Dissertation Medal Winner 1999
'An architecture of distraction':
The study and programmatic reoccupation of an existing physical education block in central Edinbugh.
The building sits prominently on the route between the airport and the site of the Scottish Parliament. This context interested me.
Transitory exposure: The building's form and programmatic redundancy are considered in passing. It is perceived in a state of distraction.
Paradox: The building's stillness, great mass, and conspicous materiality appear to only strenghthen its anonimity. The building commands distracted attention.
The project explores how solidity, mass, and stillness can inform the programmatic reoccupation of the building itself. These qualities are used to create an 'architecture of distraction', with the insertion of the University Collections, research and exhibition facilities.
Upon reflection, the notions of mass and thickness are recurring characteristics in my work:
12-14: show a primary school in which the ground mass was manipulated to create a landscape of positive and negative spaces, from wich children ascend up ramps into wooden boxes in which to learn.
15-19: An investigation at various scales into a new framework within which to evolve a sustainable masterplan.
20: An art gallery, carved into the urban fabric. A single wall wraps to enclose varying spatial conditions.
The success of James' work rests in his ability and willingness to embrace a 'naive' yet highly original position and then document and communicate his moves with intricate prescision. His discipline in maintaining such a strong hypothesis to its architectural conclusion and his skill in presenting his findings is why he deserves this award.
'To work as an architect requires great confidence and capicity of affirmation, and at the same time, a certain distancement. This is Brecht's attitude with regard to the theatre: distancement does not mean that one does not assume the role, it means one becomes conscious of acting the role.' ALVARO SIZA 'Proffessione Poetica'
We asked the students to 'choose their distance'. James drove to the airport. Then he drove back and took mundane photos using a camera wedged in the headrest of the passenger seat. The photos show the Moray house PE block on his way to the new parliament site.
He scarred the phtos to note elements that were common to the series- horizon gradients, cars on the same route, buildings perspectives. He then stacked these and bolted them to the wall in four groups- Motorway, Suburban, Urban, City Centre. They seemed to have a powereful truth about how we see the city, but particularly the site.
The next task was to generate a model with qualitites independent of ite representational role. James built a carefully proportioned framework, cast two large blocks of concrete and then cast resin to one edge of each and placed them face to face.
The blocks were presented above a raised plane of sump oil and were installed in the centre of the gymnasium in which we worked.
Their mass provoked an uncanny state of distraction similar to that which his flick books recorded. The beautifully made blocks were a useful tool in understanding our apreciation and exposure to the PE block.
James used photography to hypothesise about the reoccuppation of the PE block with the given programme of a relocated university art collection. He constructed further models and recorded the resonance with his earlier work in photographic studies. His photos saught to record the distracted gaze provoked by stillness and mass. He extended the analysis to embrace the adjacent housing estate.
The resultant proposal fueled a social and cultural programme within the resistant structural discipline of the existing PE block. This fusion was a highly successful and powerful culmination of ideas.