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Whitechapel: Urban Artery

Part 2 Project 2010
Aimee O'Carroll
Architectural Association, UK
Whitechapel: Urban Artery aims to harness the inherent potential of infrastructural overlaps in Whitechapel, whilst also accommodating the future needs of the growing Royal London Hospital. Through a process of research and analysis a site was discovered adjacent to the development of the Royal London ,which also straddled underground infrastructures, old and new.
The site of the East District Post Office lies above the East London Line and also above the ‘Mail Rail’. The ‘Mail Rail’ (mothballed 2003) was a distribution network connecting the sorting offices of central London via an electric railway, from Whitechapel to Paddington.
The unearthing of this historic infrastructure alongside the location of the site, created the potential for a new typology of building to grow which could create new programmatic connections at an urban scale and challenge the existing predominance of the mono-programmatic transport hub. The desire to reveal this historic infrastructure, demanded a creative reuse of the ‘Mail Rail’ for the modern age.
With the Royal London Hospital due to become the largest hospital in the UK, I could foresee that there would be need to better network its resources with other large London hospitals. Currently there is a private network of couriers, who travel between hospitals delivering medical specimens, vital material and medical supplies. However, due to increasing congestion on London’s streets there is obviously a great deal of pressure felt on this network.
The project creates an alternative route which provides a rapid and dedicated distribution route across London via the reinvention of the’ Mail Rail’ as the ‘Medi-Rail. At Whitechapel, the line terminates at a new blood bank distribution centre; allowing for the sorting and distribution of medical material from the ‘Medi-Rail’ and also creating a much needed blood bank for Whitechapel. The new building itself effectively recycles much of the structure of the original Post Office building and creates opportunities for the existing infrastructure to be reinvented to develop new and often unexpected programmatic connections for Whitechapel.

Aimee O'Carroll

As Ms. O’Carroll's tutor I witnessed her process, thoroughness and dedication to critical architectural thinking throughout the year, as well as her willingness to explore and experiment with materials and techniques. Her commitment to architecture goes beyond her academic duties and shows a genuine interest in the future of the city.

Urban Artery deals with the permanence of the city sustained by an endless series of deconstructions and re-compositions. The project explores new ideas of urban organization allowing for a blurring between built and unbuilt and an overlapping of programmatic operations. By rethinking civil engineering and excavation techniques, a proposal that negotiates Whitechapel’s layered railway networks is developed, and through additive sequences of construction, new urban typologies for the city are discovered. The proposal intervenes the current development phases, and re-organizes its infrastructural space with a series of public activities.

The project is outstanding in the way it addresses the current social and economic conditions of London demonstrating Ms. O’Carroll’s critical thinking and creativity. In her analysis of “scrap and build” large scale urban development, she did not limit herself to pointing out failures or incompleteness of the masterplans but instead proposed to create new architecture inventively re-purposing the Royal Mail's existing and forgotten infrastructure, using excavation techniques that reveal both historical spaces of infrastructure as well as the future of medical services as a new public space typology to open up. This approach demonstrates not only new architectural possibilities but a clear and unique voice from a thoughtful young architect.

Metaphorically, O’Carroll’s project suggests a possible surgery to the body of the city analyzing current urban circulation and negotiating with a series of inherent building typologies, identifying different operation techniques and artifices: diagnosis, removal and replacement in stages, enabling phasing and design strategies responsive to the immediate view plan for the future.

Within the context of the ongoing investigation of the unit on the theme of Micro-City for the past three years I think of Ms. O’Carroll’s project as the most outstanding and conclusive one and it enabled to push the unit’s agenda into a next level.


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