Jonathan Hale & James Alexander
From the Glastonbury Festival to the Kumbh Mela, from the Sienese Paleo to the Port Talbot Passion Play – the enduring power of ritual gathering continues to draw people together in regular acts of mass celebration, cultural spectacle and social bonding. This unit will explore the architectural implications of the transient rhythms of occupation and abandonment offered by these regularly re-enacted large-scale performances and public rituals – investigating their spatial, social, cultural and cognitive consequences.
There is no single specified location or programme for any of this unit’s thesis projects. The unifying element is the theme of permanent and temporary structures servicing a specific – and self-chosen – series of performance-based events. It is up to each student to identify an event to build the project around. You must have visited (or be able to visit) the live event itself, or at least one very much like it, in order to be able to develop an in-depth research portfolio and a detailed brief for your own project. In semester one the objective is to document and analyse the event in detail, exploring the architectural possibilities offered for both temporary and permanent structures. In semester two you will go on to design these structures in detail – developing at least one component of the temporary elements into a full-size physical prototype.
One of the key elements of a successful project is likely to be a high degree of subtlety in handling the relationship between the various levels of temporary and permanent occupation of the site. For this reason it might make sense to relate the transient patterns of social and cultural gathering with other, human and extra-human, cyclical rhythms and processes – for example, craft/industrial/agricultural production; climatic variations; landscape erosion; or seasonal changes of flora and fauna.
The key task for the beginning of Semester 1 is to identify an event with potential to develop into a substantial design project for Semester 2. The event must be significant and complex enough to generate a range of spatial requirements, including a combination of permanent and temporary structures and both enclosed/architectural and open/landscape elements. Events are not restricted to traditional religious or cultural festivals – they can be anything from social/political, musical, artistic or sporting activities. An important aspect of any large-scale periodic gathering is the way in which the often conflicting needs of transient and permanent residents (whether human or animal) are resolved. The first exercise in relation to the chosen event is therefore to carefully record, analyse and present a set of observations on the current patterns of activity associated with it. In particular, careful attention should be paid to studying the often complex temporal succession of forces, ‘actors’ and actions involved in staging the event, and likewise with the longer timescales of permanent activity on the site during the intervening periods of relative ‘abandonment’.
This process of research, observation and analysis will form the basis of the brief for the Semester 2 project, and must be developed using a range of graphic, physical and time-based media. It is likely that video will be a key observational and presentational tool, therefore the final portfolio of work due in December will be in both printed and digital form, including a project website for each student, to be added to during the design phase in the Spring Semester.
Guests tutors/critics: Andy Lock (Nottingham Trent University); Huw Morgan (De Montfort University); Steve Parnell (University of Nottingham).