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SOM Foundation UK Award

The Rock of Gibraltar

Part 1 Project 2002
Freddie Phillipson
University of Cambridge | UK
Archaeological excavations in Gibraltar's network of natural caves have yielded Neanderthal and Classical finds of world importance. Gorham's cave, situated near the southern tip of Gibraltar (Europa Point) has become the focus of a long-term archaeological study; however this has largely yet to affect the public awareness of the nature of the Rock. Former MOD territory, Europa Point remains detached from the rest of the Rock and largely undeveloped. The strategy developed for Europa Point treats the site as a public museum garden in which interventions share a sectional thematic: cuts into the rock's limestone mass receive water from a catchment while new 'grounds' (canopies and raised levels) are 'held' above the rock. The individual study within this examines a sequence of public spaces from the town through a museum for finds from Gorham's cave and into an open-air theatre, linked by a moat running along the inner edge of the southernmost fortifications. This drags the light of the sea across this former barrier into the garden (and ultimately the earth itself). The brief for an archaeological research centre was scattered throughout the garden, with an archaeologists' accommodation building situated outside the fortifications.

Sunken into the rock, the museum structures a descent from the main plateau through the fortifications to a lower level of left ground facing Africa. Smooth limestone surfaces of the upper museum and garden are transformed into a chamber hewn from the rock itself from which the Strait is revealed though a stone 'curtain' of changing quality.

The accommodation building is conceived of as two transformations of the ground. Growing from a set of 'legs' like a tree, its piers multiply and become finer, while the quality of glass within moves from a cast table (seminar room) to an articulated dressing table in different opacities of plate glass further up, developed from an installation project to represent Gorham's cave. In both processes the ground from which the building grows is dissolved to the point where light enters it: the increasing clarity of glass (sand as rock broken by the sea) forms an analogue to both archaeological analysis (and physical scraping of sediment) and the erosive processes of the landscape as a whole. The hinged mirror of the dressing table (allowing views to sea or back to the Rock) suspended outside the fortified boundary of Gibraltar (legendary edge of the known world) then 'recovers' this landscape at the domestic scale through glimpses of the surroundings caught in the course of everyday activities.

Freddie Phillipson

Freddie’s project was notable for the breadth of its ambition and for its consistent and inventive resolution of the difficult issues it tackled.

From its assured handling of the scale of the site (a plateau on the southern tip of Gibraltar – overlooking the joining of Atlantic and Mediterranean, Europe and Africa) through to the inventiveness of the architectural proposition, Freddie’s work demonstrates an extraordinary and consistent imagination. His concerns ranged from the development of a landscape strategy to the detailed design of a series of interior ‘devices’. These were the endpoint of a visual exploration concerned with the inhabitation of rooms, realised as a beautiful series of exploratory collages. The project culminated in a dressing table ‘held outside the edge of Gibraltar, the small movements of the device (somewhere between a dwelling and a laboratory) connect to a distant landscape recovered archaeologically at the domestic scale. At the heart of this is a mirror which acts as a hinge between two continents, displaying either the Rock (and interior) behind or Morocco across a reclaimed Strait.’

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