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Shaping our experiences
I thought I’d try and capture the essence of a Temple Bar Talk I attended earlier this week called “Resonance”. My takeaway from the inspiring project examples was that resonance is about a rhythm and harmony with the surroundings and users. I also left with a solid belief that to achieve this you have to really care and make extra effort to understand the brief, the site, the area, the community, the users, the context. Only then, can you properly respond.
Intensification was a word that jumped out at me when I looked up the definition of resonance. Whilst this is intended for music, I can see the parallels with architecture. Yes, a mediocre design can meet the brief, but a great design will bring about an intensity of thinking and response, that you wouldn’t otherwise get.
The pictures speak for themselves although I include a few thoughts of my own throughout…
A question was asked about the GS office at 55 Leroy Street. What came first, the culture or the office? This one was hard to answer, rather like the chicken and the egg. But what was clear from hearing this story was that the design for the building evolved as they learned more about the fabric. The bright red chalky bricks were exposed from behind a black render which set the tone for the upper floor extension.
Gateway West was conceived to have a solid, rock like appearance forming entrance to wider development with larger buildings either side. Almost monolithic, it also provides a very functional logistical service yard and entrance zone.
Fiona explained that St Catherine’s was a dysfunctional and oddly shaped space. They ‘squared-off’ the main hall and in doing so created external linkages between buildings. The materials used are simple but elegant, with large benches promoting a social and relaxed atmosphere.
To me this design is successful because it meets the brief, but also provides a high amount of flexibility so that the space can be used for so many other things in the future.
I asked whether rules, design guides and policy get in the way of resonance. And I think the answer was no. The Rock almost had no typical constraints (cost, design standards etc.) which Fiona acknowledged actually made it a challenge. She said that constraints actually make design interesting, which in some ways was surprising to hear but on reflection I can see a lot of sense in that. I do feel that there must be a line we don’t want to cross in this regard, but thankfully it seem’s we are not there yet!
The Rock’s client didn’t care about accessibility standards and actually wanted to have a variety of internal floor levels with steps between. I imagine GS would have been able to create a different, but equally stunning design if the brief included accessibility... after all, the end product is a result of the constraints!
Jay chipped in to say that responses to constraints can be at all sorts of scale, whether small details on the face of a brickwork facade, or a mountain reflection in a swimming pool.
St Hilda’s in Oxford was the successful bid of a design competition. Jay explained most other applicants designed typical Oxford “quads”, but they conceived this as an un-wrapped quad that reflected and hugged the bank of the river. Interestingly, a building had to be demolished to facilitate this development. Whether the same answer would be landed today, I’m not sure, but it goes to show that we should continue to think retrofit first, not retrofit only - there will be times when the best overall design solution includes a difficult decision.
The site layout and new pavilion create sight-lines along a series of buildings parallel to the river. The buildings sit comfortably within the landscape, with carefully selected materials. From a wayfinding perspective, Jay explained that from the road the new building’s tower signposts the entrance to the college and also connects this site to other towers across the city.
Well done on a fascinating talk and some amazing projects!