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Part 1 Project 2009
James Decent
Nottingham Trent University Nottingham UK
The project enables a patchwork of creative expression, altering the environment upon which art is perceived, valued and experienced, breaking from conventional 'landmark' art galleries, seen all too often throughout the UK running up to the Millennium and beyond. To do this, it infiltrates an archetypal urban form but one that few people experience: the back alleyway.
The artists inhabit studios which challenge them to question in their art production their pre-conceptions (even if subconscious) about the spatial and environmental conditions which affect the way their work is perceived. Nestled into the rich urban denseness of an alleyway leading to a service yard, the intervention wraps itself around the yard, suggesting an open courtyard. Even though the building encroaches on the adjacent buildings, its non-enclosed, scaffold appearance, reinforces the non-permanent nature of the scheme. The effect of this creates a striking overlap of colour and texture against the vibrancy of the existing elements in the site such as deep red brick and clusters of hanging electricity wire. This forms an unusual new background for the display of art in the city and incites passers by to approach and explore the fascinating re-appropriated corners of the city, typically perceived as hidden and valueless.
The structure tries to use minimal ground penetration using anchoring foundations for the steel structure. This consists of reclaimed steel from old scaffolding; though not a conventional structural system for buildings, the scaffolding poles are adapted and engineered to be reused in a new structural system, through connections designed to be easily put together by the inhabitants. This gives them the potential to expand and make more appropriate and thus more sustainable use of the alleyway and service yard, responding to the actual experience in the space. In terms of energy and performance, the scheme questions what surplus energy from the surrounding buildings can be used (in a symbiotic and even parasitic fashion).

James Decent

This student's architectural proposition boldly challenges received perceptions of art and the value of art in our society. The contention here is that these can be questioned and redefined through the environment and context in which art is exhibited, whilst the very production of art could change fundamentally in response to new display possibilities.

Following direct contact with art graduates, the student developed the brief and chose the site for the project to best address its aims. This offered the potential to
also investigate how a city-centre alleyway – currently only used as a service yard – can be demystified, inhabited and brought back to public life whilst strengthening its evocatively intense and non-coherent nature and its urban linking potential.

The credibility of the solution lies in its ability to be constructed with relative ease by the artist users, who can eventually extend it along the alleyway in a positive parasitic fashion up to high levels overlooking the main city square. The artists can rent space to service kiosks and can use it to display the art in creative ways using an intricate infrastructure of scaffolding, pullies and ramps. Art can then be viewed sometimes outdoors, sometimes under cover, partly hidden under a scaffolding structure, suspended over the alleyway, or in the vicinity of key cutting and cobblers’ shops; this will be likely to attract questions over its nature and value and invite interactive feedback from passers-by.

Careful, coherent detailing is the backbone of the project through elements continuous throughout space, starting perhaps as balustrades, becoming door handles and then shelves and steps, and all along drawing viewers in and fusing boundaries of discovery.

The reuse of a nearly abandoned, unique fragment of the city, the project’s minimal footprint, the recycled scaffolding, the orientation optimising lighting and ventilation, the potential use of heat from neighbouring buildings’ outlets – are all credits to the project’s environmental vision.

Nonetheless, the sense of following the fascinating journey through the scheme, seeing the art display in its myriad possibilities, walking up the alleyway and viewing the unexpected perspectives it affords is perhaps still greatest strength of this project.


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