Interior Architecture Studio2 Celebration Week 2011

It’s a Dog’s Life

The UK is limping out of recession, the buzzword is austerity and the population is living with a drop in disposal income. Against this backdrop “collaborative consumption”
is on the rise.Swapping, bartering and lending are being reinvented for the digital age
and the way we consume is changing in the process. StreetCar, for example, allows millions of Londoners to have convenient access to a car without incurring the usual ownership costs, including road tax, insurance and overnight parking.

As part of ‘It’s a Dog’s Life’, the title of this year’s design brief, Studio 2 has been exploring the rise of collaborative consumption on the Isle of Dogs.The area of east London is home to rich and poor alike. Underprivileged local residents mix with a swathe of white-collar commuters, who rush into the towers of Canary Wharf each and every weekday morning. Towards the end of last year we examined how these low-living local inhabitants and high-flying commuters co-exist on the Isle of Dogs. Building on this exploratory
research and a trip to Venice, we are now in the process of creating a design that will demonstrate how their lives could be enriched by collaborative consumption.

My Beautiful Launderette

Studio 2’s first design brief was to create a 24-hour launderette on the Isle of Dogs. The site selected for the brief was an existing launderette on the Robin Hood Gardens estate in Poplar. Launderettes are a traditional form of collaborative consumption. It is where cash-poor local residents and time-poor workers already come together to wash and dry-clean their clothes.

Split into groups, Studio 2 was required to examine the launderette’s current function, intensify its use and increase its appeal to 21st century collaborative consumers.For the final proposal each group presented the ‘story’ of how their launderette would be occupied by the local population over a 24 hour period. As students Marrianne Louca, Maria Nygren and Su Mon Aye explain,

“We found a resident, one of the many Bangladeshis who live in the area, who
aims to have his own restaurant but can’t afford it. He lives with his young family
in a two-floor flat so we thought a good option for him would be to have his own
guerrilla restaurant on one floor as well as a launderette. This meant that people
from the city and local residents could enjoy an innovative way of dining whilst
doing their laundry.”

The strong Bangladeshi community on the estate proved to be a popular
influence for many of the other launderette designs. Monique Codrington, Anita Seidel and Alvin Bendu complimented the existing launderette’s specialist sari handwashing
service with sari making classes and fashion shows. The ‘Kabbadi Launderette’, designed by Maria Clarke, Hara Anastasiou and Yip Long Ching, introduces the Bangladeshi national sport of kabbadi to the numerous white-collar boxing enthusiasts in Canary Wharf.

Venice of the East (of London)

Leaving London, laundry and the Robin Hood Gardens behind us, Studio 2 headed to Venice, Italy, for the annual field trip. Our visit coincided with the architecture biennale. But we were also asked to consider the work of the German philosopher Wolfgang Scheppe, who uses Venice to explain his vision of the globalised city.Combining Scheppe’s research with our own specific site visits around Venice, we were able to draw a number of parallels between the situation in the Isle of Dogs and Venice. In the latter’s case, it is suffocation by tourism, the influx of an immigrant population and rising house prices which are forcing residents out of the city.

Research Collaboration

Back in London, Studio 2 embarked on its own version of academic collaboration.
Instead of simply observing the collaboration of others, each member of Studio 2 was required to conduct one part of the Isle of Dogs site analysis as well as investigate an existing example of collaborative consumption, such as ‘Zopa’, ‘SwapIt Baby’ and ‘Bartercard’. In each case, the findings were presented and circulated to the rest of the studio. That way every student could benefit from the collective knowledge and the studio was able to cover more research ground, in more detail and in a shorter amount
of time.

Comprehensive Design Project

From this collective pool of knowledge, each student was then asked to develop their own unique brief for the final comprehensive design project. Whilst these projects are still ongoing, obtaining the right work-life balance is proving to be a popular theme for collaborative consumption on the Isle of Dogs. In particular, the struggle of balancing a career with motherhood is demonstrating the opposing issues that separate the female residents of Robin Hood Gardens from the female workers of Canary Wharf; an
opposing issue which a number of Studio 2 students are using to bring these two constituents together. Hara Anastasiou’s ‘George Green’s School mix and match‘, located on Manchester Road, provides offices for groups of mothers to set up their own businesses alongside a kindergarten for their children. She says, “Lots of mothers with young
children are not in employment. The main issue on my project is to combine a place where mothers can look after their children and work at the same time.”

On the flip side, Maria Nygren has created ‘The Academic Playhouse’, a centre where career driven women can experience temporary motherhood. As Nygren explains,
“The statistics show that in the UK nearly half (49%) of women earning more than £100k p.a. are childless by the age of 40”. The playhouse teaches these career driven Canary Wharf women about motherhood whilst providing a positive role model for the children and giving existing mothers the opportunity to find employment. Monika Cinkowska’s Happy Mother Centre is in a similar vein, although her design also draws on the history of the site. Located in St. Matthias old church building, in between Canary Wharf and Robin Hood Gardens, the site used to be a former hospital for the sailors and seamen working at
the lively docks. The docks have long since closed down. But inside the old church, the inner columns are created out of the wood from seventeenth century ships’ masts, which Cinkowska says “makes elements of ships architecture a crucial part of the design”.

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It’s a Dog’s Life [London Met 10-11]

So here is what our students at London Met will mostly be doing over the next nine months.

The Isle of Dogs

Our primary site of investigation is The Isle of Dogs. The former island in the East End of London is part of the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, one of the poorest localities in the country. But it is also home to the Canary Wharf financial district, one of the most recognisable physical features in the UK and a totem of wealth and prosperity.

Global Integration

New waves of young, white-collar professionals are drawn to work and reside in Canary Wharf and its surrounding areas from across the world. Interaction with the local environment is negated by the fluency and ease with which these online communicators talk to each other via the latest media and digital technologies. Just like their surroundings, these professional interlopers share more in common with their counterparts in other world cities like New York or Hong Kong than their indigenous neighbours.

Local Disintegration

The Isle of Dogs is also a microcosm of London’s unique urban patchwork of want and wealth. At the same time as Canary Wharf gives the area one of the highest average incomes in the UK, nearby Blackwall is one of the poorest wards in England and home to beneficiaries of The Evening Standard’s ‘Dispossessed’ fund, a recent charitable fundraising initiative to raise money and awareness of the people cut off from a standard of living most Londoners take for granted.

Collaborative Consumption aka ZipCar Capitalism aka Consumption 2.0[i]

But in spite of many notable differences the recession may have brought these two disparate groups closer together. Whilst underprivileged households are used to being resourceful when it comes to saving money, the recent credit crisis-driven encumbrance to the lifestyles of the tech-savvy professional populations has seen them open up to similarly efficient forms of consumer spending.

If the 20th century was a time defined by hyper-consumption, where success was based on how many material items a person owned, then the new century is seeing the rise of collaborative consumption: a rapid explosion in traditional sharing, bartering, lending, trading, renting, gifting, and swapping redefined through technology and peer communities.[ii]

Comprehensive Design Project

The Isle of Dogs is currently undergoing massive physical, social and economic change.

In the light of the changing forces alluded to above, does the island’s transformation offer strategic and creative potential for sharing and increasingly collaborative lifestyles or is the islanders’ coexistence, their daily lives and sense of worth determined by their extreme mutual differences?

Using the island as a test bed, Studio 2 will aim to explore, explain and design for a society that is simultaneously integrating and disintegrating, cooperating and segregating.

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Designer seeds for next year’s harvest… [NEWS]

The new term at London Met requires a new design brief for studio 2 (formally studio 10) as well as a new site: the Isle of Dogs.

Watch this space for further details about this year’s course, including the location of the studio trip, but for now – as we prepare to stand in front of the class to welcome our new students – our thoughts turn to how we passed the summer.

In that sense, aberrant can empathise with many our students: we also had to hop aboard the moving-in and moving-out merry-go-round that habitually bookends the beginning and end of the lazy season in the Capital.

Okay, the aberrant relocation was more professional than personal. And it is true that switching our studio from the austerity of the V&A to the new Ravensbourne building next to The 02 arena has seen us reap ample recompense for the distress of moving day. The design college’s incubator scheme, for example, will be collecting the off-cuts of aberrant architecture’s creativity as a hedge in case we ever get Norman Foster famous.

But we strongly refute any suggestion that the convenience of the Jubilee Line or the proximity of the Isle of Dogs to our lovely new home in North Greenwich (designed by Foreign Office Architects) played any part in the choice of site for Studio 2.

As proof of the type of lengths we will go to for the cause, the aberrant summer holiday this year was to a reclaimed bunker in Ebbw Vale, where we went to install an exhibition at the National Eisteddfod of Wales.

The aberrant installation was a translation of a quote from our book ‘Love Stories of Recession’, which we cut into several identical plywood panels (making full use of the facilities at Ravensbourne) and layered over multicoloured backing.

Over 150,000 people visit the Welsh-language event each year, which might explain the spike in website sales of the über exclusive Love Stories of Recession – available in only one good bookshop. Who needs Richard and Judy?

We only hope that our new Eisteddfod readership doesn’t use too many double effs in their feedback reviews when they take delivery of a book entirely in English!

August also saw us return to the V&A to run a summer school for the Steven Lawrence Trust. The two-day event challenged our young participants to digitally mash up their favourite buildings featured in the museum’s 1:1 architecture exhibition.

Although no buildings were hurt during the digital making of the final models, the kids took up the challenge with the type of youthful enthusiasm that we look to inspire in our more discerning London Met students each year we unveil the new design brief. Let’s see what we get this time…

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Welcome to the new aberrant blog. More coming soon.

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