University can be quite an insular business. So much time spent focussing on the tiny details can be suffocating for the student; the underlying manifestos of units and departments leaving students struggling to find a clear path for their ideas and even less likely to be able to find a position where they can take a step back. I've often found uni to be like having an argument - it's always once you've walked away out of the impatient dynamic of explaining yourself that you think of the perfect comeback. Similarly, it's only when I've had a chance to step away that I'm able to see the real strengths and weaknesses of a project.
Now, however, the 2009/10 year is over and the projects of Unit 24 at the Bartlett are complete and ready to be consumed. Many students find ways to take their proejcts further after graduation, whether it be realisation, exhibition, publication or continuing refinement in their spare time, and as such it's a good time to open these projects up to a wider audience and get some feedback/constructive criticism/awe-struck praise. ;)
In this spirit, I'd like to ask you guys to offer critiques of a selection of projects from this graduating year of Unit 24 at the Bartlett. If you have questions to direct to the student too, I'll be sure to encourage them to sign up and respond in the comments below. I know archinect can go a bit quiet outside of term time, but any help you can offer would be greatly appreciated.
First up: Tom Ibbitson's project: The Still Vessel
A summary c/o Tom:
"The project speculates about the beginning of architecture at a moment in time when sailors skilled in the crafts of timber are shipwrecked on an island of stone. They start constructing a vessel out of stone using their timber craftsmanship in order to build the ship that they hope will take them away - but ultimately they fail.
The accident of the situation restrains the construction of the ship to explorations of the material properties of stone as alternative to timber. Springing from rigorous research into timber and stone crafting techniques and the Doric order, when timber detailing was inherited into stone despite its properties, Tom’s drawings are mapping out different stages in the construction of the hope-laden vessel.
Contained within this narrative, Tom’s work comments on how material properties and crafting techniques are used as architectural design agents. The project investigates the unfolding of space between material, the landscape and the body in moments of construction and in moments of occupation. It asks “At what point does architecture become inhabitable?”.
Critiquing on the separated nature of the representational segregation of plan and section, arrangement and detailed drawings Tom has methodically developed hybridized drawing tactics that allow him to re-interpret the role of the primal modulators of architectural space – door, window, stair in his search for the first moments of spatial occupation."
Coral Click to enlarge
Formwork Construction Click to enlarge
Mast Construction Click to enlarge
Oyster Click to enlarge
Ribs Construction Click to enlarge
Window Click to enlarge
I was lucky enough to see Tom present this work while in progress at a crit in March. As with most projects, such a small space can't do justice to a term-long piece of research. I do, however, remember there being a world of amazing details (one such detail that jumped out at me was using lemons from the original ship as a tool to corrode away a stone pin to enable the use of an oyster shell as a fixing: see the Oyster image above).
The project itself stuck a real chord with me in the way it ties itself back to real architectural considerations. I think it's fair to say that in the past few years at least, most universities have had their fair share of indulgent projects: amazing visuals lacking a hook to relate itself to the real issues faced by contemporary architecture - alegories with no application. However, what I like about this project are the possibilites of reexamining the moment when the doric order was born and architecture took a step away from material and structural 'truth' towards a stylistic imitation owing to physical and methodical legacy.
By setting the story up with the wooden ship meeting the stone island, the project forces the move from the 'true' Laugier hut to the 'imitation' inherent in the inertic addition of new technology. Rather than taking the easy route of proposing PoMo-esque self-references and suggesting that the intertia is a stylistic one, it becomes an opportunity to retrace these critical moments in architecture which still exist today. How amazing it would be if material development was still ao ingrained to the architectural process today and, rather than specialists being isolated until the point of sale, new types of architecture were born out of the testing and improvising of bespoke solutions.
Add a bit of Heidegger in there and start discussing the move away from 'truth' by introducing technology and I'm half tempted to start writing a thesis myself.