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Distort the Box

Part 1 Project 2011
Rebecca Muirhead
University of Portsmouth, UK
From 1791 a workhouse could be found on the site of Tanner Street Park in Bermondsey. Its strong and functional form has been the point of departure for my proposal – the functional ‘box’ of the Workhouse is distorted to accommodate its new use as a Sports Facility:

• The perimeter is shifted to complement the topography of the site.
• A central space is enclosed by the wrapping form – giving a courtyard back to the community and acknowledging the original workhouse.
• The corner of the form is lifted to facilitate movement towards the central public space.

At first glance this was such a simple and poetic solution. In many ways a well functioning workhouse and sports hall are just simple boxes – indeed our brief included the tag “a beautiful box”. This proposal should not be dismissed for its simplicity however, since the concept to ‘distort the box’ was a strategy that emerged from a significant amount of research into the sociological and contextual setting of the site and an in-depth study of the details and architectural technologies that make successful contemporary sports facilities.

For me public space is invaluable in dense urban environments. It was important that whilst serving the primary users faultlessly, the architecture also facilitated other uses and gave beautiful space back to the public. By pushing the intimidating mass of the main hall beneath the earth, a green space could be given back to the park. Windows that allowed views down into the hall enabled passersby and non-participants to interact with the sports without being overwhelmed.

At its basic functioning level the submerged sports hall utilised a geothermal system and rammed earth walls incorporating soil from the site, reducing the requirement for mechanical heating and cooling. Above all else the proposal sought to engage positively with its context. 158 Bermondsey Street, adjacent to the site, is noted as being one of the first concrete framed structures in London. In a city that still bares the scars of the misuse of concrete, I thought it appropriate to reengage this infamous material with new public space.

Rebecca Muirhead

Ms Kate Baker
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