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Hastings Geology Research Centre - Translating Time

Part 1 Project 2009
Alexander Laing
Architectural Association, UK
Translating Time
Hastings Geology Research Centre


Hastings an old fishing town in the South East of England, boasts the largest land based fishing fleet in Europe however in recent years the fleet and many of the industries related to it have diminished considerably. It is one of the most deprived areas in England with a high crime and unemployment rate. The city fabric shows many "void" spaces through unused buildings or vacant plots. In geological terms Hasting has quite some relevance, cast fragments of the past are revealed through important finds of rare fossils and dinosaur bones.

The Site

Beneath the East Cliff, lies a "void" space formerly occupied by an Ice factory and a Tannery. The old retaining walls against the cliff side still remain as well as small domestic dwellings to both sides.

The Concept

The study of pseudomorphic mineral structures. A pseudomorph literally means "false form" and is used in mineralogy to indicate that the mineral has the outward appearance of a different mineral. While the first one was eroded away the second one filled its void in the exact form, molecule by molecule.

The Program

The Geology Research Centre offers a joint platform for Research, Education and Exhibition. It is to be run as an open source laboratory for local geological research highlighting the historic importance of the region.

The Architecture

The Pseudomorph is understood as a translation of memory and a materialisation of the fragments of time. Through the exposure of both the domestic geology and the geological morphology the indissoluble relationship of time and space becomes tangible. The geology research centre utilises the revealing and consuming nature of the tides and operates within transient and perennial spaces. Scripted inhabitable crystalline spaces are grown and occupy the void, partially intersecting the neighboring dwellings to reveal its "domestic geology" and using it to create new symbiotic forms and textures in their translations. At the same time cuts of the generated crystal form expose the geological past of Hastings allowing both scientists and layman to examine the history of Hastings recorded in rocks.

Alexander Laing

In his project ‘Translating Time’ Alexander worked coherently from the process of material and formal investigations of a mineral specimen - a calcite pseudomorph crystal –to the proposition for a building intervention in Hastings. The specimen took on the form of a glauberite salt crystal which had been eroded over time, leaving a void for the calcite to grow into. Alexander explored this relationship formally and materially delivering the conceptual framing for his project.

The underlying geometric rules were revealed and a script for growth extracted. With this Alexander could not only project growth formations but was also able to control these. A parallel strand of investigation into the material qualities of the specimen led Alexander to look at issues of erosion and the transformation of materials over time.

Out of this, Alexander developed a scheme for a Geological Research Centre in Hastings, a site of intense geological interest. Strategically, he positioned his proposal in the void left by a former ice and tannery house, which he partly preserved. He retraced previous building volumes, cut into existing fabric and proposed new additions that took on the material identity of their neighbours. Revealing both domestic and geological archaeologies, Alexander started to draw sections through material as well as time. The material strategy for his proposal evolved around ideas of re-use, material transfer, casting and sampling of these geologies, while formally the crystal provided a cutting tool to carve out from and into the natural and domestic settings. The result is a complex set of highly unusual spaces with strangely familiar resonances.

The strength of Alexander’s project lies within its rigorous process work that provides him with an entirely new and unexpected architectural language combined with the ability to resist obvious seductions. Alexander’s project displays sensitivities at formal and material levels which he complements with great technical and theoretical skills together with the ability to critically question these. The architectural strategies of the final proposal are very well considered. The portolio as a whole demonstrates how research into design processes can lead to rich, innovative and critical building intervations.


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