Studio 17 Hyper\Local
For the academic year 2017/2018 Duncan and Ian will be running Studio 17 within The University of Brighton’s Architecture department.
“The urban population in 2014 accounted for 54% of the total global population, up from 34% in 1960, and continues to grow. The urban population growth, in absolute numbers, is concentrated in the less developed regions of the world. It is estimated that by 2017, even in less developed countries, a majority of people will be living in urban areas”. World Health Organisation
Reggio Emilia as envisaged by a four year old citizen
Duncan Baker-Brown and Ian McKay, the two founding directors of architecture practice BBM Sustainable Design, run studio 17. They have focused on sustainable development since they studied architecture together in the early 1990’s, and since 1994 they have practiced as BBM working on many projects large and small, testing ideas around sustainable development. This includes schemes as varied as The Greenwich Millennium Village and the Brighton Waste House. Recent projects have combined teaching, research, and practice. In 2017 Duncan published his first book, The Re-Use Atlas: a designer’s guide towards a circular economy’. Studio 17 is their latest vehicle for testing the ideals of sustainable design by applying the practice of architecture.
Studio 17 will consider projects based in the urban core of the city of Brighton & Hove. Brighton & Hove is interesting for a number of reasons, not least because it has rather unusual physical constraints. It can’t sprawl outwards because it is bound by the South Downs National Park to the North, the sea to the South and suburban development to the East & West. However it is a very popular city attracting over 8,500,000 visitors a year. It has a population of 275,000, including about 33,000 students, but it also has one of the highest levels of homelessness of any city in the UK (144 people, rising from 78 in the last year). In addition to this the city has around 15,000 affordable homes. However it also has a waiting list of over 15,000 families waiting to get a home.
Brighton & Hove is also unusual from the point of view of its politics. The City has the UK’s only Green Party MP (Dr. Caroline Lucas), with its other MP being from The Labour Party. When viewed within the context of its immediate surroundings Brighton & Hove is an island, surrounded by Conservative MP’s. It is also famous for having a thriving artistic and Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender (LGBT) community.
Studio 17 will make the most of Duncan & Ian’s contacts within the City to provide interesting clients and briefs that will be applied to specific situations in an area of Brighton’s urban core that is in need of positive adjustment. The studio will draw upon our recent research interests, i.e. the concept of ‘circular cities’ and the ‘circular economy’, where buildings are ‘material stores’ for the future. We will be identifying opportunities for turning linear metabolisms, where things are manufactured, used, and then thrown away, into ‘closed loop’ systems. However we won’t simply work with stuff, we are interested in the human potentials on site; existing communities, networks and activities, whether they are successful or not, with a view to improving their physical environment and access to facilities, as well as for joining up systems that can benefit each other. The idea of carefully working/ re-working the existing fabric of our cities, while crucially, valuing the lives and livelihood of its citizens has been identified by BBM’s resent research as ‘mining the Anthropocene’. Studio 17’s main objective this year is to make the City of Brighton & Hove more accessible to a greater percentage of its citizens by creating physical architectonic links where barriers currently exist.
The New World Anthroposphere: Cities, roads, railways, transmissions lines and underwater cables. Image: courtesy of Globaia.org
Studio 17 takes the position that cities are the most likely constructed environment that will enable humans to live in harmony with the natural world. However this creates a massive design challenge. How to get cities working as sustainable, circular, systems (and crucially how to make them delightful places to be) when most citizens are currently disenfranchised? Cities tend to be designed for affluent tourists and large corporations. Sustainable and democratic ideals often don’t get much of a look in.
The concept of a sustainable, circular city is often described in terms of the management of resources and the flows of stuff (materials, thinking, networks etc): the turning of linear systems into closed loop, circular metabolisms. Studio 17 takes a different, perhaps more holistic approach. We will also consider the complexities and potentials of existing cultural and societal networks, and related activities. In other words we are interested in (and value) the citizens and communities pre-existing within our cities, as well as the physical environments and virtual networks that support them.
We feel that there are amazing facilities in our cities, but that they are often separated from their citizens and the public realm (our streets, squares, parks etc).by layers of security and bureaucracy, and crucially, by the need to pay money for access. It is the ambition of Studio 17 to find architectural solutions to the challenge of making new and existing amenities available to the citizens of Brighton & Hove. With this in mind we will be working with briefs situated in the urban centre of Brighton, developed by a number of clients based in Brighton.
Studio 17 see our cities as potentially a resource for good, but they are hugely complex and need to be carefully unpacked and analysed before they can begin to be understood. This can be a daunting task. The idea of Hyper\Local is that it allows us a way into understanding cities, by studying and therefore adding value, to existing cultural, civic, social, informal and physical ecologies at the scale of the individual. This is done while acknowledging the potential of individuals to relate to their local (and other) communities, as well as to the whole i.e., to the city and beyond (the Hyper). By utilising this approach we hope to find opportunities that are often over-looked and by-passed, to find values and synergies, where often wholesale demolition of buildings and communities supporting them is seen as the only solution.
Studio 17 is pre-occupied with reclaiming back Brighton’s lost ‘public realm’; the truly public facilities that help make cities nurturing and wonderful places to be in. In the early 21st century cities are often judged by the commercial success of financial investments. The result of which is very well publicised in cities such as London, where buildings that once might have housed people become vacant financial investments for faceless financial institutions. The result is that areas of affluent London are more akin to a ghost town.
The architectural profession sends out mixed messages about these developments. Richard Rogers professes to be committed to sustainable development and community-focussed design. He has a new book published on the topic ‘A place for all people: life, architecture and the fair society’. Rogers famously once declared, “Architecture is always political”. However his practice is responsible for some on the most exclusive housing in London: projects where it is argued that it is impractical for poor people to exist. This statement was famously turned against Rogers at the Stirling Prize in October 2015 where members of ASH (Architects for Social Housing) protested against his exclusive Neo Bankside housing being short-listed for the award when it argued successfully against the requirement for an element of affordable housing to be included.
This approach contrasts greatly with a period of roughly one hundred years starting in the middle of the 19th Century where the UK’s central government, together with a number of philanthropic groups and wealthy individuals, began a massive programme of constructing communal infrastructure for cities that benefitted the whole populous. From drinking fountains, washhouses and public toilets, to libraries, academic institutions, railway station and parks, the Victorians constructed stuff for everybody to use. Crucially these facilities didn’t require moderate to high incomes to access, so they were often truly democratic. We are not romanticising the Victorian era; they also built dreadful back-to-back housing, workhouses, and factories that were dangerous places to work. However since the middle of the 20th Century many of these ‘public’ facilities have either gone or been replaced by private/ corporate versions – we are thinking of shopping malls providing toilet facilities (etc.), but only to people that look like they might spend money in the complex. The public realm is a place where you don’t have to spend money in just to ‘be’.
Studio 17 will spend its inaugural year studying the public realm with a view to reclaiming the streets and the lost or broken public infrastructure for the citizens of Brighton & Hove; not just the few who can afford it. Inspired by books such as ‘We own the City’, and ‘The Wasted City’, activists such as Jane Jacobs and Architects 4 Social Housing (ASH), Studio 17 will identify potentials for architecture to provide access to existing and new resources, activities and facilities. We will unlock the potentials of existing urban places that are currently dysfunctional and wasteful by studying why successful areas of Brighton and other cities work, and why other areas don’t. We will ‘mine the city’ for its physical and cultural potentials making links where currently there are silos of isolated groups and stuff. We have two objectives; to make cities more democratic and accessible, and to make them function as efficient, effective, circular cities.