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The Road from Perdition

Part 1 Project 2009
Kleopatra Chelmi
London South Bank University, UK
The project is about the people who were left jobless due to the economic crisis and the journey they have to take from that difficult moment on. Ironically it is also, amongst others, for the bankers who thought they were the masters of the universe and suddenly too face this change and need to re-think life. It is for all the people who seek help to make redundancy an opportunity to pursue other goals. It is a place of exchange of skills, knowledge, ideas. A place of support, of learning, of progress and hope.
Located behind Whitechapel tube station, in a more secluded area the building is separated from the busy main road. A new public space is created between the new Crossrail station, a sports centre, a library and the site.
The journey starts from the street, just off the main road, entering the public promenade, a pedestrian path leads to the entrance of the building.
Inside, the journey is a progression from darkness to light, from hardship to hope. A progression of activities from physical to spiritual, it is a preparation for things to come.
The main architectural elements are two. The continuous external wall that offers enclosure and protection and the continuity of the interior spaces, which signifies the journey.
Within there are five separate areas:
The reception and lockers, where you are cleansed, freed from your earthly belongings.
The auditorium/chapel, for concentration, contemplation.
The workshops for acquiring skills, the physical preparation.
The food preparation and dining area provides the fuel.
The library at the top for individual enlightenment.

Kleopatra Chelmi

The project is situated in Whitechapel, at the heart of the part of East London which amalgamated from a series of discrete hamlets into an extension of the metropolitan continuum at the beginning of the 18th century. This expansion coincided with the arrival of the Huguenots, French refugees who imported an innovative silk clothing industry, and in doing so set a pattern for the succession of immigrant communities which have first converged on this area, consolidated themselves, prospered, then finally dispersed throughout the capital.

This proposal examines the consequences of a reversal in this historical process.

The international workforce latterly attracted by the over-expansion of the financial industry in London, never constituted a culturally-cohesive body sufficiently resilient to endure economic stresses similar to those overcome by its predecessors. Many of its individuals are therefore confronted, alone, with a profound reappraisal of their objectives, inevitably including the prospect of emigration as a means to re-establish their future. So this building addresses needs previously uncalled-for in this setting.

Appropriate to its purpose the external envelope is deliberately ambiguous. The spiralling wall could indicate a process of either unravelling or reconstitution; in both cases incomplete. The degree of enclosure achieved is nevertheless still sufficient to cocoon the activities within that are by their nature essentially introspective.

These present themselves in the guise of a simple journey. However it is readily acknowledged that for those who have reason to use the facilities contained, the process of adapting to changed circumstances will for each one be unique, initially bewildering and partly chaotic during its resolution. The clear route rising up through the building therefore serves much more as a reminder to participants of the ultimate clarity that will eventually emerge through prolonged and difficult reconsideration than it does dictate a step-by-step course of rehabilitation.

Careful thought therefore has gone into ensuring that the continuously flowing space, undefined by conventional means like thresholds, does not become disorientating. So the closed cells, situated around the central void not only fulfil a need for private places but also establish, periodically, definitive reference points by which to navigate.

Mr Seamus Ward
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