Studio 1

Studio brief

The Lives of City Buildings

"Use - Reuse - Misuse - Abuse - Disuse - Refuse"
(Cedric Price)

Cedric Price's thinking on the whole life of a building, and his interest in time and timing retains its freshness and pertinence today. It's too restrictive to think of a piece of architecture as a finished, finite object capable of a specific use only. This is one reason why much of contemporary architecture lacks vitality and personality, ageing ungracefully in an uncertain future. With this in mind (and we are not alone) we often find ourselves gravitating to buildings during the stages of their construction. They seem full of potential, open with promise and expectation of the future, like a small child. The unexpected and often absurd ways that buildings and parts of the city are used and adapted in time also fascinates us. And of course, the strange beauty of a ruin continues to be an inspiration, not for nostalgic or historical reasons, but because structures that are in partial disrepair or demolition have so many wonderful stories to tell us.

The city and the buildings that give the city its form are part of a continuous work in progress. Architecture is a living phenomenon. This year we will go on a journey with you through the many stages in the lives of buildings, exploring the allure and rewards of designing with this in mind. Making architecture in this way is expansive and full of richness, allowing you room to pause, take stock of the situation and breathe. It helps to concentrate the mind on designing the essential, the elemental and to find a sense of elegance in architecture. We want to investigate the merits of buildings that retain a stripped back rawness or an attractive economy. This could be called "the beauty of leanness". To identify the optimum moment when to stop designing is important - not to overwork a project reducing the ability for architecture to communicate directly to people. The clarity and ease by which people can understand and have an emotional response to a building during construction or in a state of ruination is the point here.

The main design project will focus on the reuse of an existing ensemble of buildings in London. The selected sites will all offer opportunities to significantly enhance the relationship that the building could have with the surrounding city through radical and critical intervention. Following on from a long tradition of teaching by ARU in Diploma Unit 01, you will be asked to design without a set program of uses when beginning the design.

The challenge is to transform an existing building into a "City Building" and to make a gift to the city in the process. A deep understanding of how the building is constructed, the intentions of the architects that created it and the story of any adjustments that have been made over time will be required. You will make judgments on what elements you think are redundant or posses a special quality or spirit that your architectural proposals will attempt to reveal and respond to. We want you to be sensitive and respectful whilst at the same time firm and courageous with your proposals for partial demolition and reconstruction. This is a fine line.

Each student will develop their own positions on themes such as proportion, tectonics, finishes and colours. These are the things that sadly, architects tend to think about less and less today, but these are the aspects of the project that can give architecture a sense of continuity, longevity and enjoyment. When such matters are handled skilfully, the result can be an architecture that makes you "walk on your toes". This is the level of ambition set for Studio 01.

Before the main design project, you will be equipped with a larder of ideas and ways of working derived from a number trips to building sites, small design as research projects, representation workshops, a precedent study and study trip:

Demystifying construction

We will visit building sites to see live Caruso St John and ARU projects under construction in quite differing existing buildings - Tate Britain and Central House, the future home of all the undergraduate studios.

Furniture as architecture - making project

During the first few weeks of term and in time for the official Central House opening party, Studio 01 will be making and installing a permanent furniture structure into the boulevard as a way of introducing the studio to the wider School. With the assistance of a furniture maker, you will re-appropriate a number of existing solid timber Silversmith + Jewellery workbenches (currently in storage). 

An ensemble of openings

To help orientate your thinking towards designing with the public realm of the city in mind you will be asked to propose an ensemble of new openings - a doorway and window - in the blank wall of an existing facade. This will require a careful, measured drawing of the wall and an understanding of its construction. You will make speculations about where the door or window leads to (the space inside) and the effect these openings have on the space of the city in front (the space between buildings).

Precedent studies

We will make studies of architecture from the past and the present day that have lived diverse and interesting lives. These examples will reveal differing attitudes and approaches to intervening in existing buildings and will form a resource for designing throughout the year. We hope to make a small publication or exhibition of the research.

Study trip

We have planned a very special trip to Switzerland in order to better understand what is meant by a "City Building". We will visit several buildings designed by Peter Markli in Zurich, including his recent reworking of an existing office facade. The cost of this trip will not be high as travel to Zurich is inexpensive. 

*Studio 01 is a new studio, however Sam Casswell and Alex Bank are not strangers to the School having both studied with Florian Beigel and Philip Christou as Diploma students in Dip Unit 01. Alex is a collaborator in ARU practicing design as research. Sam is a project architect at Caruso St John, a practice that is re-strengthening its ties with the School.  Both are currently working on projects radically altering existing buildings and  want to share with you their experiences of practice and offer design methodologies that can lead to vivid, memorable architecture that feels close to life. The studio will be taught in collaboration with Florian Beigel and Philip Christou, with occasional contributions by the other members of ARU. Florian and Philip will be regularly engaging with the teaching of Studio 01 and will help guide the studio program throughout the year.

Photo by Philip Christou 2013. Half-built building.


Course Architecture BA (Hons) RIBA Part 1
Tutor Alex Bank
Sam Casswell