Unit 7: Housing in the Hinterlands

Unit brief

Housing in the Hinterlands: Modelled studies of generous urban situations and rich interiors, sustained research into materials and components, and proposals for social rent housing and co-housing initiatives in the hinterlands of Victoria Park.

The site for our investigations this year is Victoria Park and its hinterlands. The park, laid out in 1845 by James Pennethorne, is situated in the borough of Tower Hamlets and shares borders with the districts of Bethnal Green, Bow and South Hackney. Canals that run along its western and southern edges play a combined role with the park in helping to alleviate the sometimes, pernicious effects of the adjacent urban conditions in which we will operate. 

There will be two major design projects to undertake, both concerned with social housing provision, the first, a re-run of Peabody’s competition for mixed tenure housing on Morpeth Road on the north western edge of the park and the second, co-housing proposals on one of four sites, three of which about the Hertford Union Canal on the southern edge of the park. 

There will be an emphasis in our thinking about the domestic realm, on the pleasures of dwelling and how this might be afforded by a developed knowledge base, a generous disposition and the sustained use of the architectural imagination. Thinking at a broader scale, we will encourage the thoughtful curation of shared spaces, some ambiguous, some clearly defined, that allow the ordinary and the special to co-exist and retain a charming quality when empty.

Fresh thinking will be encouraged about design methodology, using “hunches rather than deductions, leaps of faith supported by strictly systematic execution”.[1] In addressing the building economy necessary to the provision of social rent housing, we will research ideas of finish from shell and core to the definitively incomplete. 

In undertaking research for the two design projects, we will encourage succinct and precise description of the existing urban form and the life it contains, concentrating our efforts instead on making sense of the broad range of products, components and data that inform and sometimes challenge contemporary practice.[2] The vehicle for this will be a tectonic ‘Atlas’, a mnemonic device defined by a metonymic and intuitive logic.[3]

We will start the year by making a focused inquiry into what might constitute ‘good city’. The vehicle for this will be modelled translations of a selection of Thomas Struth’s photographs from his “Unconscious Places” series, a body of city portraits made over a period of over 35 years. This study will be coupled and contrasted with modelled research into domestic interiors characterized by subtle, yet rich spatial and conceptual qualities that transcend the economy of their construction.

The field trip will be to Ghent, where we will explore adjacencies of the domestic realm with water and visit domestic and city scaled projects by Marie Jose Van Hee and Jan de Vylder.

[1] Robert Storr summarising the first of Sol le Witt’s axiomatic Sentences on Conceptual Art, quoted from his essay “Painting by Other Means – Notes on Richter’s Recent Abstractions”, published in “Gerhard Richter, London 2014”, Marian Goodman Gallery.

[2] David Leatherbarrow interrogates this condition in his essay “The Topographical Horizon of Dwelling Equipment”, published in “Uncommon Ground”, The MIT Press, 2000

[3] Its use was originated by Aby Warburg in 1924 and explored in a similar but expanded form by Gerhard Richter since the late 1960s.

Morpeth Road 2015


Course Professional Diploma in Architecture
Tutor David Grandorge
Colin Wharry
Where Central House, 4th Floor Studios
When Monday and Thursday

Professional Diploma in Architecture (RIBA part II)