This week FCB Studios celebrated London’s Festival of Architecture. With a series of “pecha cucha” presentations celebrating the idea that Anything Could Happen, and an open studio mad hatters’ tea party, there was much fun to be had.
We were celebrating The Playful City through a series of cardboard models, and our studio celebrated The Fallen Fragment. The resonance with our day to day work was simple: within Studio 8’s Creative Reuse Team there is always that first encounter between us and an existing building with which we have been asked to work. With little prior knowledge, or having never visited the site before, it is an exciting time. Speculations about potential pasts and futures can momentarily run wild. For a split second, a building could have been, and could be again, absolutely anything.
This is a theme of much work in the Picturesque style, where ruined buildings nestle in amongst wild landscapes. But it is an idea without scale. As Piranesi imagines in his etchings, collected fragments could describe an entire city, or in John Soane’s House, entire cities can inhabit a shelf.
For us, the found, inspiring object was one of the fan vaults within Bath Abbey. Modelled at half size in cardboard it is a large piece, but smaller than the real thing, so the scale is at once big, small, and ambiguous. We deliberately chose not to follow the strict detail of the original- only the length, curvature, number, and locations of the gothic ribs. Without decoration, and with masonry translated into cardboard (crazy, but stay with me!), the result is so strangely mathematical that the piece is equally difficult to place in time. Is it a gothic fan vault or a parametric equation? We projected clouds passing over the piece, impressing a lightness across a building element weighing well into the tonnes.
After a process of testing key elements, making the piece was more akin to timber construction: A series of mortises, tenons, pegs and dovetails hold all in place (very old school!). Chess pieces in the place of joiners marks reminded us how to put the fragment together(!), and made reference to Alice Through the Looking Glass as part of our inspiration.
For us, historic architecture is a history of delight in building- so there was no way that historic architecture could be precluded from play this weekend!