This year, the studio switched its focus to the challenge of the climate crisis and its relationship to architecture. We brought our established interest in architectural composition and the development of stylistic and formal languages to bear on a series of fundamental questions: Does aesthetics matter in the face of global climate change? Is architecture – as traditionally practiced – a decadent irrelevance in relation to our current ecological challenges? Or can it help to shape and define a meaningful response?
Our supposition was that architectural language and meaning is fundamental to the development of responses to the climate crisis. For us, a cultural response to sustainability is vital and an aesthetics of care extends beyond material choices, supply chain reforms or reductions in waste to encompass a wider ethics of architecture. Architecture – as a system of meaningful built form – needs to develop a response that is not simply about avoiding harm but about shaping a world that we want to live in.
The site for our work was the town of Rye, located at the edge of Romney Marsh on the border between Kent and East Sussex. Rye has a highly preserved historic core which provided the context for a radical review of the idea of retrofit. If demolition is the last resort and much of our existing building stock hugely inefficient, how do we deal with historically sensitive sites? Projects within the studio explored ideas of refurbishment, reconfiguration and adaptation, exploring creative ambiguities between old and new as well as highlighting issues of value, conservation and permanence. Collage was adopted as a fundamental technique, one that welcomes diversity, change and the evolution of buildings and spaces over time.
Inevitably, Covid-19 impacted our year in fundamental ways. Face-to-face tutorials stopped, public reviews were cancelled and the vital, informal peer-review process of studio culture was lost. But despite this the students coped extremely well, shifting to on-line learning with a minimum of fuss. As tutors we were incredibly impressed by their pragmatic response and the high-quality work they continued to produce. It was – in a sense – a project in itself, an example of how to respond creatively to life-changing events.
Despite such upheavals, the studio’s work was also exhibited as part of Dezeen’s Virtual Design Festival in April. Projects within the studio addressed planning policy, current events and political decision-making, but the focus of our speculation was always architecture.
Charles Holland and Holly Lang
The following is work produced by the studio in 2019/20.