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Unit 3 | Character

Michael Holms Coats

Unit 3 aims at research through design and is guided by drawing and making to critique modes of thinking and broaden the architectural ‘toolkit’ of each student. The unit has taken on the challenge in the last few years of examining neglected aspects of architecture that deserve closer attention.

This year students have been working on ‘character’ in architecture, which may not be entirely overlooked but is often limited to technocratic planning codification of historical districts or is trivialised as ‘style’. Instead, the unit focus has been on how identity, the spirit of place and the temperament of local people can have particular impact not only on use type or decoration but also on spatial configurations, choice of materials and a building’s touch and feel.


To dig deeper, students undertook specific character studies as initial ‘works’ in our location for the year, the Kentish port town of Folkestone, employing a mix of analytical and perception techniques: a local urban grain study, a forensic territory catalogue and a noticeboard survey and speculative drawing, to identify and sift potential activities and groups of residents as the ‘carrier’ for an initial ‘Inhabited Noticeboard’ design and as a stepping stone for the final design project, ‘Character Building’, the design of a community project with an element of ‘habitation’.


Research and design work was supported in parallel by ‘Identity Parade’, a weekly student led, case-study seminar and a study trip to the city of Glasgow, renowned for its distinctive urban grid, as well as for the robust personality of its citizens. And the purpose of all this has been to speculate how far and in what ways group activity or community might steer the architectural expression of the particular facility being designed.


Characters and characteristics led to the following final projects: a multi-space music academy, tucked into a major urban level change; a performance and event space inspired by discovery, revealing a covered watercourse; a town-centre stop-over homage to camping holidays; the linear and topographical twinning of sculptors’ studios and their gallery; a graffiti 53 arts facility, beyond the streets; a handcraft terrain for pottery and fine art; a planting skills and education resource, to encourage green fingers of young and old; and a tiered urban slice, from skatepark to rooftop ‘urban living room’, for the ‘left behind’.


‘Without distinctiveness of character, buildings may be convenient and answer the purposes for which they were raised, but they will never be pointed out as examples for imitation, nor add to the splendour of the possessor, improve the national taste, or increase the national glory.’

Sir John Soane – Lecture XI, The Royal Academy Lectures – 1810-20

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