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The Seminary: An Assemblage Machine

Part 1 Project 2010
Owain Williams
University of Brighton UK
The Seminary provides a place of residence for Buddhist students and their teacher near the city centre of Brighton. Located at the
conclusive point of the Laines, the project interlaces public programmes to develop an opportunity for pause and contemplation in an existing recess from the urban environment.

Various levels of assemblage to the seminary are investigated through the programmatic elements contained within, capitalizing on the milieu of the Buddhists to create a perceived distance from the street. The yoga room and mediation chambers engage the public in interactions with the monks, whilst audiences for the traditional shadow theatre are guided along narrative journeys through the inner spaces of the building to a contained and secluded space. Herbal teas served in the tearooms are made from cuttings collected from the gardens, at a point which marks the beginning of the ritualized journey into the city. Open unprogrammed spaces within the seminary allow the public to enjoy a deterritorialization, to find refuge from the urban environment and observe the quiet movements of the seminary.

The framing of ritualized acts, and interactions with individual or multiple monks introduce visitors to the complex internal politics of the seminary, whilst constructing a rhizomatic relationship between itself and the city through its engagement with the public. Analogous to the structure of Deleuze and Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus, these moments are discontinuous and fragmented, leaving the building’s totality to be considered and pieced together from the multiple narratives developed through the use of the building.

The Seminary brings a new connection between the site and the city, and through engaging the public with the internal dialogues of the building, proves to be an object of contemplation in itself.

These journeys into the seminary question the very nature of the relationship between the
public and the monks. Through making allusions to systems at work and suggesting internalized subtexts, they invite a multiplicity between the users and spaces of the building and the city. The seminary becomes an assemblage machine, enhancing a multiplicity to the relationships between its various users and spaces; an unexpected social condenser.

Owain Williams


Owain’s response to the project brief to develop a social condenser in Brighton centre was never one of forced togetherness or prescribed community spirit, but one of a silent acknowledgement of the other. His programmatic decision to intertwine a Buddhist seminary with a puppet theatre, teahouse and yoga school is a journey into overlapping spatial milieus. The architectural proposition emerged from a laborious act to dissect and analyse rituals of Buddhist monks and translating rhizomes of encounters into specific spatial moments, which were then assembled into a built structure. Rather than designing a totality, Owain developed the idea of a building that constitutes itself through interlacing spatial milieus to be experienced as a series that has a choreography but no defining script. Much like the Arboretum at Howick Hall in Yorkshire, which grew from seeds painstakingly collected from various parts of the world, Owain virtually “grew” his project. His architecture is more medium than object, its ambience however is never neutral and flexible but specific and formed. With this project, Owain has not only developed his very own architectural methodology, but he has also embarked upon a deep and meaningful architectural journey showing incredible scope and rigor. His work is theory, script, method and architecture integrated into one project. It brings closer what is usually apart: monks and flaneurs, religion and lunch-break, poetry and banality, open scriptness and spatial specificness, charred wood and lost car keys. His urban strategy to turn a recess into an experienced pause recaptures the experiential mode on an urban scale. The façades are not treated like faces belonging to various streetscapes, but they emerge from an experiential sequence of pause and encounter which regulates and negotiates between the seen and unseen, the encountered and untouched. Owain’s architecture supports but does not prescribe. Individuals and the public will unfold its architecture and meaning by using its space. They, not the architect, produce the social condenser, and they decide how remote or close they wish to come. In a deeper sense this a democratic building, where social condensing is a decision not a state.

Anuschka Kutz

Tutor(s)

2010
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