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Nightmare Town

Part 2 Project 2009
Justus Van Der Hoven
Oxford Brookes University Oxford UK
The stench of the detective’s leather couch, under constant bombardment by zeppelin-like clouds of hovering cigarette smoke, seeped under his slam-fractured wooden door and into the station corridor. The only sound in this room, that of the giant hide on his lounge chair cracking as he reconfigured his sleep-numb hip, was abruptly interrupted by the shrill bell of his desk phone. A body had been found in the Moor Street Triangle. It wasn’t a part of London unknown for such cases, in fact, the tone of the detective’s voice as he scribbled down the scene location resounded his particular lack of surprise.

The victim, Douglas Millings was an old tailor – a well known talent of cloth, thread and drug trafficking. The crime scene, or at least what was left of it, was the demolished remains of his tailor shop - No. 5 Old Compton Street. The detective grimaced at what lay before him as he bit into the butt of his hand-rolled cigarette. He was conditioned to expect foul play, and this time his instinct told him that the timing of the building’s demolition was no coincidence. It would be a rather clever way for a murderer to cover his tracks, not to mention a convenient means of bamboozling the investigators that were now sifting through evidence that lay sprawled, like Douglas, at the detective’s feet. He tipped his hat back and strode over the victim whilst compulsively flipping the lid of his tobacco tin open and closed. Clues were scattered like shrapnel across freshly broken concrete and insulation that still held the tang of the sleazy strip club it once held warm. Portions of an incomplete suit pattern strewn over a broken chair caught the detective’s eye – could this have been the detective’s final suit?
A photographer surveying the building had photographed rooms of No. 5 Old Compton Street the night before the demolition, unknowingly documenting the possible remnants of the crime. It was a good place to start, and the most tangible evidence that the detective had to work from; the first step in reconstructing a murder.

Justus Van Der Hoven


Nightmare Town is a mesmerising cocktail of Ellroy darkness and Atget starkness. Through the application of the tools of the architect, the author reconstructs the murder scene and in the process conjures up the atmosphere of a film noir. While consumed in this narrative you are engaged in wider questions of the need for historical accuracy, and the need for our contemporary obsession with the gruesome. This work forces the viewer to deduce, analyse, and conclude.

Utilising the section, the plan, the model, and site, the project explores the importance of context to evidence, detail to meaning, and making to the exploration of the real. Tailoring, storytelling, photography, set design; combine with structure, form, aesthetic, and context to produce a design of true vision.

The project offers a refreshing combination of traditional and contemporary architectural representation techniques, and demonstrates the ambition of the student to build visionary solutions to address a curious architectural problem. Higher education should inspire and challenge, and this work is an exemplary example of this in action. Even the costing of the project is considered as the detective is forced to reconstruct the crime scene on a disused concrete factory, away from the original location in Soho.

A project of extraordinary quality, this is akin to the novel or the film to which you return over and over, for inspiration, for grounding, always reliably offering up some otherness - dependent on your mood.

Tutor(s)
Mr Matt Gaskin
Prof Andrew Holmes
Miss Abdolahi Abdolwahbi
2009
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