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Constructing Solid Light - A School of Building.

Part 1 Project 2008
David Charlton
University of Westminster, UK
The site of this proposed school will be behind the 18th century church of St Luke’s, Old Street, just north of the City of London. An inner city area heavily bombed during the blitz, since rebuilt as a mixed residential quarter, close to the cultural/residential cluster of The Barbican. Adjacent to the site are further recreational facilities of football pitches and sports centre, swimming baths, the gardens of St Luke’s, and the concert hall of the converted church itself.

In response to this urban context, and the studio brief, the school will act not only as an educational centre, but also as a compliment to the local facilities, where the process of building may be explored as a means of personal expression, commentary and discovery, or indeed as a theatrical activity. A place where local residents and professionals may mark their own time and life phases through acts of making that are essentially autobiographical.

The form of the school is generated by the removal of geometric volumes from a hypothetical solid. The illuminated voids left from this extraction become the key enclosures of the building; workshops, seminar rooms, library, atrium spaces and building hall, as well as shaping the exterior and its relationship with the surrounding site.

The pivot of the school is the ‘egg’ like form of the building hall around which all circulation and programme radiate. It is conceived as the hearth of the building, taking its form from the vernacular brick kilns of the 19th century - an inverted ‘ground ward’ reflection of the classical obelisk of St Luke’s. This void is lined by delicate ceramic fins that carefully filter light, and frame views, into and out of the volume. Radiating heat generated from deep below the school, the thin vanes span large distances within the hall that are intentionally on the edge of possibility to physically construct. This unfinished model will provide the springboard of architectural invention, purpose and aspiration appropriate for a School of building, as well as draw attention to the evolution of a building, and the non-static nature of seemingly motionless architectural forms.

David Charlton

The studio brief asked for the act of building to be explored as a recreational and theatrical activity. David’s main translation of this notion of theatricality is into acts of discovery whereby the notion of architecture is not deemed as static. Architectural ideas of materiality have also been extended to encompass both the physical, in reference to the construction of the building proper and the ephemeral, which in this instance focuses on the properties and techniques of sculpting light. A vocabulary of spaces and experiences has been developed in tangent with the ethos addressed by this School of Building. Hence ideas of habitation and environment are allowed to progress simultaneously with those of invention and development.

An important aspect of the design proposal sees the core of the School of Building’s centre performing as a kiln which in essence signifies a hearth that holds the forms and ideas of architecture together. The invention of heat retaining and radiating terracotta fins that have been designed as a sculptural enclosure around this hearth also functions as the main building hall from which all activity and warmth radiates. This space performs the dual roles of generating new architectural ideas that nurture the School of Building as well as adjustable amounts of heat to sustain the entire building. The idea of change and innovation is nonetheless most apparent in the bold proposal that this building hall is in actuality an incomplete piece of work that is constantly in the act of being built and hence enables the inherent sustainable agenda to advance with the architecture.

The potency of the sensual experiences apparent in the spaces created by the interplay between mass and void, light and darkness that have been carefully thought and worked through, are further enhanced by the kaleidoscope of qualities that this hearth affords.


Dr Victoria Watson
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