Build Back Better?
This year we started with the provocation to ‘Build Back Better’. While the catch phrase can be associated with the government’s plan for growth and their promise to restore the energy and confidence of the country, the pandemic has raised some very fundamental questions: should we go ‘back’, how should we ‘build’ and what really is ‘better’? Our programme this year was to take on this challenge, and to ‘build back better’, not simply to return to the same status quo prior to the pandemic, but rather to imagine alternative narratives and ways of constructing our day to day.
In the first weeks of their architectural journey our first-year students traced the origins of seeds from Kew Gardens to discover other cultures, climates and craft. The sense of the ‘very, very vernacular’ was further explored in the year through exercises of mapping, material experimentation and spatial transformations. A reading by Barnabas Calder of his new book ‘Architecture: From Prehistory to Climate Emergency’ framed the crucial role of architecture and architects in tackling the ecological crisis.
The work of Years 2 and 3 equally responded to the ‘Build Back Better’ challenge in a range of ways: ‘Radical Reuse in the Camden Backlands’ (DS3.6) and reimagining the community in Brentford (DS2.1) addressed issues of locality and limited resource. Two studios challenged the conventions of traditional institutions: DS2.3 took objects ‘outside the glass cage’ of a museum context and DS2.6 reimagined something outside of mainstream architecture – the Nightclub. The Poetics of Habitation and the Spatial Disruptions of the Home were explored by DS3.7 and DS2.7, whilst other studios engaged with public space (DS2.5), and live projects in Cody Dock (DS2.1) and our University’s Harrow Campus (DS3.2).
Beyond the edges of the city, DS2.4 formulated feral architectures for a wilder Horsham and DS3.4 explored the Thames Estuary to conceive new beginnings for the periphery of Gravesend. In the ‘search of transformation and delight’, DS3.1 experimented with a Utopia for Southwark, whilst DS3.3 revisited the Japanese Metabolist ideas of nature and megastructures proposing ‘Science-Fiction and Supertrees’. Perhaps the news of this year’s demolition of the Nagakin Capsule Tower and its emblematic importance to Japan’s postwar cultural resurgence, is a timely reminder for us to take a brief look back and to continue to explore brave new tomorrows.
Thank you to all Studio Tutors and the wider Course Team for taking on this year’s challenge, and a bigger thank to all students for taking the big leap forward.