Studio 1: Betweenity

Studio brief

''Never was I less charmed in my life. The house is not Gothic, but of that betweenity, that intervened when Gothic declined and Palladian was creeping in - rather, this is totally naked of either.” Excerpt from 'The Letters of Horace Walpole' 1760

For the last couple of years, students in Studio One have considered the role architecture plays in the collaborative art of city making. Designs have focused on the void, the public spaces between buildings. Students have explored the many facets influencing city space ranging from the lives a building or public space has lived, to something as modest as a colour or fine proportion. Studio One will continue such investigations during this year, but in a fresh way through the lens of the theme ‘betweenity’.

‘Betweenity’ is a curious term first encountered in a description of the Elizabethan country house Hardwick Hall in the letters of Georgian social commentator Horace Walpole. Walpole criticises the architecture for being neither Classical nor Medieval, but something unsatisfactorily ‘other’. Whilst his use of ‘betweenity’ is obviously derogatory, we feel it is exactly this state of being between things that gives the building its power and continues to hold people’s interest, many hundreds of years after its construction. Sorry Horace.

Robert Smythson, the designer of Hardwick Hall, captures in glass and stone a fantastic moment when architectural thinking from different cultures and times collide. He designs the upper stories of the building in a finely proportioned classical architecture extremely well lit by windows that would have been huge for their time. This new, airy classical world sits on top of two squat storeys with a more Medieval solidity and robustness. The result is a lucid, surprising piece of architecture.

We think the idea of ‘betweenity’ could be liberating for an architect and lead to a more vivid, memorable architecture. Successful instances of ’betweenity’ are not compromises, or lacking in precision, but are the assimilation of a number of well-chosen architectural inspirations along with the energy of their interaction. The challenge is not to invent a completely new architecture, but combine and reconfigure pre-existing ones into contemporary built form appropriate to the way we live today.

The site for the year - Hackney Wick, East London - is an area undergoing rapid change. Students will search for a sense of ‘betweenity’ at a number of architectural scales. Design proposals will be made for public realm improvements and a civic architecture with a strong sense of place that brings a new level of civility to the area - something currently missing. Proposals should enhance what currently exists, anticipate an uncertain future and perhaps make visible that which no longer exists in Hackney Wick.

The studio briefs will be structured to follow the processes of a real design project. Introduction to the site will be immediate. The role Hackney Wick plays in the wider city will be explored spatially, socially and psychologically. Codes and tactics from the art world will be used to develop feelings for the place and capture the indicators of ‘betweenity’ at an urban scale. A small design project will help identify important boundaries / edges conditions in relation to what lies beyond.

Students will consider 'betweenity' at the scale of a building through the coalescence of spatial ideas across cultures, contexts and time into a chosen site. Regular design seminars will introduce you to architectural examples with strong ‘betweenity’. Together we’ll visit and sketch a number of very special sixteenth century rural villa's in northern Italy designed by Palladio. To help develop designs, studies will be made of historic and contemporary architectural examples relevant to personal interests and feelings about the potential to make a more civic architecture in Hackney Wick.

Hardwick Hall Derbyshire photo unattributed c.1880


Course Architecture BA (Hons)
Tutor Alex Bank
Sam Casswell
Where Central House, 3rd Floor Studios
When Tuesday and Friday