Student Project | A Defensive Architecture

“Time has fallen asleep in the afternoon sunshine”. -Ray Bradbury

The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) is one of the oldest and most influential architectural institution in the world and has been awarding the President’s Medals for Students Projects since the 1850s and the awards were established in their current format in 1984. 2009 Winners was announced yesterday and we found out this interesting project that was the Medal Winner 2009 – SOM Winner -.

The project designed by Nicholas Szczepaniak from the University of Westminster, is a dystopia that intends to catch up attention over the consecuences of climate change. With a futuristic vision of a society that will live in miserable conditions if we don’t take more drastic steps to deal with climate change, Szczepaniak exposes unexpected readings of the built environment in the future.

At the student statement we can read:

The principle role of the towers is to act as an environmental warning device. The architecture is alive, dramatizing shifts in environmental conditions; breathing, creaking, groaning, sweating and crying when stressed. Air-bags on the face of the towers expand and contract, while hundreds of tensile trunks are sporadically activated, casting water on to the heated facades to produce steam. An empty watchtower at the top of each tower gives them the impression that the fragile landscape below is constantly being surveyed.

Set in the Blackwater Estuary, that is the estuary of the Essex River Blackwater in south-east England, he imagines a set of austere and stark coastal defence towers that have multiple functions. It is a good location to set a project like this, as almost 4.4 km² of the Blackwater Estuary is a designated as Special Protection Area for wildlife. In the proposal, not only do the towers act as an environmental protection device that serves as a warning to mankind of the dangers that lies ahead, but they are also repositories of knowledge, housing a major collection of books, much like the British Library.


Location: the Blackwater Estuary.

The tutors Susanne Isa, Sasha Leong and Markus Seifermann says about Nick’s work: “These ‘arks’ are exquisitely explored in great detail through drawings and experimental models. The scheme is handled in a sensitive and thoughtful manner throughout.”

Somehow, it remind us the work of Aristide Antonas, not only in his utopic [or even dystopic] way of thinking, but also in the graphic design used to share his ideas. We have the feeling that the project also shares Ray Bradbury’s thoughts reflected in the character of Guy Montag from the novel Farenheit 451. Montag lives in a society that burns all the books to suppress dissenting ideas and free thinking; as a reaction to that, he has hidden dozens of books in the ventilation shafts of his own house, and tries to memorize them to preserve their contents. In the same sense, the towers designed by Szczepaniak, internally serve as a vast repository for mankinds most valuable asset; knowledge. As Szczepaniak states: The architecture is a knowledge ark, which protects books from culminative and catastrophic deterioration.

The work is deliberately allegorical and provocative and is released in the book “Digital Architecture: Passages Through Hinterlands“.

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