Throughout my second year at the University of Sheffield I questioned the extent to which an architect should design a space by exploring how much a client should be involved in the process and how flexible the resulting space should be to accommodate for future unpredicted uses. By tackling larger scale projects on challenging sites I was able to explore the relationship between buildings and their urban and social context. Through self-tailored briefs I managed to delve into issues of personal interest such as flexibility, appropriation of space and user involvement.
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P1: Cycle hub
For the first project I worked together with Anakin Poon for four weeks. We were tasked with designing a cycle hub, a temporary structure that sits in a landscape. From the given area we chose an isolated site, away from the main walkway and on top of a hill. By perching our building on the side of that hill, it became visible from the walkway, yet only accessible to those curious enough to climb to it. Thus, the approach to our building became a focus of the design, the building welcoming its two types of visitors, pedestrians and cyclists, in separate ways. People walking are welcomed in the middle of the structure, between the cafe and bicycle racks after climbing a staircases that hovers just above the landscape. Cyclists can ride their bikes along the u-turning walkway and reach the structure near the bike storage facility and pass the sinks and locker area to get to the cafe.
Upon arrival the visitor is rewarded with panoramic views of Sheffield as well as the discovery of a hidden and abandoned railway located on the other side of the hill. Upon descending towards the railway we found one of Phlegm’s graffiti on a disused water tower. Inspired by how the artist claimed the abandoned concrete structure and created an art piece we considered how the users of our cycle hub might also claim the railway for themselves and use it as a cycling route. Thus, besides being a physical threshold, the hill becomes a separator between the controlled urban space on its western side, and the unclaimed disused infrastructure and nature on its east.
The buildings have a wooden structure and are raised above the ground on slits. They are connected by a wooden deck as well as a transparent roof. The structure can be easily disassembled but it has two permanent concrete walls to be used for urban art. Therefore, after the planned 10 years, when the buildings are removed, the wooden deck and concrete walls could stay in place and act as a viewing platform and meeting place for artists.
The second project was individual and lasted for 6 weeks. The task was designing a medium sized public building in Manchester and I was given a library and a site in Ancoats, a quiet residential neighbourhood next to the lively Northern Quarter and close to the centre of the city. By analysing the libraries next to the site it became apparent that many are either dedicated to niche subjects or only allow a certain part of residents to become members. Even if there are some community libraries close by, they lack in facilities and have short opening times. these circumstances make the libraries in the area to be less open to the public than bookshops in the surroundings which enact a highly positive response from the users.
Because of this I chose to design a “reading library” for book lovers, rather than a library for studying. By being similar in character to a bookshop it allows its users to interact more intimately with books by encouraging search and discovery rather than just finding texts through a computer interface. As reading is a very personal experience the design focused on providing spaces where the action can be experienced differently: close to a window, in the dark next to a lamp, next to people, secluded. Besides providing for readers the library also accommodates writers which can live for a short time in the premises. Like this Ancoats could also be linked in with the arts community of Northern Quarter but through an activity that’s better suited for a quiet area.
The third project lasted during the whole spring semester and our task was to design a housing development in Burngreave, a young, culturally diverse, but deprived neighbourhood close to the city centre of Sheffield. Therefore, I proposed a scheme of small affordable houses which in time could be enlarged by the residents to accommodate for a growing family. The scheme has an infrastructure for roof expansion from the start and a large lift so that materials can be transported there. It also provides the means and know-how for construction through having a woodworking workshop with live-in professionals. The workshop will be the first building erected on site so that residents can get involved in the construction and furnishing of their own houses before their completion.
The site lies in the residential part of the area, close to a park and right next to two medium sized public buildings: a hindu mandir and a children’s centre. Across the roads from the site there are different types of small scale housing developments. By looking at the history of the site and seeing how it formed an integrated whole with the two adjacent buildings I decided that my building should respond in scale to them and kept some of the site’s historical features. Another deciding factor for the massing of the scheme was getting the most sunlight into all of the houses and being careful that the constructions don’t overshadow each other. The arrangement of the residences forms a “shared street” in its middle, space from where the houses, shops and workshop are all accessed. This will be the heart of the community, an active, overlooked space where adults can interact and children can play safely.