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Spike Agora

Part 2 Project 2010
Matthew Vowels
University of Bath, UK
Thesis: Development of community through physical built fabric.

While existing social constructs can be seen to influence architecture, it is possible that the reverse can also be true. Architecture can, if successful, help create vibrant communities that in turn have positive psychological and physical consequences for the individuals who inhabit them. It is these positive knock on effects that the design of the new Spike Library bestows onto the local community.

Manifestation: Spike Agora:

Set in Spike Island, Bristol, as part of a wider reaching urban development framework, the proposed Spike Agora combines a new Library, public space, farmers market and bridge to create a new civic hub. With an aim of creating a place that animates, defines and integrates itself into the urban landscape, as well as providing a platform for community participation and social interaction, the ideas of development of community through physical built fabric have been investigated. These theoretical ideas sought to produce an architecture that provides a means for social inclusivity as well as encouraging the participation in and use of a local cultural and educational institution. However for this to be achieved, the barriers, which prevent this from happening, were researched, understood and overcome.

Built upon a theoretical agenda of increasing mental permeability, Spike Agora breaks down the perceived barriers that prevent people from using their local library. Fundamentally explored through the use of a gradient of thresholds spread across the site, rather than concentrated as traditionally based, as well as a hierarchical series of active and reflective spaces and volumes, this agenda of mental accessibility of the library, as well as environmentally sound design has made an impact on every decision made.

This creates a piece of architecture that is not only a successful library in it’s own right, but the centre of a community, promoting the development of civic urban society, or ‘civility’ in the Spike Island district of Bristol.

Matthew Vowels

The final Part Two project at Bath runs for a two semesters and affords each student the opportunity to develop their own project brief, consistent with the theme for the Studio. Every student is also responsible for the design of their own spatial framework, for a site of their choosing, which lies within a given locale.

The theme for this year’s studio dealt with the development of Spike Island with the City of Bristol. The emphasis was on developing a sustainable urban future for this part of the City. Additional themes, common to all final year projects, were the exploration of materiality and technology within final design.

Matthew identified a particularly unusual and challenging site. His urban response, whilst outwardly simply, successfully resolved a series of existing and problematic urban conditions. Matthew adopted Bristol Library as his client and developed a bespoke brief to meet their current and future needs.

The project resulted in a design which is exceptional in its maturity, resolution and modesty. The student brought to bear his considerable aesthetic judgement at each stage of the project, refining and editing his propositions with extraordinary discipline and control. Throughout the course Matthew has engaged with design through engagement with materials and the making process, and once again this project exhibits his concern with, and knowledge of, architecture as a built artefact.

This project was considered by all at Bath to exemplify the ethos of the School in aspiring to the highest design standards, rooted in the application of technical excellence, cultural awareness and the use of independent creative imagination.

Mr Alex Wright
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