Using the landscape of the Museum as a test site, the V&A invited nineteen architects to submit proposals for structures that examine notions of refuge and retreat. From these nineteen concept submissions, seven were selected for construction at full-scale.
Each of the seven buildings invites the participation of the viewer, reawakening our ability to inhabit architectural space on both a physical and an emotional level. Exploring themes such as play, work, contemplation and performance, these projects promote an attitude to architecture where to ‘dwell’ means something more than simply to find shelter.
The event runs from June 15 until August 30 and is free of charge. There will be a host of related events and also a cool giveaway - check the official website and the curator’s blog for more information.
Following are the seven projects that were selected for construction at full-scale:
In-between Architecture - Studio Mumbai
This project examines the unauthorised architecture of Mumbai.
Precisely modelled on dwellings crammed into a narrow urban corridor behind the Studio Mumbai offices, it presents an architectural ‘cast’ of a sliver of space that is home to a family of eight.
These unauthorised settlements constitute more than half the city’s built landscape, yet they are ignored in the official surveys of the urban footprint. Though seen as parasitic, they offer intelligent design solutions in a city where space is scarce and land values are escalating. As well as shelter, they provide spaces for refuge, contemplation and worship.
The Studio Mumbai structure does not seek to replicate these dwellings in a literal manner. Instead, it proposes to distil the poetic qualities of these agile living spaces, their order, calm and dignity.
Ark - Rintala Eggertsson Architects
Nestled against a staircase that leads up to the V&A’s National Art Library - itself a site of refuge and retreat - this free-standing wooden tower re-evaluates the concept of the ‘archive’. The façades of the tower consist of hundreds of shelves, holding thousands of books. Oriented to face inwards, the book spines gather together to form a rich collage of colours and typographic textures. In contrast, the exterior façade of the structure is dominated by the minimalist white of exposed page edges.
The project investigates how small spaces can focus our energies and thoughts in moments of study, meditation and self-reflection. Accessed via a spiral staircase, the tower invites visitors to explore the structure, have a leisurely browse through the books, and select a private reading chamber in which to enjoy their selection.
Inside / Outside Tree - Sou Fujimoto
At the heart of traditional Japanese architecture is the concept of thresholds. Making reference to ‘engawa’ - a Japanese term for the platform that separates the house from the garden - the ‘Inside / Outside Tree’ explores this notion of ‘in-between-ness’.
The structure consists of polygonal sheets of acrylic bound together by cable ties. Its transparency allows us to view the ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ at the same time, while the abstract tree form resembles low-resolution computer graphics.
The interior surface of the hollow ‘tree’ is continuous with the exterior surface of the cube form that surrounds it. This allows us to stand outside the cube and inhabit the same space as the tree’s interior, and vice versa.
Another theme that can be seen in the structure is the tension that can exist in architecture between natural, organic forms and man-made, digitally fabricated interventions. Commonplace cable ties emphasise the presence of the hand-crafted and the everyday.
Spiral Booths - Vazio S/A
Consisting of inter-connected performance booths set around a spiral staircase, this structure offers a platform for experimental works ranging across theatre, dance and music. The staircase can operate as a corridor, as a site for the audience, or as a stage.
Framing devices include red curtains to mark the entrances to the booths, and steel mesh screens and acrylic windows that offer intermittent views from within the structure.
‘Vazio’ means void in Portuguese. ‘Spiral Booths’ is inspired by Brazilian ‘palafittes’ - buildings on hilly terrain that are supported by tall concrete stilts. There, the extreme dislocation between the dwelling space and the ground creates an eerily deserted subterranean cityscape. In ‘Spiral Booths’ these claustrophobic void spaces become potential sites for moments of creativity and performance.
Please see the events page for details of programmed ‘scratch’ performances taking place in ‘Spiral Booths’ during June and July.
Beetle’s House - Terunobu Fujimori
Terunobu Fujimori insists that his buildings should by-pass any architectural style that has developed since the Bronze Age. The charred pine exterior of this elevated teahouse resembles the tough, blackened shell of a beetle. It expresses an avant-garde attitude to architecture that somehow aspires to a primitive state.
The dramatic process of burning the timber panels provides a textured and tactile surface - an extreme materiality. It also preserves the wood and extends the lifetime of the building.
Fujimori sees the structure as a site for a quintessentially ‘English’ version of the traditional Japanese tea ceremony. Teahouses often act like pieces of clothing. They are compact spaces that wrap around us like extensions of our bodies. Visitors enter the structure by climbing a ladder barefoot and squeezing through a narrow hatch - a profoundly physical process that momentarily distracts us from our surroundings.
Many of Fujimori’s teahouses are designed to re-configure our views of the surrounding landscape. Similarly, ‘Beetle’s House’ offers visitors a unique perspective on this day-lit gallery.
Woodshed - Rural Studio
Rural Studio is an architectural education programme dedicated to building affordable housing for poor rural communities in Western Alabama. For 17 years, its mission has been to reinforce the pride of place and spirit that still exists in these fragile societies. As part of Auburn University, it also offers practical design and building experience for architecture students.
The ‘Woodshed’ is a noble, utilitarian structure constructed using forest ‘thinnings’ sourced from Wales. Thinning is a forest management practice in which small, constricted trees are removed to allow others to thrive. Costing as little as £2 per metric tonne, thinnings provide a plentiful, renewable, affordable - and underutilised - source of construction material.
The word ‘woodshed’ is also a verb. It is an improvisation term used in jazz music meaning to improve one’s technical ability through focus, diligence and repetition - a sentiment echoed in the modular, extendible nature of Rural Studio’s ‘Woodshed’.
Please see the events page for details of jazz improvisation sessions taking place in the ‘Woodshed’.
Ratatosk - Helen & Hard
Recalling the tradition of the British 18th-century garden folly, this climbing structure reawakens our memories of childhood play and exploration. ‘Ratatosk’ is an Old Norse word which means ‘drill-tooth’. It refers to an ancient squirrel from Norse mythology that lived in a giant ash tree standing at the centre of the cosmos.
The architects have split five ash trees lengthways and planted them face to face, thus allowing visitors to step into the ‘interior space’ of the trees. Crowning the structure is a hand-woven willow canopy which hangs over a soft play-surface of wood shavings.
The architects selected these trees from a forest in Norway and put them through a complex 3-D scanning and modelling process. Using these digital ‘maps’, they then carved precise sections from the trees using a CNC router - a milling machine commonly used in contemporary furniture manufacture.
Highlighting the contrast between the organic textures of the raw bark and the smooth, burnished quality of the interior surfaces, this project celebrates the delicate balance that can exist between craft and digital fabrication.
To see the full list of 19 concept submissions, click here.