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Is Fashion the New Religion?

Part 2 Project 2009
Peter Lay
Leeds Beckett University Leeds UK
A response to the question; Is Fashion the new religion? The project questions what society holds important, looking at religion, heritage, popular culture and fashion. The fashion school is designed as a new monastery, a place for students of fashion to live and study where fashion and design is of the up-most importance and a lifestyle choice. It inhabits the picturesque ruins of Fountains Abbey, previously a prosperous monastery in the North Yorkshire Dales.

The design is influenced by the idea of the body and clothing as a series of layers, and the ‘bias cut’ dress that falls over the body accentuating the shape. The studios were formed as a layered tent-like covering over a timber and steel truss beam structure that hovers balanced on six points above the existing structure. North lights inspired by car louvers, fish gills and frilly dresses are created by clear ETFE air filled pockets contained within the layers that can be inflated or deflated almost as if the building is living and breathing. The form is based upon the shape the western range is once thought to have taken. The design is deliberately modern and exciting, having looked at the punk movement of the 70’s/80’s and particularly the work of Vivienne Westwood as she moved into her ‘New Romantic’ phase, taking traditional clothing forms and subverting them.

The halls of residence, a bright yellow building built within the ruined walls, is inspired by the work of Swedish graphic designer Robert Lindstrom and his ‘designed religion’ nun illustrations that depict nuns that are dressed in seemingly traditional gowns covering brighter, funky or fashionable undergarments – revealing a kind of hidden sexuality waiting to get out.

Bedrooms and studio’s maintain a long catwalk-esq feel on the interior. The ground spaces investigate ways of inhabiting old buildings without negatively impacting their character. At one end admin offices are housed within separate pods that link to services via ‘umbilical cords’; the rest of the interior space is exposed to the elements & the south end wrapped in the blanket like covering created by the studio façade above.

Peter Lay


This project, for a fashion design school set within Fountains Abbey, might be seen at first glance as a familiar exercise, exploring contrasts between modernity and monument. However, closer examination reveals successive layers of meaning and resonance.

This project uses its central theme to explore relationships and connections between fashion, religion and architecture. Within the brief, the selection of images, statistics and precedent to present the current cultural values for each show a tremendous sense of economy, precision and wit – there is a sense that nothing that is shown in the highly effective and seductive graphic arrangement is wasted or superfluous.

The selection of the site by itself raises issues and questions which are directly relevant to the project, in that the Fountains Abbey World Heritage Site is shown to be subject to changing cultural fashions – what was once a place of religious worship is described as a place which is now venerated by the heritage lobby.

Questions raised about the nature of permanence and change are carried through into the architecture, again with no wasted gestures. The form of the new interventions reference the original monastic building, occupying voids once filled by the medieval structure, but executed in materials and technical solutions which neither mimic an assumed past nor physically intervene with the surviving ruins. Instead, structure and cladding are self-consciously related to techniques drawn from clothing technology. The result is at once unsettling, with surfaces and materials in sharp contrast to the Abbey ruins, but also persuasive, with the soft and slightly indefinite quality of fabric taking on a sense of impermanence rather like an installation.

The project is a fascinating and absorbing enquiry into a wide range of contemporary cultural issues, yet manages to create a convincing synthesis of ideas and interventions as a design scheme with real style. Despite the serious nature of the exploration, the project is uplifted throughout with a light heartedness and sense of fun which only helps legibility and understanding.

Tutor(s)

2009
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