‘If design is merely an inducement to consume, then we must reject design; if architecture is merely the codifying of the bourgeois models of ownership and society, then we must reject architecture; if architecture and town planning [are] merely the formalization of present unjust social divisions, then we must reject town planning and its cities […] until all design activities are aimed towards meeting primary needs.’
Built in 1927, the Open Air School in Amsterdam has been a new model for education at the beginning of the 20th Century.
The building consits of a series of open and enclosed terraces allowing children to be educated in the open air.
Amazingly the shcool is still operating.
The French radiologist Dr. Jean Saidman invented the revolving sanatorium. Build 1930 in Aix-les-Baines in France the whole structure revollved to allow patients facing constant exposure to the sun. Thsi was an attempt to cure them of tuberculosis and rickets.
Sweet Water Organics, a company in Milwaukee, raises perch and grows leafy green vegetables in a former factory.
Urban Sweet Water Organics launched in Milwaukee in 2009 combining growing green vegetables with raising fish. The fish lives off the waste products off the plants and the plants grow on the fish waste.
THis circular system uses 90% less water compared to traditional fish farming while producing hundreds o kilograms of vegetables and fish in a closed system.
The destruction of our environment through intensive farming – both on land and in the water – has left vast areas of our environment stripped of biodiversity, oversaturated with fertilizers, ruined by pestizides.
Sweet Water Organics – Milwaukee
Recycling seems to have finally become mainstream – thanks god for that! But it hasn’t always been like that. The throwaway culture started a long time ago and it seems some visionaries have seen the writing on the wall long before the rest of us has caught up to this.
One of these visionaries has been Martin Pawley, a british architect who promoted his ideas for the garbage housing as early as 1975.
Nowadays we all talk about recycling, how we should avoid creating more and more waste to pollute our planet.
The Assembly of Trash
The designer Aino Aalto resting on a lounge chair on the solarium terrace of the Paimio Sanatorium in 1932. Photo taken by Alvar Aalto.
In the 1920-1930 a new movement in architecture emerged from Europe. Modernism promoted an architecture that was characterised by its clean lines and white walls. Functional spaces that were pure and free of any decoration or ornamentation associated with historical architecture.
But on closer inspection this new movement was not about style, about dismissing the architecture of the past on aestetic or purely formal grounds. It has much deeper roots in the desire to eradicate tuberculosis, a disease that, at the time, didn’t have a medical cure.
Robert Koch discovered the tuberculosis bacillus in 1882 but until 1949 there wasn’t an effective medical treatment for this disease. It had been understood that the disease spread and was dormant over long periods of time, hidden the dust of the houses with a poor ventilation aggravating the situation. In 1900 tuberculosis was responsible for 25 percent of all deaths in New York.
Modernism must be seen as a reaction to this crisis. At the time the only real cure for the disease was what was called the Freiluftkur, where a person was treated with plenty of fresh air, lots of sunlight, and nutritious food. The standard ‘cure’ for TB was primarily a change of the environmental conditions. Very soon architects responded to the challenge by devising an architecture that was dominated by clean lines (that were easy to be cleaned), surfaces free of ornamentation (trapping dust and spreading the disease). Buildings were elevated off the ground (to allow air to circulate and to remove the inhabitant from the damp ground), walls were penetrated with large windows (allowing in sunlight and fresh air). These building were not machines for living, they were machines for healing.
Le Corbusier, Villa Savoy, Paris, 1929
Le Corbusier, Villa Savoy, Paris, 1929 Open airy spaces, light flooding into the living spaces.
Children being taught in the open air, ca. 1920
Jan Duiker, Open Air School, Amsterdam, 1927
Charles Booth’s Descriptive Map of London Poverty 1889 showing The Old Nichol area, later transformed into the Boundary Estate. Areas in black are indicating ‘Lowest class. Vicious, semi criminal.’
Old Nicol Road Slums / Boundary Estate
At the height of the British Empire, with Queen Victoria ruling over large parts of the world, unimaginable riches flowed back to England from the overseas colonies. The new global trade routes made English industrialists immensely wealthy. Like today these riches were not spread equally across the population and most parts of London of the late 19th century was a dark place to live in. With people moving into the big cities looking for a better life, resulting in poverty and misery – this created huge overcrowded slums.
At the time hugh areas of land could only be leased for a maximum of 21 years. This mean landlords had no interest to create building that would last. But even this was too much for some peopel who woudln’t even be able to rent a bed for a night – being forced to get a space in in a room with robe beds – ropes to lean over and rest for the night.
‘Rope beds’ were a cheap but misreable way to spend the night in a doss house.
While some of the luck inhabitants were able to afford a space in a sleeping coffin, the ‘Four Penny Coffins’.
‘Four penny coffins’ were a relative luxury compared to the alternatives.
With nearly 6000 inhabitants the area once called Old Nichol was one of the worst slums of the East End in the late 19th century. Immortalised in the novel ‘A Child of the Jago’ by Arthur Morrison the area was highlighted on the Charles Booth’s poverty map is inhabited by the “lowest class, loafers, criminals and semi-criminals”.
The local reverent, Osborne Jay initiated the rebuilding of the slum which created the Boundary Estate, one of the world’s first council estates. The new buildings were influenced by the Arts and Crafts movement and were built to a high standard. Housing over 6000 residents each flat was designed to maximise good light and air for the residents. Sadly, only 12 of the original slum residents moved into the flats, the others moving on to new cheaper areas in Bethnal Green or Dalston, taking the overcrowding with them.
The crisis of the clums led to the invention of a new housing typology, the council house.
Arnold Circus history
Atlas Obscura – Arnold Circus
Grim Realities of Life in the Slums
Being RADICAL – a platform for inspiring resistance and creativity
Unit PG13 – the Bartlett Living Laboratory is continuing to explore how we live, how we inhabit spaces and our cities; our students are empowering communities and inventing new typologies of living.
The most powerful architectures have been created out of a crisis, a rebellion, or a clear break with the past. The strongest pieces of architecture can be traced back to a radical new (creative) vision. This pattern can be traced all across the architectural history and at times of great uncertainty these radical ideas to emerge and flourish. What is needed is a shift in how we operate, a reconsideration of the basic principles of how we live, how we treat each other and our planet; what is needed is US being RADICAL.
Our work will form part of the Seoul Biennale 2021 and we are planning to host a workshop at the Venice Biennale in 2021.
Sabine Storp + Patrick Weber
The Bartlett Living Laboratory
London – Seoul Biennale – Venice Biennale
Unit PG13 is interested in how we inhabit our cities. The places we live in, socialise, engage with others, building a community are immensely important for the functioning in our post-Covid 19 world.
At times of great uncertainty, we strive to find a way out of the misery by projecting our dreams onto a better place – our own personal Utopia. Architects dream, they speculate on what ‘could be’ real, they dream of spatial manifestations of sometimes real-life problems. Most work produced is speculative, and although some are rooted in real-life situations it is not real, it doesn’t have a client, it will not be built. Yet these speculations, these speculative architectures are incredibly important to bring about change, to test out new innovative ideas.
As an architect, you (usually) strive of building a better world. This spirit created some iconic housing developments on the 20th century in London– Alexandra Road and the Dunboyne Estate by Neave Brown, Robin Hood Gardens by the Alison and Peter Smithson, Trellick Tower by Erno Goldfinger to name a few. Sadly, other attempts to solve problems with a building have failed and created far bigger problems than the issues they were actually attempting to address. Modernism was seen as a brave new world for a modern forward-looking society. For many these utopian ideas have turned into dystopian nightmares of the inner-city housing estate. Yet some examples stood the test of time, they developed into living thriving communities.
This year Unit PG13 and the Bartlett Living Laboratory has been revisiting a range of urban and rural living concepts. We started the year with a real competition to RE-STOCK the depleting London housing stock. Students were asked to analyse and decode an existing example and develop a new model paradigm – echoing the shifts in society, culture, community and environment.
The ideas identified in the competition formed a seed to explore inhabitation in London further. The new/old paradigms were used to invent a substantial spatial construct set within a real social/urban/rural context. Our students in Unit PG13 tackled inhabitation in London on various scales. The project ranged from extending the Alexandra Road estate, completing Goldfinger’s Trellick Tower ensemble with a self-built high riser, translating the ideas of the Bata Estate in Tilbury into a 21st Century independent community in the flood plains, rethinking Kilburn High Street into a slow street, to a post EU-topia proposal for the borderlands of Luxembourg.
In Unit 13 would like to embark on a journey of speculation. We would like to dream up our own Utopia. Harnessing the optimism embedded in the ideas and bringing them into actually inhabitable spaces. Strictly speaking, your utopia will not be a utopia at all, it will have a ‘place’.
We would like to thank Samson Adjei, Barbara Campbell Lange, Alice Hardy, Sara Martinez, Rae Whittow Williams, Paolo Zaide for their support.
DR tutor Rae Whittow-Williams
Technical consultant Toby Ronalds, EOC Engineers