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Soho post-production media house

Part 1 Project 1998
Fabian Draeger
Oxford Brookes University UK
Feature film and video post-production is a fast growing industry..Post-production is anything that can be done to film after the conventional work such as shooting, editing and recording sound has been finished. The process is becoming more and more important with the growth and availability of computing power. It is mainly used to create special effects such as explosions, surreal backgrounds, foreground layering, etc., but also for the subtle correction of mistakes that occur while shooting the film and which could normally not be solved without re-shooting.

The site in Kingly Street is one that is typical of the high-density Soho area. Newer 10-storey office buildings shield off the more urban areas of London on the opposite side of the street. To the left and right of the site are 5-storey buildings from the Georgian period, which are set up on the usual 5m-wide by 10m-deep grid to be found in London. The rear of this row of buildings touches onto an old picturesque 3-storey development around a courtyard called Kingly Court. A semi-public walkway runs through the site and connects the main street with the courtyard behind.

From several talks that I had with employees of post-production houses in Soho, such as the Computer Film Company, the major design aims began to take shape. First and foremost, the location of the project in Soho was seen as crucial, since there is already in place a special high-speed data network hidden under the streets which is called the 'Soho Net'. This network allows the digital transfer of film sequences or raw computer models between the various post-production houses, and then across the Atlantic to the USA and Hollywood. Secondly, the typical post-production office is what is termed a 'flat hierarchy' company. Originally consisting simply of a group of computer artists working on one big table, these companies grew fast and had to move into new, bigger buildings which became a hindrance for the crucial communication between the artists.

Traditional building types in Soho do not allow for free information flow, as they are essentially a stacked pile of storeys connected only by the main staircase or an elevator shaft. This problem is solved in my proposal by creating a flowing, open arrangement of floor platforms, each allowing visual contact with at least three other platform levels. Thirdly, it was seen as essential for my facade to be able to control incoming southern-daylight, which otherwise would be likely to interfere with vision of the main tool in post-production work, the computer screen. The real challenge of the design was to satisfy the needs of a new type of employee. The post-production worker has to be an unlikely mixture of computer technician and artist. Expensive high-end computer systems have to be provided, but along with an inspiring atmosphere that is conducive to the creation of cinematic artwork. In response to these demands, I choose to take the Georgian 5m grid and set up four thick structural walls that were made out of a combination of reinforced concrete and brickwork. Inserted between these walls are the various floors, roofs, and other services. These insertions are of an expressively different constructional language to the structural walls, being fabricated as steel, wood and glass elements that are to be kept as translucent as possible. The idea of using this degree of translucency in the floors and roofs was to create a spatial atmosphere not dissimilar to the expressive, wide-view angles that are used in cinematic film to dramatise and to illustrate. The thick structural walls are then cut open as necessary to allow access through, as well as providing necessary views and acoustic interconnections between the different parts of the building. The use of exposed brickwork walls here is furthermore a quotation of the typical Soho post-production office space, which is usually found in a converted old building. At roof level, little pavilions provide overnight accommodation for tired artists or space for contemplation. Just plug in your lap-top and enjoy a view over the roofs of London while you work.

Fabian Draeger

Fabian Draeger came to the Oxford School of Architecture as a student from Berlin who epitomised contemporary notions of an ideal European architectural student. Articulate in several languages, pan-European in outlook, broadly experienced, self-evidently talented and architecturally ambitious, Fabian proved an extraordinary student, able to address architectural issues with a maturity and inventiveness that made him a joy to teach.

Fabian's degree work in Third Year exemplified these characteristics. His history dissertation took on the difficult issue of architectural decoration. An initial design project, entitled A Quality Moment for A Reluctant Tourist' managed to range from the politics of Demos to the
nature of tourism and the contemporary relevance of the notion of the flaneur. His major project design, which for a post-production media house in Soho, was equally thoroughly investigated. It resulted in a design that was at once knowing and original, quoting sources, yet striving to make enthusiasms pertinent to the issues and problems at hand. The nature of post-production work was thoroughly discussed as a thematic foundation to the design. Fabian's
spatial inspiration was a sci-fi image by Moebius, and his approach to construction was not afraid to explore and identify a mix of craft and industry with its own integrity. The detailing for this project was especially inventive: drawn in 3D, a marriage of beaux-arts and hi-tech, sensitive to what materials and constructions can and cannot do, drawn with deliberate experimentation and even an element of humour. A primary construction of brick and concrete is used in conjunction with embedded aluminium extrusions and spring-loaded glass panels which it upon an ingenious way of offering moveable floor plates. The scheme was drawn as a large, wall-filling section, meticulously executed in a manner which might place many a Diploma student's work in the shadows. After all this, he completed the year with a short but demanding scheme for a
new Lord Mayor's house/office near Leicester Square, which grasped the opportunity to make a simple project relevant to the much broader issues of programme and locality.
Fabian is an impressive student who stands head and shoulders above his contemporaries. We have never come across a more eligible candidate for the President's Bronze Medal.

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