Many old buildings look like what they are made of. Stone castles and churches, Victorian brick houses, even early concrete tower blocks: enclosure, structure, and architectural character all determined through the performance of a single construction material. A single material performing several roles within the building envelope lends such buildings a certain heft – you can read the thickness of material required and this imparts a sense of permanence or even monumentality to the architecture. Modern buildings are not made like this. Modern buildings need insulation, air tightness, vapour control, a structural frame. What you see looking at a modern building is just the outermost layer of its skin – backed up by membranes, insulation, structure, and linings. That outer layer may not even hold itself up, serving simply as a cladding to the many technical layers within. With ever increasing requirements placed on the performance of those technical layers – providing thermal comfort and fire safety being two primary current concerns – the overall thickness of modern facades is increasing. The climate challenge and working towards reducing carbon emissions in buildings add a further challenge to the design of the built fabric. But unlike old buildings, whose solidity brings an expression of depth, this layering of elements does not necessarily result in an enduring architectural character and counterintuitively can appear rather ‘thin’.
Much like in Alice in Wonderland, when Alice tumbles through the rabbit hole into a fantasy world, this design atelier embarked on a journey exploring the inner world of the buildings. The atelier examined the performance of an act that takes you into a separate world from everyday life: ‘a temporary world within the ordinary world’. The exact nature of this ‘act’ and the world in which it takes place was defined in a design thesis. The act may be sacred or profane. We explored a range of performances or ‘acts’ ranging from the sacred to the theatrical or dance.
The challenge of this Atelier was to design a ‘temple of culture and community’. By this, we refer to a hybrid building typology with culture and community at its heart. Students designed buildings with generous, civically minded façade that houses a shared ceremonial or celebratory event. Like Kahn, proposals were designed to be a ‘temple’ dedicated to that ‘social event’. Alongside this event, proposals developed a function for ‘social good’. Addressing these contrasting functions creates an interesting design challenge where students needed to consider how the architecture can integrate high culture and low culture harmoniously in their civic building. Student’s architecture is joyful and fun but carefully conceived, responsibly designed with the climate emergency in mind and thus, seriously executed, doing justice to the themes that we explored.