Commendation Serjeant Award
Street Life - Communes for Urbanites
Set within the tough reality of repetitive modular design - and located between Old Compton Street and Oxford Street in central London - this design project proposes a new urban streetscape which can embrace the simple and seemingly banal acts of commercial and domestic everyday life within Soho’s particular vibrant and (it should be said) voyeuristic context.
While acknowledging that there is an apparent inability to conceive a genuinely globalised context even in a city like London, for to do so would result in an undeniable flattening of individuality, it is still clearly the case that we live similarly modulated lives as modern urban dwellers. How can we mix the feeling that we are special and unique with the knowledge also that we are not? Hence it is within the subtle idiosyncratic acts of personal desire and commodification, as well as our often near-invisible mannerisms and behavioural patterns, that the shared space of the contemporary street truly comes alive. We perform, we consume, we blend in, and we feel energised by our daily links to others whom we do not even know.
Thus this project seeks to provide the sense of a physical 'commune' that can address the sense of temporality experienced by urbanites in a place like Soho. It does this though by proposing a new hybrid between a domestic and a commercial street, set within a design strategy which equally embraces but also indefinitely shatters the typical cliches of modular dwelling systems. The project's aim is to deliver a generic, self-made and fluctuating urban environment which will help towards the creation of an even more eclectic and vibrant condition of street life.
Mark Rist is an exceptional student, a model for someone who has used their Part 2 education to reach previously unimaginable levels. Typical of students who score Distinctions in all the key areas of the course - design, dissertation and technical studies - his project demonstrates a healthy combination of design ability and intellectual questioning.
The brief Mark responded to was to study contemporary street life in a city like London, and to spot the new possibilities for architecture to respond to changing conditions. Cities have depended upon the everyday bustle of streets since they were first created, but it is also true that modern cities have their own determinants of what makes a lively and successful urban realm. How is globalisation and multi-culturalism altering the way London's streets are used and occupied? How do new technologies of information and communication spread through the city?
Mark's response was excellent from the outset, starting with a detailed recording of movement patterns, signage and waste products scattered around the Old Compton Street area of Soho. From this he developed the idea of a covered, canopied street - bristling with signs, walkways, screens - that would enable commercial activity to take place in markets, shops, restaurants and other meeting places. Mixed in were modularised housing units of various sizes, although generally compact and easily adaptable.
There are few students in architectural education brave or skilled enough to take on the challenge of generic building - repetitive units in an ordinary street - and make something beautiful out of it. Most modular housing proposals, as we know, are dull or ugly. Mark's project is definitely neither of those, and instead we are given dramatic street vistas, decorative patterns aplenty, and a genuinely positive vision of what London could be like.
Mark always said his goal was that of finding a new version of the Georgian or Victorian street - this time, however, his aesthetic borrows from magical places we have visited. Here we spot echoes of New York, New Orleans, Naples, Marrakech, Tokyo, but all transformed into a breathtakingly original proposal.
Prof Murray Fraser