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City University

Part 2 Project 2009
Paolo Scianna
Kingston University UK
Given current economic downturn in Global economy, a very real question begins to ask, “what might happen to our inner city centres?” Already we have seen the loss of a once loved high-street name: Woolworths. And recently the Icelandic retail investor, Baugur, have gone into administration, leaving many more shops at risk. This project takes a speculative but realistic position of the loss of the anchor tenant, House of Fraser, from Croydon’s Centrale shopping centre. A position is explored in which the property owner makes a deal with a university to secure a long-term tenancy within the building.

Part of this deal includes a reinvestment into the building itself, seen as a long-term investment both to the fabric of the city and its inhabitants. A relationship is envisaged in which, during difficult economic periods, the university’s stable income will bolster and support a deflating retail environment. When times are good the rent from tenants can increase and reinvestment can be made to the city. Scholastic and commercial cycles support each other during their respective lows. Students will be sure to take full advantage of the benefits of all the facilities and amenities, both leisure and scholastic, under one roof.

The building itself is then the subject of speculation - a global introverted building type, which turns its back on the city and focuses its intentions on the propagation of its own commercial logic. Yet in its single-minded focus the building is forced to employ a vast surplus level of energy and space in order to be able to accommodate the seduction of the masses. When stripped back, vast five-meter floor to ceiling heights reveal themselves, begging to be re-appropriated, like a Roman Amphitheatre or Classical Palazzo. Through a series of cuts, removal and insertions the project seeks to breathe new life and light back into the dense, cumbersome and hungry mass. A delicate relining of new exterior spaces transforms the building into a piece of city and subsumes the shopping into background. Itself trying quietly not to interfere with the public life it hopes to facilitate.

Paolo Scianna

Croydon is a satellite city within London's metropolis, whose urbanity is largely defined through scales of infrastructure, rather than at human scale. Traces of historic fabric remain, but post war reconstruction transformed much of the centre, not because of bombing but through a desire for modernity. The resultant though, is a banal and dysfunctional memory of the visionary exemplars it aspired to.

This project examines whether a new layer of infrastructure, a public institution, might assist in re-describing both Croydon’s physical form and its capacity for public life. At a moment of financial turmoil, it also implicitly questions the singular commercial focus of contemporary urban centres, seeking instead a more diverse, stable and civic condition.

The project speculates on how an existing shopping centre might be re-appropriated, should the current anchor tenant, owned by an Icelandic bank, vacate. It transforms it into an institution that is both of and for the City, a University focused on the built environment, educating the various professions involved in its making.

Strategically, a perceptive and detailed analysis of existing conditions engages in the difficult task of celebrating their hidden potential whilst considering how they might be transformed, through the imposition of archetypal forms and spaces. The particular spatial nature of the existing structure becomes effectively utilised as studio space of loose and tolerant character, situated through programmatically precise new interventions.

This approach evolved through the creative juxtaposition of diverse studies, the most influential being that of Ligorio’s Villa Pia, within Rome's Vatican Gardens. By treating the existing structure of the shopping centre as a landscape, rather as the Villa Pia does the topography of the garden, the new interventions establish a convincing sequence of interior and exterior spaces in both plan and section. These redefine the building in relation to its context and address the various scales of inhabitant, city and urban horizon.

Ultimately, the project succeeds in reinterpreting an unloved and architecturally unpromising building type. In doing so it establishes a prototype that unlocks the potential of existing fabric, rather than adopting the tabula rasa mentality of Croydon’s post-war city fathers’.


Daniel Rosbottom
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