Unit 10: An Architecture of Relationships IV, Landscapes of Power – Fragile Landscapes

Unit brief

An Architecture of Relationships IV
Landscapes of Power – Fragile Landscapes

Unit 10 has worked in many locations undergoing dramatic change and in the last three years we investigated and made proposals for territories in the Miyagi Prefecture of Japan, one of the regions worst hit by the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011, in collaboration with colleagues in Miyagi University and Higashimatsushima City Council. We now plan to make a research publication of this work, and to return for further investigations and collaborations at a later date. 

The Unit is continuing to research for a deeper relationship between architecture, city-building and topography, as eloquently articulated by David Leatherbarrow in his books and articles. Using a series of texts as tools, we will continue our investigations on cities and territories in transition, where conventional thinking struggles to respond to the current situation and where there is a necessity for imaginative thinking. 

"…Atmosphere exist in the continuum from the natural to the cultural, from the receptive passivity and openness of sensing the corporeality to the creational activity of the bodily subject, and from individualised sensation to the expansion of the self to form a bigger ‘I’ in conjunction with others. This is the ultimate thesis of the atmosphere, let alone of climate, in Watsuji’s manner of thinking."
Architecture as Ethics of Climate
, Jin Baek, Routledge, 2016 

The location for this year’s projects will be Reykjavik, Iceland. Iceland suffered a deep financial crisis from 2008-2011, precipitated by the collapse of Landsbanki in 2008. The crisis brought in a new political leadership with a determination to fundamentally re-think Iceland’s future society. However in 2013 a centre–right coalition returned to power, with a promise to end the five years of austerity. 

Unit 10 made strategies and detailed proposals for five sites in and around Reykjavik in 2011-12, following our field trip, where in addition to extensive walks, we met staff and students at the Icelandic Academy of Arts, members of Reykjavik City Council and various community groups and architects. We will revisit some of these sites and meet again with our contacts, five years on. 

In the period from 2011 to date the export of fish and smelted aluminium has declined, whilst tourism has grown by 31%. With a current population of 332,289 Icelanders, the number of foreign visitors to Iceland in 2015 was 1,176,616, and a further rise in numbers is expected, resulting in an exponential planned growth in hotel beds. However this rise in visitor numbers is posing serious pressures on Iceland’s powerful but fragile landscapes and ecosystems and potentially also on Icelanders way of life.

"...Walking is central to how we learn urban space. This is not just a spatial learning of urbanism, but a temporal practice of space, and is part of a wider set of rhythms that characterize urban places…Walking is a pre-reflective form of knowledge, although it sometimes entails discovering and transforming our conception of urban places through making and remaking of connections to past, present and future, between real and imagined, and through noise, smell, vision and touch..."

"The city that is ‘stitched together’ through walking is a relational city of multiple times and spaces, memories and bodily experience, and constituted though an assembly of translocal commodity chains, ecologies, histories and unfolding events."
Learning the City
, Colin MacFarlane, Wiley-Blackwell, 2011 

Starting from a concrete situation of urbanity, the Unit stresses the use of a combination of research, thinking methodologies, material experimentation and making and creative practice to propose strategic interventions that span extremes of scale, from the immediate and personal to the collective and geographical. A common attitude and investigation into the material manifestation of the environment underpins continuity from the detailed to the large scale. Architecture, landscape and urbanism themselves are not seen as a shift in scalar thinking, but as overlapping and inseparable fields, occupying the same territory. 

Rooted in our individual and unique experience, we will again start the year with two linked short projects aimed to develop and fine-tune spatial and social observations, explored through drawing, making, mending and repair. We promote notions of ambiguity and imperfections as productive to the design process, looking at how ordinary spaces can hold the extraordinary.

Iceland, Jonathan Cook


Course Professional Diploma in Architecture
Tutor Signy Svalastoga
Jonathan Cook
Edward Simpson
Where Central House, fourth floor studios
When Monday and Thursday

Professional Diploma in Architecture (RIBA part II)