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Theatre for Cardboard Citizens

Part 2 Project 2008
Steve Mason
University of Bath | UK
Following an investigation at Lincoln’s Inn Fields a temporal phenomenon was discovered directed through a soup run. The distribution of free food created a disturbance between everyday city users and the homeless. This phenomenon evoked a notion concerned with the ownership and occupation of public space.

The specificity of this condition determined a need to re-evaluate the relationship of landscape in making public space at Lincoln’s Inn Fields. The potential is for the natural landscape not solely to exist as a recreational or passive maker of public space but to become a more active and dynamic layer of the breathing city.

Resulting from a design strategy for Lincoln’s Inn Fields a concept for the placement of two built interventions was developed. Concealing projects in the tree canopy and below the groundscape allows for the square to be densified whilst maintaining the existing area of public space and increasing accessibility across the site: decreasing social segregation and increasing public accessibility.

Cardboard Citizens is the UK’s only homeless people’s professional theatre company, benefiting people which have experience of, or who are at risk of, becoming homeless. The building is to perform as their headquarters, providing for daily workshops and a space to perform for the paying public.

Inspired by the trees occupying Lincoln’s Inn Fields the building provides a dynamic performing space for theatrical performances.

Steve Mason

The Bath MArch thesis design studio requires that students produce a ‘design project thesis’ and a proposal for a building intervention that demonstrates the significance of this thesis in an urban context. Projects must pursue an agenda that relates urban thinking to the detailed development of architectural proposals.

Steve Mason’s project ‘Theatre for Cardboard Citizens’ achieved a clear exploration of its thesis both through theoretical analysis and through design development, and demonstrates exceptional architectural and urban thinking. The project received a Distinction for Thesis Work.

The project analyses the existing condition and a possible future for Lincoln’s Inn Fields, both in terms of use and fabric. A detailed ‘emersive’ study, carried out with Presidents Medals co-applicant Chris Hill, revealed tensions in the meetings of various actors using this negotiated public space – taxi drivers, advocates, soup-run customers. This study illustrated also how such negotiations have effected the structures, both legal and physical, which surround the square. The analysis was then used to calibrate two design briefs that project ‘enabling’ structures to inhabit the square. In Steve Mason’s project an intense investigation of mimetic design processes allowed the initial spatial and structural propositions of the urban and building programme to evolve into a multi-facetted, labyrinthine arborial space.

In this project the great enjoyment was how an incredibly simple first idea – to ‘replace’ a tree with a tree-like building – was pursued to generate specificity in a building proposition at every level from the micro (light-dappling triangular ‘leaf cluster’ perforations) to the macro (a folding geometry based in the morphological analysis of tree-formations). The urban analysis was persuasive and acute, and throughout the project skillfully exploited the ambivalence of figure and ground that tree-like structures, and the superimposition of tree-like structures, produce. The resulting intervention was represented persuasively in drawings and films. Important to mention also, and enjoyable to watch, was the way in which the two individual design projects by Chris Hill and Steve Mason were allowed to intertwine by the generosity of their authors, and the resulting combinition of tight coordination and lose-fit that the two projects convey.


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