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Dissertation Medal Winner 1999

An Essay in Unsymbolization

Part 1 Dissertation 1999
Huw Williams
Oxford Brookes University Oxford | UK
"Things are entirely what they seem to be, and behind them.....there is nothing." (Jean Paul Sartre)

"Attachment is the greatest fabricator of illusions; reality can only be attained by someone who is detached." (Simone Weil)

This study aims to look beyond the material objects of architecture and built form to seek out an alternative model of housing design. Derived from a wide range of cultural, sociological and psychological phenomena, the discourse proposes a house type which investigates the power of the image in both real and virtual realms to present what can be termed as 'existentialist architecture' - that is, an architecture that realises the ephemeral and isolated nature of human inhabitation.

" "But the emperor has no clothes on", said a small child." (Hans Christian Andersen)

"To set up what you like against what you dislike - this is the disease of the mind." (Seng-T'san)

"Soul, body and dwelling are but expansions and projections of each other. For the house is not merely walls, doors, and windows, but a doorway to things beyond, a 'capacity' of the senses and spirit. Finally, there is no distinction between outward and inward. We dwell in the home: the home dwells in us." (Anne Troutman)

Huw Williams

Huw Williams: 'An Essay in Unsymbolization'

Huw's study is a rich and confident piece of work. His concern is with the poverty of new housing in Britain compared to that which he saw last year while working for Mecanoo in Holland. Huw quickly identified the main problem in Britain as being the dominance of volume speculative housebuilders, with their conservative and stultifying preference for insular, suburban estates consisting of detached, neo-historical boxes. Terming these phenomena as the New House and the New Estate, Huw launched a searing investigation into why this cultural viewpoint has become so entrenched.

Writing about speculative housing is a minefield for architects, given the usual tendency to adopt a stance of patronising superiority towards suburban aesthetics. Huw skilfully avoids this trap by producing a broad analysis which deliberately side-steps the issue of style in order to examine suburbia as a cultural product. He weaves together four distinct elements - academic text, statistics, cultural quotes, and original photographs - to undermine the fictions of community and protection that are used to market the suburban estate dwelling. In its fragmented structure, bold design, and sheer size, the finished document shows an obvious Dutch influence from S,M,L,XL and FARMAX.

As if all this is not enough, Huw has also made his study a form of critical practice which in its final section offers a design for a new type of dwelling. This part is likely to be the most controversial, but his summation of the main points for future housing is little short of brilliant. Huw argues convincingly for higher density urban living with a clearer division between public and private space, and for a more complex integration of modern media into the domestic environment. It is altogether a highly original achievement, and could easily be published to much acclaim.

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