Unit 4 | Designing for Resilience in Fragile Ecosystems

Matthew Woodthorpe, Yorgos Loizos and Alessia Mosci

Designing for resilience and flexibility allows buildings and their programmes to be actively adjusted by their inhabitants. The physical involvement of the inhabitants means that the buildings can learn to change over time, through a life-long adaptation and fine-tuning. This year we continued our explorations on contemporary and ever evolving topics of climate change, governance, sustainable buildings and communities, focusing on the themes of ‘resilience’ and ‘transformation’ to explore buildings as fragile ecosystems for adaptation. We asked the students to consider how their buildings learn, change and adapt not only to their inhabitants needs and programme but also to environmental conditions, climate and material decay.

The students were encouraged to frame their investigations following Stewart Brand’s observations in his documentary and book How Buildings Learn and in his most recent work Whole Earth Discipline and reframing these for today and the near future. We considered the climate emerging conditions, the ways we use the built environment in our daily lives in post-COVID 19 pandemic, the use of technologies and resourceful material strategies. An important question that we asked early on was in what extend we, as architects, can predict the future of the buildings we design, and how these would adapt to their inhabitants and the environments these are sited.

We started the year by visiting Sir John Soane’s Museum in Lincoln’s Inn Fields in London to study its incredible collection of antiquities and paintings. The students identified an interesting fragment of the collection and designed a prototype that explored this spatially, considering its materiality and history. The students then expanded their interests in the former industrial sites of Fish Island and Hackney Wick, in East London. Reflecting on the theme of ‘urban mining’, they researched the area and local communities thinking of sustainable material strategies, circular economy, recycling and reclaiming materials, and by the end of the term, designed an experimental pavilion.

Having developed a series of conceptual, theoretical and experimental projects in the Autumn term, the students then transferred their attention to develop building projects located in Fish Island and Hackney Wick. The students framed their proposals through social and environmental sustainability and were encouraged to develop their work through making with both analogue and digital tools. The building projects carefully consider their surroundings, existing structures and local resources while applying findings from the Autumn term work, technology and sustainability.

Guests and Critics
Faye Chantler, Ben Corrie, Stephanie Elward, Ambrose Gillick, Michael Holms Coates, Tim Ireland, Lee Jesson, Chris Jones, Michael Richards, Henrik Schoenefeldt, Chloe Street Tarbatt, Oliver Watson

Special thanks
Andy Bater (Holborn Community Centre) and Stephanie Macdonald (6a Architects) for their assistance and guided tour at the new Holborn House in Bloomsbury, London

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