Rod Heyes and Peter St John

Unit 12: The Feeling of Construction

Image by David Grandorge

Unit brief

The artist Frank Auerbach has been painting the same area of London, around his studio in Primrose Hill, for more than sixty years. He has described the moment when, as a young man, and at the height of London’s post war reconstruction, he felt his life as a painter begin. He was drawing on a vast building site and saw something different and more expressive under his drawing – an inner representation within this dramatic scene – a feeling of the sublime more often associated with the wildest parts of nature: cliffs and mountains. He saw energy and beauty in construction, in the disruption and breadth of raw building within the normal scale of the city.

This year Unit 12 will look at the skin and bones physique of industrial structures, whose shape, driven by function and the need for general space, can take on powerful and idiosyncratic form when seen in the context of the everyday scale. The unit will design studios, workshops and factories, both renovations of existing and new buildings, and study how these buildings can be accommodated as London becomes more dense. How can industrial space be included and can this lead to a more varied and distinctive city?

We are interested in the physicality of industrial structures, in making space with raw materials, systems and direct means of construction, along with basic forms that can be awkward, even rude. We will look at working landscapes and industrial ruins, as well as studying manufacturing processes and state of the art fabrication. We are looking in our building work for the painterly freedom of Auerbach, using found structures, typical forms, additions and alterations as well as new construction.

The year will start in Fish Island on the edge of the Olympic Park – a messy light industrial area that is being rapidly transformed into a conventional housing quarter. Everywhere in London the complex working city is being displaced by diagrammatic housing for profit and we will ask how things could be different. In the first semester we will design a small studio building and in the second half of the year we will design a large building for manufacturing or research in the context of a mixed city programme.

In November, the studio will make a train journey across Northern Europe in a tour of industrial structures and building sites in Northern France, Holland and the Ruhr Valley ending up in Zurich.


Course Professional Diploma in Architecture
Tutor Rod Heyes
Peter St John
Where Central House, 4th Floor Studios
When Monday and Thursday

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