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Hampstead Heath Bathing Pond

Part 1 Project 2002
Thomas Housden
Bartlett School of Architecture (UCL) | UK
Rising a few metres from the Hampstead Bathing Ponds, in the Vale of Health, is the source of the River Fleet. Apart from this small group of reservoirs, this ancient river tracks a subterranean route to the Thames where it exits at Blackfriars.

The notion of a buried or lost river in the city conjures a powerful sense of dislocation between the layers of the seen and the unseen. The built environment becomes a complex set of interrelationships between its occupants and the environment, some aspects of which are obscured from view. A project to explore such concerns returned me to the place where the river emerges from beneath the surface.

From the ad hoc nature of its existing use as an enclosed outdoor bathing area; the project proposes a series of interventions in and along the pond which affect the nature of its boundaries and spatial organisation. These interventions slowly evolve and form a complex and dynamic system of shifting elements that float, drift, and adapt to continual environmental change and occupancy. The investigation is also one that considers the fragile outer layer of occupants and enclosures built for their use, and thus creates a system of layered screens that offer varying degrees of shelter and privacy.

Eagar to investigate the behaviour and character of this architecture, the work is represented through a broad range of media, specifically through physical models. Amongst their purpose is the testing and exploration of object materiality, scale, movement, and the choreographic nature of the system.

Thomas Housden

Through a complex and dynamic network of veils and vistas, the occupation of Hampstead Bathing Pond is explored as an allegory for an architecture of human and environmental coexistence. Embedded with layer upon layer of alternating translucent and opaque spatial constructs that manipulate light and shade, the student forms a literal and phenomenal connection between bathers and their conscious exposure to the dangers of solar radiation. Critical of conventional methods of building ‘skins’, the work interplays a relationship between landscape, architecture and physiology to propose an architecture of form and space that is responsive to environmental change.

This student’s work has provided a vibrant and timely example of how an innovative and critical approach to representation can suggest an architecture that is not simply experimental or sublime, but which combines physical tangibility with real social purpose.

The rich materiality of this project has emerged from his incessant engagement with a diverse range of media; physical models, photography and film simulations have been combined into critical and exploratory descriptions that are valuable both as product and process. Similarly, technical and social concerns are explored as related generators, providing the mechanism by which the landscapes of his projects are populated and used.

Each of the investigations have been underpinned by a concern with both the physical context of the site and the changing dynamic of its occupation and use over time. One of the most enjoyable aspects of the author’s thinking is his broad definition of the term architecture, in which the most minimal of interventions (a change of temperature, or a sound) are composed into a sensory and spatial experience.

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