Unit 12: Park and Pavilion

Unit brief

Park and Pavilion

In his small book Walks within the Walls, Peter Smithson describes the terraces of Georgian Bath as if their stone facades are the fragments of an ancient and grand ruin, with all its spaces of streets and gardens open to the sky. Written in the late 1960s when the city was neglected and grimy, the walls are described in detail, being the scenery backdrop for society life once played out on the pavements. The delicate facades, the stone pavements, and the distant view over the valley, make the scene. As the walker moves on, the rhythm and detail of the windows, cornices, doorways and steps adjust to the topography of the steep hills. The scene is full of pleasing variation and incident. Even the smallest terraced cottage contributes to the heightened feeling of shared public space. 

This year, the studio will design two projects within the fabric of the centre of London to address this question of how buildings form the backdrop to public space. Both will contain some housing. London’s housing question is not all about density and supply, it’s also about quality. London is not as beautiful or as consistent as Bath, but as the city densifies, there is a lack of imagination in how people live in the centre and how new models relate to the street and the pedestrian. The projects will address these matters at a detailed level with drawings and models. 

The first project in the first semester will be a small low building for shared rental living for young people in east London. It will have common spaces, perhaps a garden, a court or even a dining room open to the public as a café. The building will have an inward-looking aspect within its close surroundings. We will look at the detail of the bed, the window and the cupboard, and how careful consideration of all these individual parts might allow a very compact style of accommodation alongside generous communal space. We will look at social and typological precedents for communal living, cloisters, almshouses, foyers etc, as well as city gardens. 

The second project in the second semester will be a freestanding tower of medium size (8-10 storeys) in Mayfair, an area of the city with some of the highest land values. The mixed-use building will contain a large shop, offices and some large apartments. The site will be on a corner, and be outward-looking with a long view from the apartments. There will be an emphasis on this project in the design of the facades. We will look at examples of deep-plan apartment buildings from Chicago and New York 1900-1920, as well as early twentieth-century buildings in Paris, Milan and Brussels. In November, the studio will make a trip to Paris and Brussels visiting low-rise city districts, French hotels and Beguinage, as well as dense and higher apartment buildings. 

The year will start with a visit to Bath in the first week to do a number of Peter Smithson’s city walks. A first two-week project will ask groups of students to document their own city walk in London, in different parts of the city from the Barbican to Blackheath. The walks are to be presented in a similar format to the Smithson’s small book, with text and photographs of building details and views intermingled. The studio will also look at some contemporary flâneurs and photographers of city life, to talk about how buildings are perceived in the city today.

This year the studio will be taught by Peter St John with young architects James Hand and Ben Speltz. The first semester will be taught together with Stephen Taylor and Theo Thysiades of Unit 9. Students in both studios will do the same first-semester project, and there will be shared pin-ups and a shared final crit.

House of the Future – Alison and Peter Smithson – 1956


Course Professional Diploma in Architecture
Tutor Peter St John
James Hand
Ben Speltz
Where Central House, 4th Floor Studios
When Monday and Thursday

Professional Diploma in Architecture (RIBA part II)