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Urban Archaeology & Geographical Information Systems

Part 1 Project 2009
Andy Brisk
Liverpool John Moores University Liverpool | UK
Geographical Information Systems have been hailed, “as the most significant tool to be applied to archaeology since the invention of radio carbon dating.” Recently adopted by English Heritage, championing the documentation, comparison, debate and exploration of some of the UK’s most historically fascinating urban environments of the past and what may become those of the future.

The aspirations for this project see English Heritage and LJMU combined in an effort that re-discovers, through archaeology, the historical importance of Merseyside whilst also offering other pubic and private services to the government and local community, on both combined and separate fronts. Initially, the building serves to act as an outpost for a range of different things that are supported by GIS technology, as well as a centre that supports and protects the history and development of Merseyside in particular, backed up by a photography and cartography archive and library that is otherwise lost in the depths of a vast Heritage collection rarely shown to the public, but more importantly, by the ongoing work of the students and professors who work there.

The building has been designed into an existing set of ramps that run the perimeter of what was once an old quarry, around which an architectural promenade has been created, its conceptual design origins derived from the principles of cartography, a fundamental part of GIS. The spacial planning within was then designed around allowing public access over the existing ramps from both main entrances, the upper ground level of which then offers a new, more active front as an engaging new face on Hope street.

By the void we see today, the site is forever interwoven deep into the fabric of the city and through its buildings, where GIS’s are concerned, archaeologically it is these points that we plot, study and query. It is this that subconsciously enforces the relationship between the program and design of the building, the choice of site and then its relationship to the rest of Liverpool.

Andy Brisk

Beneath our cities lie traces of their genesis and history. These traces exist as a palimpsest, written and over-written, waiting to be discovered through Urban Archaeology. The departure point for the project was the exploration of the historical context of a site. A variety of methods for interpreting historical references and traces were explored through drawings, models and collage. From here the student developed an individual thematic strategy.

The project’s public interface was an outpost of the British Museum, for which the exhibits were to be particular and specific thus generating dedicated spaces and avoiding generic gallery space. The Department of Archaeology required facilities for teaching, research and analysis. Students thus had to integrate public and private realms within the building, exploring the definition and thresholds between them. The nature of contemporary teaching was also a source of exploration.

Choosing a disused quarry as a site, this student mapped the movement of stone used to construct the city and translated the resulting abstract contextual diagram into a conceptual model for the building. This succinctly related to his thematic and programmatic studies of GIS. He then generated an architectural promenade by re-using the existing ramps used to access the quarry, through which he elegantly structured the public and privates spaces demanded by the programme, intelligently weaving the public and private realms around each other. By working vertically with the ramps the student creates a complex three-dimensional sequence of spaces, and generates a building with both a strong presence at street level and which addresses the park now occupying the quarry.


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