condense the artistic potential of the region while reinterpreting cultural influences, for the building to show a great understanding of both place and tectonics, but also to be totally relevant to the twenty-first century; an architecture that uses contemporary technological and is suitable for the needs of today. This means not resorting to pastiche, but designing buildings and interiors that are visually and operationally applicable to the present day. It is almost thirty years since Kenneth Frampton wrote of the importance of Critical Regionalism, Rowe and Koetter composed Collage City and Rossi recorded The Architecture of the City, and although these ideas, which emerged as a reaction to Modernism, are more than a generation old, they are now more relevant than ever. One of the most pressing concerns for today’s society is how we engage with the existing situation in an appropriate, environmentally friendly and sympathetic manner. The pursuit of strategies for carbon-neutral buildings and places combined with issues of sustainability and heritage are central to all forms of design practice. The vernacular can offer great possibilities, after all, we have for centuries dwelled upon the problem of how to create controlled and conditioned environments for social relationships in buildings. We live under the same sun, shelter from the same rain, and resist buffeting from same wind as our ancestors, and yet within contemporary architecture we devote ever more resources and seek ever more complexity in solving these problems. We believe that less attention should be paid to the gratuitously flamboyant one-off project and more focus placed upon the appropriate. We search for inspiration in the normal and we take encouragement from the familiar. We seek to enhance rather than to overwhelm, we are inspired by the strangeness of the everyday, the unfamiliarity of the commonplace. We seek to establish our position as individuals in a dialogue with the common ground. We look, not just at the design of buildings, but also at the territory around them; public space, shared space, collective space. We investigate how a relationship between constructed form and controlled space can be established. The development of form is a one-by-one practice, a building is composed of diverse concerns and different horizontal connections can be uncovered, using the situation as the compositional driver. Programme evolves from the specific character of the site; it is something that emerges as the form of the building develops. Within a school of architecture, to construct has two different meanings, the first is the more obvious concentration upon the technology of the design, to understand the nature and ontology of the construction, to be aware of how and why a structure is built as it is. The second meaning is the production of the methods of communication. Evans claimed that “recognition of the drawings power as a medium turns out, unexpectedly, recognition of the drawing’s distinctness from and unlikeness to the thing that is represented, rather than its likeness to it, which is neither as paradoxical nor as dissociative as it may seem.” We believe that it is important that intent is shown as well as proposal. Context has dominated the design process; therefore it should play an important role in the communication. If the proposal is one element among a structure of objects and moments, situation will command.

Remember Reveal Construct

 

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

Sally Stone has just returned from the Winter School at the University of Antwerp. This important annual event invites academics and architects to run projects upon a specific theme, this years was Transformer.

 Antwerp, an important city in northern Belgium, in the north of Europe, has been sought after and fought over for centuries thanks to its sheltered position on the estuary of the River Scheldt, the mild climate and the tolerant people. The legacy is a patchwork of ancient and modern architecture in which baroque rubs up against art deco, the traditional adjacent to the contemporary and the scarified next to the ephemeral

Look, said the voice … “A vacant lot at dusk” … “Long blurry beach” … “Sometimes you’d think he’d never use a camera before” … “Crumbling walls, dirty terrace, gravel path, a sign that says Office” … “A cement box by the side of the road” … “Restaurant windows, out of focus” … I don’t know what the hell he’s trying to get at.”

Antwerp

 by 
Roberto Bolaño

 

the City: the Building: the Room

“One could look from the campiello through openings, balustrades, screens, and discern the garden at the other side … and behold something at once a mystery and reality.”*

Architecture is the mediator between the City and the Room. An act of translation occurs at the point where the outside meets the inside. The window, door or threshold transforms the nature of the exterior and moderates it to accommodate the interior. When viewed from the hostile environment of the outside, the interior can possess qualities that are perhaps ethereal, enchanting or reassuring.

Imagine a crowd gathering in the Grote Markt, the quality of the light in the square, the coldness of the damp and windswept space, look through those twinkling windows of the tall imposing buildings, envisage what would be happening in these spaces, picture the character of the rooms behind the facades, create this interior.

*Carlo Scarpa talking about the Fondazione Querini Stampalia

 

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The City: We examined the particular qualities and characteristics of routes from the Grote Markt to the edge of the central area, and then back again. This analysis led us to create proposals for the transformation of the journey into a narrative; that is a collection of forms and spaces that communicated the essence of this excursion.

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The Building: We analysed the particular qualities and character of the Guild-Houses that face the Grote Mark. We looked at the size, scale, materials, construction, occupation and most importantly the quality of the light.

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The Room: We translated the ideas that were developed for the abstract space into a real proposal for the interior design of a space or collection of spaces within the Guild-houses.

Research Studentship

February 27th, 2012

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Pugin: the Search for the True Gothic

2012 marks the two-hundredth anniversary of the birth of Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin, one of the most important architects of the nineteenth century. His approach to the interpretation and creation of a neo-gothic architecture based upon an archaeological approach to mediaeval sources was the key influence on the development of Gothic architecture in the Victorian age. This in turn fed Modernist theories of the relationship between the component parts of architecture and functionalist approaches to domestic design, particularly in the Arts and Crafts movement.

The church of Our Lady and St Wilfrid and the adjacent presbytery represent a unique opportunity to study a group of Pugin’s buildings in something near to their original state. The church itself is a total work of art; a rich expression of ritual, archaeology, local material and rich ornament combined to produce a beguiling architectural whole. Adjacent to the church is the presbytery, a severe proto-functionalist house displaying Pugin’s concern for the plan as generator, rejecting superficial stylistic references. Both buildings were designed by Pugin but constructed without his personal supervision. This was typical of Pugin’s relationship with clients and builders, and the method was taken to its extreme when an exact replica of this church was constructed in Australia.

Pevsner considers the construction of this “small but first rate” church to be so significant that it caused “the vigorous field of ecclesiastical architecture (to be) hijacked into True Gothic”… “His little Catholic church at Warwick Bridge is a perfect document of the new attitude, the revival of an ideal English Gothic with religious fervour” and “It is here and more or less precisely in 1841 that archaeological accuracy begins in English church design.”

Research Question

How can the buildings at the church of Our Lady and St Wilfrid in Warwick Bridge be understood as the original model for a new approach to the understanding of true Gothic principles and a precursor of particular theoretical and practical approaches in Modern architecture.

Research Methods

There are particular opportunities for links with industry through collaboration with Francis Roberts Architects, an architectural practice with a reputation for sympathetic and skilful architectural conservation work. This relationship will aid the student and provide direct access to the parish priest, the parishioners, and expert historians and conservators.

Possible Aims and Objectives

Contribute to the understanding of Pugin as an architect and show how clients and builders remotely interpreted his designs. Compare the results with the original drawings.

Conduct a definitive historical and physical survey of the building. Access and analyse the building in relation to the documentary evidence. This search can use the Benedictine archive at Ampleforth and other sources 

Analyse the techniques used in construction and decoration. Contribute to the development of a conservation plan.

Situate the design of the church and the presbytery in its historical context and place it within a contemporary discourse. Acknowledge issues of practical art verses theory

Contribute to the stewardship of these buildings through an understanding of original construction techniques and contemporary methods of conservation and repair.

Review the available literature on Pugin.

Informal enquiries can be made to Sally Stone, s.stone@mmu.ac.uk

More information on how to apply: CLICK HERE (then select the ‘Art & Design’ tab)