Interiors Buildings Cities

  • Comiccity
    Sebastiano Serlio, the Comic City
  • Human-chess-match-big
    Human chess, Leningrad (1924)
  • New_20york_20met
  • Het_spel_van_sint_servaas_1916
    Performance of miracles plays on a temporary stage set with the St Servatius Basilica in the background. Maastricht, 1916

The Urban Institution

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MSc3 The Urban Institution

The MSc 3 and MSc 4 graduation studios are concerned with urban institutions, investigating not only their particular programmatic and cultural situations, but also their broader responsibilities to, and engagement with, the city and its citizens. The very term is a politically and culturally charged one. As part of an on-going discourse on the subject within the Chair, individual projects will critique the role of the institution within contemporary culture and society. The studio considers their importance as repositories of expertise and the holders of specific bodies of knowledge, within an era of dissipation and flattening, whilst being cognisant of their historic reputation for overbearing elitism and the role they can play in reinforcing systems of control. 

Studios will reflect upon how the contemporary institution might take its place within the city: materialising and embodying an ethical culture of openness and permeability within its public interiors, through its representative forms and in its structuring of urban space. This developing discussion is contextualised through an annual theme, which this year is the Festive City.

Autumn 2017: The Festive City

“During the 18th century no sharply defined borderlines existed between city planning and architecture, between architecture and decoration, between decoration and stage design, between stage design and landscape architecture.” 

Zucker, Paul (1955) Space and Movement in High Baroque City Planning

The form of the European city, its buildings and spaces have frequently been driven by the idea and nature of the festive moment, whether it is inscribed in the founding of the city itself, the positioning, uses and relationships of its representative spaces, or the situation and appearance of its buildings and institutions. Whether Sixtus V’s Baroque Rome, Karl Friedrich Schinkel’s Berlin, or the repurposing of city fortifications as promenades overlooking formerly hostile landscapes, the festive city engages with ideas of the theatrical, marking the urban spaces and buildings within and without as set-pieces or scenography. Such scenes are inferred in Serlio’s engravings describing ‘tragic’ and ‘comic’ scenes. At the scale of the building Gottfried Semper describes the evolution of the language of architecture as the material embodiment of ephemeral adornment, garlands of flowers or leaves, hung from walls and columns to create a festive atmosphere. This process of translation raises the relationship between day to day life and the festive moment. Within contemporary urban culture, the nature of the festival is something other, signified by the ephemeral structure. The project which the studios of Interiors Buildings Cities will focus on for 2017/18 will instead seek to reclaim the impact of the festive, at many scales of community life, on the fundamental nature of places and spaces in which we collectively live and to consider the way in which they might respond to the challenges we face in difficult, contested times.

Two graduation studios

This coming year, the various courses and studios within the Chair of Interiors Buildings Cities will explore the idea of the Festive City. As the introductory text describes, we see the notion of the festive as something deeply embedded within our collective culture, recognised in the casual rituals of play, and the more codified ones of celebration and performance. This is not about the contemporary form of the festival, as a phenomenon of scaffolding and fenced enclosures, which occurs outside the urban condition and beyond everyday life. Today, as in the past, the notion of the festive structures our relationships with one another and defines and develops the urban form and culture of the city. It has left and continues to leave its marks and traces upon the urban fabric at many scales; it conditions the appropriate, representative forms, spaces and language of architecture itself. 

The two proposed graduation studios for the autumn semester will address these characterisations of the festive and their relationship to architecture and the city from different starting points, allowing for a discursive relationship to develop between them. One will define a project for a complex cultural building which houses and performs the highly developed and codified forms of festive action––theatre, music and dance––through which culture, in part, defines itself. The project will consider the spaces of performance and their attendant scenography, both on the stage and within the city, allowing students to address the role and contemporary resonance of such monumental structures, to consider their role as the centerpieces of urban festivity and to critique the ways in which they might shape the city and engage its diverse citizenry, becoming more open and permeable to both. Encompassing scales and issues that will range from the urban figure-ground to the character, atmosphere and technical resolution of a series of public interiors, the project will be an opportunity for students to fully engage in the design of a significant cultural project.

The other graduation studio will consider the way that festivity and festive moments have shaped a place historically and might influence its contemporary and future life. Such moments stand in counterpoint to the everyday, and might encompass both the pleasure of the evening promenade with one’s family––la passeggiata––and the carnival procession, in communion with all one’s neighbours. Students will research festive acts across time and at many scales in order to understand the ways in which they have informed the spaces and structures of a particular piece of city and the development of its communal life. From this they will develop individual projects that draw such questions into the present, considering what, when and for whom such festivity and play might remain relevant as a generator of both architecture and the urban scene. Establishing projects that emerge from within a community, the results might be temporal or temporary and could involve working to reshape existing material conditions, within or as an extension of existing buildings and spaces. 

While the two studios will have different starting points and trajectories, there will inevitably be many overlaps in their concerns, which will be explored through opportunities for cross-studio discussion and critique as they both develop, within the wider context of a Chair that seeks to be in dialogue.

Studio 1: A House of Music
Tutors: Daniel Rosbottom, Mark Pimlott, Sam de Vocht

The space of performance can be understood as a foundation, not only for our collective social and cultural life, but also for the idea of the city itself. The very first notions of public space were made manifest through the tamping of the earth upon which our ancestors chose to dance and sing together rather than fight one another. In ancient Athens the theatre of Dionysus was constructed into a natural bowl on the southern slopes of the Acropolis, as a fundamental component of the ritual and cultural landscape through which the Athenian ideals of democracy emerged and were made manifest. At the focus of that theatre’s geometry was a circular stage known as the orchestra, a place for singers and musicians to perform.

The highly refined and codified form of the orchestra that emerged from those early origins, along with the spaces and infrastructures that support the performance of orchestral music, will be the focus of our study over the course of the next year. 

As musical forms have evolved through history, so have the types of space in which it is performed. As perhaps the most important and pervasive historical public interior, the scale and acoustic characteristics of the church played a critical role in the development of refined, orchestrated polyphonic choral music and underscored its central importance as part of a festive calendar. Within the secular world, the theatre, opera house and music hall each nurtured the consolidation of the orchestral form. In baroque theatre and opera, rather than being relegated to the pit, the orchestra was raised up and remained, as it had in ancient Greece, an intrinsic part of the performative spectacle.

What is now defined as classical music was once popular, contemporary music and was experienced in quite a different environment. Audiences were part of the performance, whether engaging with it, or talking over it. Houses were packed and symphonic music in all its forms was produced at a prodigious rate and often performed only once. 

Perhaps it was the elongated shoebox form of early concert halls that transformed the intimacy once found in these lively, theatrical atmospheres into an aura that erred once again toward the sacred. Musical scores are now hallowed and even coughing is discouraged as the moment of silence has become as important as the crescendo of sound in the design of a contemporary concert auditorium. Air moves immensely slowly in these most rarified of spaces, where every surface is tuned, every instrument has its place and every sonic nuance is articulated. The shoebox has evolved into the vineyard, with the audience arrayed across a landscape of seating, around the wellspring of sound from the stage. Beyond the concert hall, orchestration becomes choreography, as vast audiences promenade, in their finest attire, through foyers and lobbies, from city to seat. 

In this way, the concert hall, alongside the museum, gallery and the great public library, became one of a collection of monumental public buildings, which shaped cities and through which they have sought to express both their enlightened ideals and their importance. This remains the case, yet it raises the question of what the place of the concert hall and the music performed there might be, within our more heterogeneous, contemporary culture?

The studio will address the design of a House of Music: a major new concert hall and music school in the City of London. Shadowing an ongoing competitive assignment, this will be situated on the edge of the modernist Barbican complex and is intended tol become the focus of a constellation of musical and cultural facilities. Its location, mediating between the introverted world of the Barbican and the surrounding city offers an opportunity to redefine the relationship between the two, drawing them into dialogue through a sequence of new public, urban spaces. At the larger scale it could be understood as part of an extended public promenade, ranged along the River and through the city, which links together many of London’s most prominent cultural monuments. 

Following on from last year’s studio, the modernist, brutalist context of the Barbican offers an opportunity to explore an expanded range of expression in the making of an open, generous architecture capable of accommodating both the city and its many, diverse audiences. Working at each scale, from urban, to building, to interior to component, we will build a body of knowledge and understanding with regard to the history and forms of the concert hall as a type, its technical and performance characteristics and the possibilities of organisation, form, character and atmosphere.


Studio 2: After the Party
Tutors: Eireen Schreurs, Susanne Pietsch, Caspar Frenken

Throughout history, festivals and parades have been defining moments for the city. Triumphal marches have shaped Rome. At the Via Giulia the podia of the temples doubled as viewing platforms. Venice had its campi, its countless balconies and Florence had its logge, all well-known witnesses to festivities that still exist. Inclusive in nature, festivals questioned—or re-affirmed—social hierarchies and class and altered the way the city was perceived and used. 

The festive and ephemeral architecture had a specific materialisation and ornamentation. The design of festivals, from buildings to costumes, has been an integral part of architecture, informing the design of more enduring structures. As predecessor to the contemporary Festival they are at the origin of the Festive City. 

The studio will examine the potential of the festival but also reinterpret the phenomenon as a means to transform public spaces and buildings in a more permanent way. Which ideas and specific qualities are embodied in the ancient urban rituals that are still relevant today? How is the ephemeral, the festive, represented in daily life? With the knowledge obtained, can we design buildings and structures that will enrich the city?

Maastricht, a picturesque town in the south of Limburg, has a long tradition of public festivals, due to its Roman Catholic history. Still today, processions and parades are a vital part of Maastricht’s cultural identity; they involve the participation of all groups throughout the community, whether as participants or as spectators, or, in many instances, both. With multiple iterations throughout the year—varying from impromptu fanfare bands, weeklong Carnaval celebrations to a series of annual religious processions—they provide the framework for cultural life. 

The Studio will take three processions as objects of study: the Heiligendomsvaart, the Carnival and as their contemporary counterpart the fashion festival Fashionclash. 

The Heiligdomsvaart festival is a Catholic festival in celebration of the city’s patron saint, St Servaas. It takes place once every seven years, the next event being in 2018, when the cities’ cultural institutions join in a dense cultural programming of events in provisional open air theatres. Carnival celebrations in Maastricht are rooted in a mix of pagan and Catholic rituals characterised by grand parades with floats and a typical emphasis on elaborate, bespoke costumes. It is part of a profound culture of ‘dressing up’ that the town now attempts to solidify by manifesting itself as a centre for fashion and tailoring. This aim is also visible in the more recently initiated festival, Fashionclash, a yearly event with catwalks and shows in public buildings and squares across town. 

The studio will follow a precise methodology, studying the idea of the festive through films and texts, offering research by design exercises, and a thorough study of the procession, the routes, and key buildings along the route. A critical assessment of the Festival versus the everyday, the theme of inclusiveness, and the material culture that characterizes the festive will be input to the narratives that will be developed in the studio. In the course of the program each of the students will develop his/her own project, resulting in concrete and materialized building proposals with various programs that react to the festivals, critically comment them, and add to them.

In the past, the ephemeral nature of these festivals, which is central to their definition, has resulted in a vast array of artistic efforts to document and represent the events to those who could not experience them at first hand. These documents, like the festival itself, were made for the same purposes: to elongate their effects, as pictorial representations of the hierarchies and splendour on show. 

We will follow this tradition, by producing a ‘festival book’ in the classical tradition. Historical examples of these books will function as a source of inspiration to document our own progress and to develop personal ways to represent architecture, turning the books into a generative part of the project.  At the end of the year we will collaborate with the Jan van Eyck academy to produce a festival book. Collaborations with Bureau Europa, the Fashionclash and a field trip to Rome are in development. 


The MSc 3/4 project offers a full and elaborate programme, consisting of these four specific courses offered by our chair:

    MSc3 Graduation Studio: The Urban Institution

The graduation studio is oriented toward the making of an individual project, with studies from a common research framework as its basis. The work in the studio will commence with a workshop to research essential issues concerning the theme of the studio. Courses in theory, analysis and field research, together with the design project and its technological development, combine to form a rounded project suitable for students to profile themselves in practice. 

    MSc 4 Graduation Studio: The Urban Institution

The outcome of the graduation project will be a precise and realistic individual proposal considered at all scales and containing a high level of detail. The projects will be judged by the quality of their solutions with regard to con- textual, social, architectural, structural, technological and environmental issues. Results of the theory courses and the research laboratories will be assessed through studies, essays and portfolios. Depending on the character of the work, these items will exist as independent product or integral parts of the graduation design project.

    Studio Specific Research Module I: Workshop

The studio is closely related to an extended workshop course that analyses a series of related projects that bear relation in form or function to the design studio project. Through working in groups, these projects are analysed in relation to their architectural ambitions, their organisation, representations, internal relations of functional elements and users, and the public(s) they serve.
    Studio Specific Research Module II: Research Seminar: Public Interior
    Coordinator: Sereh Mandias

The main focus of the Research Seminar is on the potential users of the public interior to be designed, as the studio’s intended high quality of the public interior will be largely determined by the public’s satisfaction. There is an intimate relation between the design assignment and the Research Seminar, especially in the initial and explorative stage of the design when research findings can motivate design decisions. The main social, or user-oriented approach will be complemented by a criticalcultural historic approach in judging the development and social impact of large public interiors on their immediate surroundings and the urban context at large.

    Compulsory general courses:
    Lectures Series Research Methods