WATCHET SUR LA MER
The future of architecture?
09.07.2022 - 31.07.2022
noun [ C, + sing1/pl verb ]
Dictionary definition: The people living in one particular area or people who are considered as a unit because of their common interests, social group, or nationality [Cambridge Dictionary, 2022].
My definition: What makes a community? Certainly not just the fact that a group of people step in the same plot of land. A community is defined through the everyday collaboration of the people towards a common cause, in the old days this was survivability, now; wellbeing. Thanks to the means of communication and transportation, communities are not restrained any more by a plot of land, but from the ambitions and the ideas that people have.
My aim is to create a community that will use the cultivation and harvesting of the sea vegetable as a connecting point creating opportunities for people to expand to alI the different specialisations that can occur from or around this new industry helping each other to create a sustainable way of living and coexisting in the coastal area.
Filippos Perrakis Kollias, final year Masters of Architecture student in Zone 5 at the School of Architecture at Oxford Brookes University
This exhibition featured the work of six architecture students from the Masters of Architecture (RIBA Part II) course at Oxford Brookes University, each inspired by Watchet. The students are all part of an architecture design studio called Zone 5 which has been run within the Oxford Brookes School of Architecture since 2014, previously at the Architectural Association in London. It is led by Toby Shew, Dr Maria Faraone and Owen Hughes Pearce, who, alongside his lectureship, runs his own practice, PEARCE +. Together with George Williams of Fægen, he designed and subsequently built the interiors of the five accommodation pods and the Creator Space at East Quay; the latter in collaboration with students from two local middle schools.
Most architecture courses are taught using a design studio structure, which seeks to create an architectural office within the university environment. Within each studio, a group of 15 or so students work together over one or two years, directed by two or three design tutors, who might have academic or professional backgrounds or both – usually reflecting the interests of the tutors. Largely, this studio structure has remained the same for decades. Zone 5 attempts to challenge the premise of the design studio and seeks to provide an alternative – an experimental learning environment which is student-led rather than tutor-defined. (The zone rejects the term tutor and prefers the term caretakers, offering support and a safety net to students rather than prescription.) Instead, it focuses on autonomy, exploration and collaboration. As part of the studio, annually, students take part in a study visit or field trip to a real-world place in which to consider architectural intervention. Zone 5 usually visits off-season Ibiza, but this time, due to the impact of the pandemic on travel, came to Watchet, where Owen had been working at East Quay.
The works on display were influenced by that trip and the students who chose to use Watchet as the jumping off point for their own exploration – they responded to the context, people, community and industries of the town. The projects are imaginary, occasionally absurd, even polemical, but powerful in their questioning and visioning of an architectural future and the importance of the people impacted by it (sometimes across long periods of time).
The works presented included a seaweed farming community (Filippos Perrakis Kollias) located off the northern end of the quayside, with farmers living in floating pods that rise and fall with the tides. Alongside this is a depository for life (Elena Jaramazovic) located above West Street Beach, in which a golden record of humanity is embedded into the unstable cliff-face, mining and showcasing fossils, though it will eventually succumb to coastal erosion, itself becoming a thing of the past. Another (Eloise Collier) explored the contemporary obsession with personal image, exploitation-tourism and trend-based culture in an uncomfortable transformation of Watchet into a luxury resort, made possible by a new tidal barrage and some powerful technological trickery, serviced by Watchet’s community. Where this exploration dollops influencers into a peripheral location, another (Emily Rose Garnett) inserts Watchet’s community strength into an urban one – exploring a circular approach to housing, design, waste and interconnectedness in Canning Town, Newham, but relevant to design frameworks anywhere. Two final projects see robots collecting sea plastic in the Bristol Channel (Zeina El Masri), brought ashore and processed in Watchet, and a jellyfish-inspired illuminated gathering space and aquatic observatory (Adela Gagiu).
If the dominant technology is changing, so is society, so will architecture.
Surely in a university, a part of your job is to speculate on the possible consequences on the architecture of new technology?
You might remember that reality is something we all make together; if we don’t like it, maybe we should work together to change it?
David Greene, Archigram, honorary Zone 5 caretaker