the spirit level
It is perhaps only when a work joins as of nature with another work whose origin is other, whose intention is other, that a single impulse turns into an observable tide, and changes our view of the present.
Peter Smithson on the work of Lewerentz and Pikionis, The Silent Architects 1988
diploma3 continued its interest in the art of building this year with a project entitled the spirit level. A tool of the carpenter or mason, the spirit level is instrumental in the process of making and in the finesse of these crafts, where our desire or demand for ‘flat’ and ‘true’ is validated against our intuitive sense of ‘level’. It is suggestive of an inclusive way of working, of making, that allows for and even encourages
adjustment, however slight, through insertion or a paring back. This year we considered these ideas against an urban condition of street, neighbourhood and enduring city fabric, encouraging architectural propositions that provoke this urban situation and become imbedded, but the main intention is always towards the state of balance and measure suggested by this idea.
Working with brick in London was also on our agenda. Starting the year with a careful study of the
architecture of Lewerentz and culminating with a visit to Mies’ Krefeld Villas, the unit appreciated
different approaches towards working with this ubiquitous building element in the making of form.
Proposals took on the ambition of developing materially evocative spaces through a careful positioning of a new architecture within, adjacent to, or around a conglomerate of ‘as found’ brick spaces and
structures. The unit’s intentions, as always, are towards achieving an eloquence between architectural ideas and the tectonics of one’s architecture, and how a strong sense of materiality can give meaning in architecture.
We began autumn studies with a careful re-drawing and analysis of selected projects of the architect
Sigurd Lewerentz. Having begun to understand these buildings in relation to proportion, form, and
material intent, the unit then traveled to Sweden to study these projects in detail. Individual interests in these projects were then made into physical pieces with an emphasis on achieving objects of craft and quiet presence.
Project sites for the year were in and around Union Street, in Southwark, South London. Southwark has historically been an area of contrast: a borough of manors and churches, theatres and prisons, markets and inns, orchards and industries. The diversity of scale and use still characterize much of Southwark today.
This area around Union Street in particular retains an enticing frailty. On the one hand, this is an area with a number of good existing buildings and empty sites of great potential. But on the other hand, this is an area that has through history accepted and appreciated the awkwardness of its bit of city fabric and allowed for the kinds of marginal activities that are an inevitable necessity of any city. Presently though, this area is under-threat from the too often over-scaled, poorly considered speculative developments that have been and are being constructed just to the north of the site. The elevated railway line that bisects this area has been instrumental in keeping development at bay yet many of the lots vacancy is now just a matter of time.
Ten chosen sites adjacent to this 2-kilometer stretch of Victorian brick infrastructure from London Bridge Station in the east to Waterloo Station in the west became our winter studies. Our intention was to develop propositions for buildings and open space that consider the history and sensitive nature of this place and contribute to an architectural discussion of neighborhood and identity for Southwark. As always, we encouraged a willingness to work with these places as they are, modifying with judgment, generosity and optimism.
To begin spring studies, the unit travelled to Insel Hombroich in northern Germany for a one-week
design workshop where there was an emphasis on the development and refinement of the detail
language of the projects. This trip also allowed us to study at hand a number of powerful brick
buildings including the seminal work by Mies van der Rohe, Haus Lange, as well as the Kolumba Museum by Peter Zumthor.
Our intentions in spring studies was to create resonance between one’s intuitive ideas and the detail resolution of architectural propositions, prioritizing work that speculates, explores and exposes the way materials are finished, connected, crafted, fitted and how they make and manipulate space.
Autumn Studies: Lewerentz
Winter Studies: Union Street
Spring Studies: Insel Hombroich Workshop
Mohammed Syed Shah
Deru ‘Abu’ Anding