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Robinson at Junction 31 (reveries in non-place)

Part 2 Project 2010
Stephen Connah
Manchester School of Architecture, UK
Many of us live peripatetic existences and spend much of our lives on motorways. Brockholes on junction 31 of the M6 is an extensive post-industrial landscape scarred by sand extraction. This is a marginal site, with the river Ribble looping around its north, east and south edges and the M6 to its west. It is effectively an island accessible only under three dominating flyovers. The hybrid proposal is a service station/motel and wetland habitat, forming a poetic projection, where the transient occupation of the landscape by migrating birds is mirrored by the transient occupation of a traveling public.

The architectural language of the service station is that of a jetty and canopy. Constructed from recycled aluminium, the canopy is a series of monocoque cells that fix together to create a structural whole resting on cantilevered columns throughout. This technology takes its reference from car manufacture. The canopy appears to float above the jetty and its lightness enables it to extend beyond the building envelope to take on a number of programmatic functions forming an intimate proximity with the landscape and wildlife beyond. The post-industrial topographical legacy of the screening bunds are incorporated as anchors for the proposal while the aquifiers form part of the servicing strategy as well as giving composition to the views as magnets for wildlife activity.

We encounter Robinson at Junction 31 through his internal monologue as it begins to break through into the drawn proposal like the wavering signal from a stray radio station. The cultural and philosophical position considers Marc Augé’s ethnology of transient space in his definition of ‘non-places’ and depicts a dysfunctional user at the centre of the proposition cast adrift somewhere in the motorway network. The project is both an architectural proposal and a fleeting portrait of a modern life and is a polemic in respect of our modern condition of placelessness and exile.

Stephen Connah

Stephen Connah developed his 'Robinson at Junction 31' project within the Emergent Topographies Unit. The Unit is interested in developing evolutionary, sustainable and often hybrid programmes for post-industrial sites. Stephen's preliminary research informed his personal choice of a former site of sand extraction adjacent to the River Ribble and the M6 Motorway as an open-ended thesis project that developed at the outset with an exploration of site context, landscape and human culture. Initial landscape adjustment was informed by issues of hydrology in relation to flooding and drainage at both macro and micro scales and with respect to the developing significance of the site as a wetland habitat for birds. A programme for a motoring sub-culture, a service station and motel, is then superimposed onto this landscape – a successful conflation of nature and society that is informed throughout by a rigorous understanding of technology, cultural theory and programmatic data.

Stephen Connah was a joiner, then a practicing artist educated to masters level prior to completing his formal architectural education. These interdisciplinary skills bring a personal and multi-stranded approach to his design processes. He freely moves from made pieces to drawn representations and vice versa. There is always a precision of representation at the scale of landscape or of technical detail and a determination brought about by reflection, research and experimentation to realize appropriate but unique responses to complex design challenges.

There is a rich poetic and experiential narrative too with this project. Robinson epitomizes the transient and peripatetic existence of the motorway traveller and alludes to and provides for the ordinary or maybe transgressive actions that might or will unfold at such locations. The motor car and the human body as instruments choreograph how architecture and landscape unfolds and is perceived as both animate and static experience.

'Robinson at Junction 31' is a sophisticated, comprehensive and highly original body of work by a student who will soon be regarded as an architect-craftsman. Stephen's work shows poetic qualities and a rich curiosity for contemporary culture.

The work is beautifully presented.

Unit Tutors:
Rick Dargavel and Nick Tyson

Mr Richard Dargavel
Mr Nick Tyson
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