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Bartlett Design Research Folios

Urban Collage

by Christine Hawley


Bartlett Design Research Folios

Project Details

Designer:

Christine Hawley

Title:

Urban Collage

Output type:

Design

Exhibition title:

Drawing by Drawing

Venue:

Danish Architecture Centre, Copenhagen

Curator:

Annette Brunsvig Sørensen, Aarhus School of Architecture

Dates: 13 January – 18 March 2012 Sponsors:

Realdania, Aarhus School of Architecture, Dreyers Foundation

Co-exhibitors include:

Wiel Arets, Neil Denari, Diller Scofidio + Renfro, Zaha Hadid, John Hejduk, Steven Holl, Henning Larsen, Thom Mayne, Micheal Sorkin, Michael Webb and Lebbeus Woods

Catalogue contributors include:

Alberto Pérez-Gómez and Juhani Pallasmaa


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Urban Collage

Statement about the Research Content and Process

Description Urban Collage explores an impoverished area of South East London, analysing the urban setting at two distinct times: in 1986 and 2012. The initial analysis was based on collage and informed the design of a house; the current project asks if this drawing approach is still valid, re-examines the site, and proposes a new architectural lexicon through a revised set of techniques. Questions 1. How can one uncover physical evidence that illustrates the architectural and social history of an urban site and contributes to contemporary understandings of neighbourhood conservation and regeneration? 2. How can wall surface materials (e.g. commercial and guerrilla advertising, urban graphics and material decay) be used in urban analysis and as reference tools for design? 3. How can revisiting past projects help capture the continuously evolving history of architectural and urban thinking, and how can aspects of these projects be adapted for new critical and creative design production?

1 (previous page) Screens, fragment of the interior, 2012


Statements 5

Methods 1. Examining critically the original project and site interpretation, undertaken 25 years ago, to develop techniques for reading the contemporary site. 2. Making a new photographic survey of the area and collecting discarded materials that are traces of today’s human activity. 3. Transforming photographic records into a series of exploratory tools to help determine new design outcomes. 4. Iterative processes of collage, assemblage, time-related translations and diagramming to generate new urban and design information. Dissemination Exhibited in Copenhagen and published in the accompanying catalogue; the exhibition was widely discussed in the architectural and popular Danish press. Presented in lectures in Aarhus and Sheffield.

Statement of Significance

Selected for international group exhibition on the transformation of architectural drawing, with co-exhibitors including Wiel Arets, Neil Denari, Diller Scofidio + Renfro, Zaha Hadid, John Hejduk, Steven Holl, Henning Larsen, Thom Mayne, Micheal Sorkin, Michael Webb and Lebbeus Woods.


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Urban Collage

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2 Political rhetoric as a historic trace and social memory, 1986


Introduction / Aims and Objectives

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Introduction

Urban Collage uses references taken from visual material found in Peckham, London, in an attempt to challenge common assumptions about how contemporary urban situations should inform design. Situated within the field of urban analysis and architectural design, the drawing techniques aim to reveal organic urban change together with the historic traces of human intervention. The design narrative becomes a reading of the city as a place determined by social and economic

history: a form of developmental commentary not normally used within the field of architectural design. The project was selected for an international group exhibition on the transformation of architectural drawing, commissioned by the Danish Architecture Centre and shown in Copenhagen, featuring work by over 30 architects associated with Norwegian architect Svein Tønsager.

Aims and Objectives

1. The project aimed to engage a site’s visual subculture, particularly in terms of wall surface materials (e.g. commercial and guerrilla advertising, urban graphics and material decay), as vibrant expressions of identity, which combined political commentary with visceral presence. Peckham, in South East London, was chosen as a site because it is a multicultural neighbourhood that has endured economic deprivation and also maintained a vivid subculture.

2. The project further aimed to use the site’s residual material decay and urban graphics as evidence with which to challenge the orthodoxies of urban design and to build an architectural lexicon. The neighbourhood had little commercial investment and very little technically sophisticated advertising. The writing and marks of this area were evidence of the energy and the anxieties of a disenfranchised yet culturally vocal community. The evidence, often fragmentary, overwritten, pasted and sprayed over, competed with the disintegrating surfaces of the city for legibility.


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3. The project sought to define a design methodology that incorporates two distinct studies of material surfaces from the same site at two different

Urban Collage

moments in time. This was largely done by means of comparative collage through photography, drawing and making. [fig. 2]

Questions

1. How can one uncover physical evidence that illustrates the architectural and social history of an urban site and contributes to contemporary understandings of neighbourhood conservation and regeneration?

3. How can revisiting past projects help capture the continuously evolving history of architectural and urban thinking, and how can aspects of these projects be adapted for new critical and creative design production?

2. How can wall surface materials (e.g. commercial and guerrilla advertising, urban graphics and material decay) be used in urban analysis and as reference tools for design?

3 Location plan

3


Aims and Objectives / Questions / Context

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Context

Urban Collage considers the impact of time on neighbourhoods and exposes the value of historical layering in architecture and urbanism. It contributes to understandings of urban conservation and processes of retention and restoration. It attempts to create a method for scrutinising the surface of the city, and the information it produces can contribute to the development of both analytical narratives and an architectural language. The project questions non-temporal approaches to regeneration and static readings of sites. It contributes a sitespecific and time-based take on the evolution of collage and assemblage as cross-disciplinary techniques of research and design across urban studies. Peckham is an area of South East London that was originally established as an 18th-century village, a community of tradespeople and craft workers who supplemented their existence through small-scale arable allotments. The area underwent rapid redevelopment during the 19th century, and while it still remained an artisan community, there were now pockets of comparative affluence on the southern boundaries. Within this area

emerged early Victorian bourgeois housing and later isolated examples of neo-modernist commercial buildings. The impact of the First and Second World Wars arrested any burgeoning prosperity and the area fell into what many would consider irredeemable decline. The socioeconomic history of the urban community left behind material traces that are a testimony to human activity and endeavour. The site was interpreted as a kind of blackboard where messages are written and erased, and leave evidence that conjure memories of the people who have been there, including activists and the dissolute. The site offered an opportunity to use this information to construct a memory of the city through these traces of human activity. The legacy of these visual references was abstracted in order to create a framework of architectural context that referred to a visual contemporary reality. The process was empirical, producing dynamic and often unexpected results. The 2012 project revisited the site 25 years later to examine whether the original observations had contemporary legitimacy.


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Urban Collage

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4 Burnt metal wall surface as an architectural fac¸ade substitute, 1986


Methods 11

Methods

The project followed a variety of research methodologies: 1. Examining critically the original project and site interpretation, undertaken 25 years ago, to develop techniques for reading the contemporary site. 2. Making a new photographic survey of the area and collecting discarded materials that are traces of today’s human activity. 3. Transforming photographic records into a series of exploratory tools to help determine new design outcomes. 4. Iterative processes of collage, assemblage, time-related translations and diagramming to generate new urban and design information. Detailed observation of site, from 1986 to 2012 Throughout this research and design process, the project sought to develop an alternative form of visual and cultural referencing. The references observed the nature of urban surface with its intrinsic historic narrative, and recorded how time and human activity affected its material composition. Navigating an area half a mile in circumference, a site was defined where a photographic survey would be undertaken. [fig. 3] Initially the subjects of the images were intuitively selected, but during the process a thematic thread emerged. The photographic survey focused on showing

the effect of time and physical action on the surface of the city. Some images show the effect of weather while others show how the surface was used as a vehicle of expression and communication. As an area of economic neglect it was, in many ways, a perfect destination to show the unrepaired ravages of time. Within this area there was originally a small piece of land that encapsulated the local character, the site of an abandoned Victorian school which had served its purpose and had been empty for over 50 years. Corrugated sheet that used to protect the site had also become the victim of time. The surface was both rusted and burnt, displaying a potent burst of colour yet also revealing a more ominous tale of accident and decomposition. Other building elements had been gradually eroded, and all these crumbling forms were now defined by nature. A rectangle indicated a door opening, and nearby the frame lay discarded. There were sweeping gestures of wall-writing, some dynamic, others uncomfortably geometric. There were also torn layers of printed papers pasted over one another, creating a collage of indiscriminately broken words that both demonstrated opportunism and circumstance. The metamorphosis was not entirely negative: there was a visual appeal in the patina as well as in the objects of deformation. Here was evidence that time created new colours, new textures and new geometries. There was


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Urban Collage

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5 & 6 Site location, 2012


Methods 13

also a philosophical appeal that within the idea of cyclical change there is the possibility of reinterpretation or transformation. In 2012 many of the walls still bore marks: whether statements or damage, much was indecipherable but these graphic marks were nonetheless evidence of a rolling tide of social events. The surface collages were evocative in that they developed opportunistically through a number of anarchic acts of writing to register a form of communication that failed to survive in conventional heritage approaches. These images displayed a different lexicon: unfettered by classic composition, the marks were gymnastic arcs. The street writing was direct, immediate, sinuous and aggressive. Other traces on handbills and posters were passive reminders of events, constructed through crude typography, torn and overlaid, fractured images that needed memory to reconstruct.

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Photographic survey Photographs of contemporary writing and imagery on the surfaces of walls were juxtaposed against close-up shots of material texture that displayed the effect of time. The full survey included: —  urban graphics; —  commercial posters; —  amateur fly-posters; —  surface material, timber, concrete, corrugated steel, cast iron; and —  surface damage and evidence of human activity. The new design intervention would not only occupy the same site as the fragments, but also borrow from them in both an aesthetic and material sense, incorporating actual pieces of material found on-site. The ambition was to create a form of spatial enclosure that had at least a symbiotic, if not a parasitic, relationship with the derelict structure. By incorporating non-standard urban references the challenge was to create a lexicon that could deviate from the familiar. The 1986 visual technique and criteria were reapplied in 2012 in order to make as close a comparison as possible. The process involved carefully photographing a selection of surfaces, then abstracting each photograph by diluting its colour and by fragmenting the original picture plane. The exercise utilised a physical assemblage approach where material and technique were used as empirical research tools. Each new assemblage consciously used a range of materials not normally used in two-dimensional paper drawing. [fig. 4–6]


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Urban Collage

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9

8

7 Material abstraction through black and white photography, 1986

8 Sketch panels showing linguistic association with material and written traces on the site, 1986

9 Material decay and the impact of time, 1986


Methods 15

The photographic surveys were subjected to a series of transformations through drawing. The drawing methodology was structured similarly in both exercises in 1986 and 2011–12 and aimed to: —  develop an architectural language that reflects the reality of the city’s surface; —  use the process of photography as a library of urban objets trouvé and construct bas-relief drawings to reflect the evidence of human activity; —  understand the impact of time and how traces of material, the scarring of surface and building degradation become significant indicators of history. The process was used as an exploratory tool, not just a method of representation. The act of taking a pictorial image and removing all colour abstracted the images. The process was iterative and each stage involved making hierarchical decisions about content. Critical forms of visual editing were necessary at each level of the process. [fig. 7–9]

Transformational design process The black and white photographs were then re-interpreted as hand-drawn sketches introducing mimetic texture and shape that maintained some visible relationship to the original materials. The process of pencil sketching was used as a developmental tool to extract as much formal and textual potential as possible. The synoptic language was producing an abstracted geometry that could be combined with surfaces of infinite variability. [fig. 10] The initial challenge was how to interpret this information and use it to create spatial propositions. The information was drawn as a series of flat planes together with frames enabling them to be interconnected. The combination of panels followed the sequential evidence found geographically, acknowledging both location and time. This process also included a more direct referencing system that incorporated many ‘as found’ objects from the site.


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Urban Collage


Methods 17

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10 Combining black and white photography and drawing, 1986


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An analysis of the site suggested that, if any boundary could be drawn, it would have to have a close structural relationship with the original frame of the school. The process was now being developed to utilise a direct form of referencing into a unitised panel system and this in turn formed the enclosure. Any direct association with function would compromise the concept; at this point it was still seen as a simple process of translation. The pursuit of the idea continued: (a) first as a systematic recording of surface onto each panel of the screen where each panel recorded script, commercial typography and materiality; (b) second by ingraining the images with material found on-site. It was important that there was some form of material evidence that could be clearly read. There were, of course, issues of scale and these were adapted wherever possible. Sand, burnt wood, metal, newsprint and discarded objects were incorporated in the mode of Dadaist assemblages. [fig. 11–15] The school no longer exists and the area has been somewhat gentrified. Residual traces exist in hidden corners but the overwhelming nature of surfaces covered with opportunistic graphics has been replaced with a more orderly and restrained display. Groups that need

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Urban Collage

‘guerrilla tactics’ to communicate choose their locations carefully but their messages are still there if you look for them carefully. Contemporary architectural drawings have often been referred to as displaying a ‘crisis of reduction’ where the tyranny of the line is used as a ubiquitous form of communication. Instead, this project deliberately uses objects and techniques that are able to develop rich layers of information and suggestion. Site-specific research was conducted in order to: —  establish the validity of the fundamental concepts and examine whether time would demand an adjustment of intellectual position; —  determine how the process of time impacted on the site, materials and the evidence of occupation and human activity; —  ask how historic and contemporary site evidence can be re-interpreted; —  translate what was illustrated on-site into a visual metaphor and spatial proposition; —  translate the evidence of the social context and examine how expressions of values had adjusted accordingly. [fig. 16–23]

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Methods 19

13

14

11 & 12 The site, 2012 13 Interpretation of interior, 1986 14 Contemporary messages, 2012


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Urban Collage

15a

15b


Methods 21

15c

15d

15 Plans of enclosure built around the site at Peckham, 1986.


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16–19 Material references, 2012

Urban Collage

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18


Methods 23

19

20

20 Contemporary gloss, 2012.


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21

Urban Collage

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Methods 25

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21–23 Contemporary identity and materiality, 2012


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The process of empirical analysis and translation of the passage of time became a credible exploratory tool and one that could echo some of the readings of the past. The site now displays a variety of synthetic surfaces, a product of economic improvement that provides a veneer of respectability. One question was how to incorporate the ‘ghosts’ of the project (the abstracted photographic survey) into a contemporary drawing, in a manner that allowed an organic and new expression of ideas that could not have emerged through a pre-meditated process. [fig. 24–28] Diagramming, drawing, model-making (analogue and digital) The final drawings show the interior space in the form of a bas-relief; the panel pieces are now constructed with laser print technology with greater precision. There is an interesting symmetry: by using this technology the line ‘as memory’ is created through a non-material process. Contemporary digital technology liberates the draughtsperson from the omnipresence of the line and the ‘crisis of reduction’, but also introduces the limitations of generic grammar that can be exacerbated if drawn by secondary mediators. The digital process demands instruction that is precise and only by using the cut forms, like a scrambled jigsaw, can the process of exploration can be maintained.

Urban Collage

Following the architectural language established in the original project, the new screens produced in 2012 became more articulated to carry the graphic images that were evident 25 years later. There are suggested armatures that support the screens. Its lighting systems constructed from wire and metal situated above and behind the image plane augment the illusion of three-dimensionality. An interstitial light source deliberately dramatises these armatures, where the extended shadows suggest a spatial temporality that might exist only in a moment in time. One of the primary intentions is to experiment with representations of memory and imagination: the construction deliberately uses light and shadow to suggest the ephemeral quality of thought and perception. The project is ongoing. The area and the site will be revisited and a different proposal will be made. This will notionally refer to the phases of 1986 and 2012, but will need to be developed further to evolve the architectural language in a manner that echoes the evolution of the physical site. [fig. 1, 29–31]


Methods 27

24

24 The memory of level 1, 2012


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Urban Collage


Methods 29

25

25 The framework for suggestion, 2012


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Urban Collage

26

26 The memory of level 2, 2012


Methods 31

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27 The memory of level 3, 2012


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Urban Collage


Methods 33

28

28 Total assembly, 2012


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Urban Collage

29


Methods 35

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29 Screens, fragment of the interior, 2012

30 Re-interpreted plan, 2012


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Urban Collage

Dissemination

Urban Collage was exhibited in Drawing by Drawing, a major show of architectural drawings at the Danish Architecture Centre, Copenhagen (13 January – 18 March 2012). Co-exhibitors included Wiel Arets, Neil Denari, Diller Scofidio + Renfro, Zaha Hadid, John Hejduk, Steven Holl, Henning Larsen, Thom Mayne, Micheal Sorkin, Michael Webb and Lebbeus Woods. Hawley’s work was published in the exhibition catalogue, Dirty Dedicated Daring Delicate Drawings, which included introductions by Kent Martinussen and Annette Brunsvig Sørensen, and essays by Sue Fergusson Gussow, Alberto Pérez-Gómez, Carsten Thau, Henrik Oxvig and Juhani Pallasmaa. The exhibition was widely discussed in the architectural and popular press in Denmark, including in Berlingske, Ark Byg Amager Bladet, Politiken, Arkitekten, RUM, Ingeniøren and AOK: Alt Om København. Urban Collage was also the subject of two lectures, at the Aarhus School of Architecture (2012) and Sheffield University (2012).

31 (previous page) Re-interpreted view of interior, 2012


Appendix 39

Related publications by the researcher pp. 41–45 Christine Hawley, ‘Urban Collage’. Dirty Dedicated Daring Delicate Drawings (ed. Annette Sørensen). Copenhagen: Danish Architecture Centre, 2012. 10–11, 15–16.

Related writings by others Print reviews p. 48 Karine Kirkebæk, ‘100 forskellige streger [100 different strokes]’, Berlingske (12 Jan 2012). p. 49 Peter Kargaard, ‘Arkitekttegninger i opbrud [Architectural plans in flux]’, Ark Byg (13 Jan 2012): 4. p. 50 Hanne Bjørton, ‘Blyanten må vige for digital tegning [Pencil may give way to digital drawing]’, Amager Bladet (17 Jan 2012): 65. p. 51 Karsten R.S. Ifversen, ‘Arkitekters drømme på papiret’ [Architects dream on paper], Politiken (19 Jan 2012): 6. p. 52 Christian Bundegaard, ‘Workshoppens metode: Tegningens mystic [Workshop method: Drawing mystery]’, Arkitekten (Mar 2012): 24.

Online reviews pp. 53–55 Stine Daugaard, ‘Arkitekturens grundsubstans - set på nye måder [Architecture’s basic substance, seen in new ways]’, Ingeniøren (3 Feb 2012): http://ing.dk/artikel/arkitekturensgrundsubstans-set-pa-nye-mader-126355 pp. 56–57 ‘DAC sætter fokus på arkitektens tegninger [DAC focuses on architect’s drawings]’, RUM (9 Jan 2012): www.rumid.dk/nyheder/dac-satter-fokus-pa-arkitektens-tegninger pp. 58–59 Torben Weirup, ‘Arkitektens trøst [Architect’s comfort]’, AOK: Alt Om København (22 Feb 2012): www.aok.dk/udstilling/arkitektens-troest


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Bartlett Design Research Folios Founding editor: Yeoryia Manolopoulou Editors: Yeoryia Manolopoulou, Peg Rawes, Luis Rego Content: Š the authors Graphic design: objectif Typesetting: Axel Feldmann, Siaron Hughes, Alan Hayward Proofreading: Wendy Toole

Urban Collage


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