To China

It has been some time since I last posted, and here is why!

I have been lucky enough to secure a place on the University of Manchester’s Study China program, studying Chinese language and culture for three weeks in the prestigious, and quite beautiful, Nanjing University, Jiangsu. After this I have been extremely lucky in being awarded one of 10 year long Zhejiang Scholarships funded jointly by the British Councils ‘Generation UK China‘ program and Zhejiang Providential Education Department, allowing me to study in Zhejiang Sci-tech University, Hangzhou.

Following seven years of living, studying and working in Belfast, Northern Ireland, I have recently been pursuing getting away to explore different cultures and begin to appreciate the diversity of the world first hand. When western architecture and lifestyle takes so much from the local heritage, Greek origins and developed nations, I am sure to encounter inherit differences in culture, history and people which will prove nothing short of exhilarating. Undoubtedly there will be an infinite number of challenges ahead (My first language studies in 7 years to say the least!) but I am certain facing these, and experiencing the challenges of others, will only further my understanding of humanity, and ask me to develop a further respect for the diversity and resilience we are capable of.

You will be able to keep on track with my travels as my camera, journal and sketchbook remain permanently attached to my hand at; ‘BSA Study Abroad,’ a Travelogue charting the adventures of our current year group. So please do drop in and say hello! We leave to various parts of the world this August and September, studying for a year before returning to Belfast for the final year of our undergraduate degree in Architecture with fresh eyes, and new horizons.

I will of course be back on track to bring news from China to these pages too, so keep in touch, especially if you have any advice of experiences of the country you’d like to share.

Until then, I will leave you with a shot taken from our Architecture studio in Belfast, one that makes those late nights worthwhile.

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Sunset behind Divis Tower/Divis Mountain, Belfast

再见!

Impressions – Dublin

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Bord Gáis Energy Theatre façade – Daniel Libeskind & RHWL Architects


Recently our year took a trip to Dublin, a welcome venture from our constant entrapments in Belfast! I would like to take the opportunity to share with you a few of my photographs and a summary of my impression of the reviving city.

Grand Canal Square 2

View onto Grand Canal Square

S Beckett Bridge

Samuel Beckett Bridge – Santiago Calatrava

M Scott

Busáras – Michael Scott

CHQ

CHQ Building – John Rennie

Eileen Gray Exhibit

Eileen Grey’s permanent exhibit – National Museum of Ireland

Dublin convention Center

The Convention Centre Dublin – Kevin Roche

 

The Long Room

The Long Library – Trinity College

Liffy at Night

Lights across the River Liffey 


Arriving from Belfast, the city immediately feels much more metropolitan than the North. However, I would be be hesitant to say that the proliferation of ‘big name’ Architecture built over the last few decades has been entirely to the benefit of the city’s rich character and past. The balance of old and new sought in John Rennie’s CHQ Building (Above) seems much more in tune with the delicate ‘cobble stone meets contemporary’ which I had come to expect of the city, and in this it far overshadows the rather insensitive Barrel/Cube of the the Convention Centre Dublin which dominates the riverside nearby.

My views are of course slightly clouded by an upbringing of stories and songs hailing the city as a rather idolised archetype of the rough, lively and joyous! So maybe my short critique is in search of a shadow which never did, or no longer exists. In that case, do you have any thoughts, or expectation’s of the city which it meets, or falls short on? Or for that matter, are there other cities which have been completely different from you’re expectations, for better or worse?

Sketch Selection; Year 1 Architecture

In response to an old post by a fellow Architecture student over at ‘Her design journal’ I thought I would share with you a selection of my favourite sketches from my Year 1 sketchbooks of my undergraduate.

– 2012/2013

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Bridge perspective from ‘Dry Joint’s’ project

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Folly design after Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s Barcelona Pavilion 


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Sketch analysis of University of Ulster’s Belfast campus, York street Belfast for ‘Constructing Architecture’ project

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Parasitic stage design for ‘Politic’s in Architecture’ project – Model/Further info can be found here

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25 copy
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A series of progress sketches for ‘Titanic Loss/Memorial’ project

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Exploring plans after Zvi Hecker’s Spiral apartment house

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Field sketching in Edinburgh, Scotland – Enric Miralles’s Scottish Parliament/Benson & Forsyth’s National Museum of Scotland

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Exploring styles – Redrawn from Lebbeus Woods’s drawing for the retrofit of Ivan Straus found on; The Reality of Theory

Drawing for me has always been my favourite method for recording space, and for translating my spatial thoughts to something communicable. I do not claim to be in any way proficient in doing this (these are 1st year sketches after all!), and like most struggle with the process of recording 3D thought to 2D Presentation, none the less it is a skill which I find fascinating in it’s complexity, and I cannot deny an obsession for well crafted and considered drawings. There is a tactility to drawing which I have found extremely difficult to recreate through digital means, and a seductive mystery in allowing the viewer to mentally fill in what is not observable, something which a clinically accurate model may not allow happen. Drawing presents our ideas in a flawed and beautiful language of creation and recreation, it may never be perfect, but it is always personal. I hope you enjoy this short post nearly as much as I did drawing it!


Recommended reading?

Architectural Design, Sept 2013 – Drawing Architecture (Neil Spiller)

Find Herdesignjournal’s original post here.

The space between objects

Context

I have been blogging statements, polemic’s to a degree for a short period of time, without much introduction. These observations have been my first ventures into the blogosphere and concern what I have seen on travels, or what I have recently been thinking when I consider ‘Architecture.’ My last post was concerning the context of objects in response to reading Kengo Kuma’s, ‘Anti-Object.’ This response, a short 200 odd words, attempts to cross the discipline’s of Psychology (Of which I hold an Undergraduate degree), and Architecture (Of which I am currently finishing my second year at Undergraduate level), through the topic of relationships, memories, and identity.

Big, broad, expansive topics, right? And hardly ones which can be pinned down in a short sharp post! But these are notions which get my psychology/architectural mind pondering continuously, and with the notion of object’s without context in mind, I believe it would finally be relevant to share some of my student work with you! Contextualisation of my thoughts so to speak.

Discovering Narrative – Year 2 Semester 1

My design project (‘A House for an Ancestor’) for the first semester of second year on the Ba Architecture at University of Ulster was heavily influenced by the narrative generated by investigations of a previous project. We were asked to survey a small A4 size portion of a tree bark, noting every minute detail in a manner similar to Georges Perec’s beautifully obsessional observations.

 

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Spatial mapping studies of a Tree bark – Hand drawings/Photography

Apart from the data collection of the survey, my observations began to consider the relationship between the city and the tree, why we as human’s feel the need to ‘implant’ nature into our artificial cities. My first notion was to questions whether the human mind can possibly develop far enough from it’s origins to ever feel entirely comfortable in a self generated world of brick and steel, or will our depths always search for a reminder of the natural world in order to regain a sense of place and peace? The tree is allowed to grow freely in it’s city cage, offering it’s inhabitants shelter from the daily struggle, the noise and pollution of the city. To escape from what we as man have created.

If offered the option, I would have declare myself against the city, and would chose the chaos of the tree over the city’s harsh anonymity, but the reality of the world asks for us all to appreciate the co-existence of entities, and this is where I began to develop a notion of the dialogue which exists not in objects, but between them. On one hand the warmth of the organic world of nature represented in the tree, and on the other hand the strength, control and order of mankind, represented in the city.

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Contour model; Abstraction of the dialogue between the tree and city – Photography/hand-drawing 

Through group discussion on this theme with another member of my year we generated the above model which, abstracted, represents the tension and dialogue of this narrative. The top section, held by a steel rod and a single wire, presents the contour of the tree surface surveyed, the lower section describes the various heights of these contours in uniform steel protruding from concrete; the city.

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Contour model; Tree/City

Discovering the space between/A House for an Ancestor

As individuals we were then tasked with designing a House for an Ancestor, our first ever ‘Architectural’ project and to be sited in a portion of the tree we surveyed (with it’s surfaces scale hugely exaggerated). My ancestor, a Miner, offered what the perfect opportunity to further expand on the relationship between man and nature. Instead of the being represented by the city, here man presents himself as directly interacting with nature in his search of minerals and ores, utilising his power to manipulate the earth towards his own goals. This can be viewed negatively, as far as to be called hubris, but it can also be viewed as a mutual harmony. We can look at the miner as the first step in converting the earths’ minerals into new technologies which may benefit mankind and create better living conditions, and ultimately a better future. Again this became a question of dialogue between entities, which allowed me to site my project in the empty space generated be a large overhang in the tree surface, suspended between the ground and a ledge.

Site concept

Site concept painting – Digital

I did not want to shoehorn program, to prescribe space or to produce something which was generated solely by my own control. Instead I wanted to utilise both the control of man and the chaos of nature to evoke a harmony which spoke of the delicate nature between things, the beautiful tensions. After an exploration of materials I settled on creating a 9x9x9 cube of wire, suspended on a steal frame on a wooded base, with 3 sheets of acrylic suspended between.

Material 1

 

Material test #1 – Photography

Varying in opacity, these sheets represented the progression of the miner from light to dark, with the intention of creating an Corbusier-esque Architectural Promenade in reverse, I wished to enlighten my ancestors journey as he descended through the space.

Prom and Site

 

Site, Promenade & Scale – Hand Drawing

The final step in the generation of space was to apply nature further, so far it was only represented in the wooden base of my cube. In order to develop the dialogue I placed the cube in an old gas oven at it’s highest temperature for about 2 hours. The results combined the control I had prescribed with the unpredictability of fire in the burning natural gas, and of gravity, as nature pulled on the plastics and steel. A blissful bi-product of the experiment was the rich colour produced by the smoking of the plastics due to the burning wood. After cooling I found myself with a beautifully delicate golden cube which glistened in the light and produced the scent of charred wood. The process had created undulating spaces within the cube where the materials blended together or resisted each other. A dialogue; and the beginnings of my House for an Ancestor.

Cube

 

Discovered space/Dialogue – Photography
Space to planning

Dialogue to planning #1 – Photography/Hand Drawing

This sums up the progression of the narrative I chased in the project, and as I have been developing projects further towards resolution since, I have found myself seeking to increase my appreciation and understanding of the relationship’s between, as opposed to the objects themselves. I believe it is easy to succumb to an idolisation of aesthetics, and to overlook the beauty inherit in the space generated by relationships and interactions. We all live in a world beyond our individual control, and I hope this approach can only make me more aware of our reality and further my appreciation for what I could otherwise be so easily overlooking.

If you made it this far, thank you for reading! I hope there is something in this that you find of interest, and maybe even prompts you towards looking into these topics further. However, I should probably add that I do not in anyway recommend setting fire to anything without taking all the necessary precautions to ensure the safety of yourself and others (Disclaimer!)

Empiricism

– A response to current reading and the Lagan Meadows, Belfast

We are all temporal beings, and move with time; our personalities, our memories, are constructed from a collection of events existing in relation to one another along our personal timelines. What would become of our identity if these did not connect? Instead existing as detached phenomena floating in an empty chasm?

An ‘object’ sits separate and cold – unwelcoming – adrift. What use is this object if it cannot be used, if it is so isolate that it connects to nothing, relates to nothing? What use is Architecture if it does not recognise its context? It’s pursuit of individuality asks the removal of a significant, and traceable identity.

Nature has a wonderful habit of showering its beautiful chaos across the clinical order of our isolated intervention, it reminds us of the significance of the relationships between things, the connections which generate a cohesive identity, a unity.

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Currently reading:

Narrative Architecture – Nigel Coates

Anti-Object: The Dissolution and Disintegration of Architecture – Kengo Kuma