Unity, confidence and persistence on the Basil Spence project

Posted in: Department of Architecture & Civil Engineering, Student projects, Undergraduate

Author: Helen Needs


Unity of thought
Working together is the foundation on which the Basil Spence project is built. The integration of disciplines to create something inspiring is both an exciting and daunting prospect. Emma and Matt have been close friends since the beginning of university, and are now almost like brother and sister. My place in the team dynamic has occasionally been to balance this, trying to resolve slight tension by helping them realise they are often saying the same thing! We were incredibly lucky to have worked with Zach, our engineer, who shared our desire to create something more. He appreciated our architectural ambitions, and worked with us to enrich them with structural and environmental strategies which elevated the design to another level.

I think that throughout the project we have all endeavoured to not take the “easy way out” in any aspect. If ideas felt that their only justification was being the obvious, or easiest solution, we wouldn’t accept them. I think this unity of thought helped us create something with a truly strong concept, which stood the test of time - each of our moments of unwillingness to compromise has paid off. A new experience for me has been the sheer volume of models we have created during this project. As a bold initial move was the key to our design, considering its scale - modelling it from the outset was unavoidable. We tested any and every eventuality and suggestion given to us in tutorials, resulting in a rapid iterative process which allowed us to become comfortable with our scale and form. The process of making these models also meant that there have been very few instances where the team has not been “on the same page” with what we are trying to express.

Confidence to answer our critics

Throughout the project, my confidence has experienced true peaks and troughs, as has the confidence of the group as a whole. In week two our proposal began to be referred to by tutors and colleagues as something “bold”. A building of this scale, standing out amongst its context is not something I believe would have been any of our initial ideas had we been working alone. The reaction to this risk-taking approach was more often than not, positive and something we were commended for.

Whilst we were comfortable with the shape and form of the main building from the beginning there were a number of delays due to lack of confidence. This speck of doubt initially diluted our ideas and central concept. Throughout tutorials and discussions leading up to the interim review there was an “elephant in the room”, which surprisingly was not the large, bold main building. Each of us avoided designing these smaller modules - which were initially key to our concept. Just before the interim review these modules were removed from the proposal entirely. This move tested my confidence in the idea as a whole - however, it felt as though a weight had been lifted and allowed us to focus our efforts entirely on designing the central building. Our initial moves gained a positive reaction at the interim review, one major change to “tidy up” the diagram of our building was something we all agreed on. From here, there were more layers to add to achieve the level of detail we felt it required to reach its full potential - but it felt attainable.

As we planned our final critique, I was hit with a realisation of how deeply immersed we had become in the project. Going into the review I felt we would be able to guide the critics into elements of the design we felt best sold the proposal. Pushing and questioning each other and ourselves constantly meant when others asked questions - we had conviction in our answers.

Perseverance until the end

This was the longest project we have tackled so far in our university careers. It was an exciting prospect having the time to develop an idea so fully, but we've also needed perseverance. Once the idea of the “concrete box” was expressed, we universally agreed that some, or all of our models would ideally be concrete casts. The idea was beautiful, the reality was hours spent in the workshop, many failed attempts and ultimately - heartbreak. Creating formwork which we thought would be sturdy enough took days - only to have this be our downfall - the model could only be removed from its formwork by brute force. The concrete cracked, leaving us with only one or two intact fragments, the model was unsalvageable. Yet, we decided to pursue the goal of creating a casted model, just in a different medium. The end result perhaps was not as neat or accurate as we had envisioned, however the ceremony of opening it up during the review and revealing the spaces inside still achieved the desired effect and our time spent making it was worthwhile.

After experiencing the euphoria of winning the Basil Spence, knuckling down and ensuring all our thoughts and ideas were captured on our final report was a difficult process to begin. We had the well-known situation of “it’s all in our heads, we just need to draw it”. This week, having each focused on producing a section of the report, I have witnessed it come together into a piece of work I am immensely proud of and that I believe shows our scheme at its best - a place I would love to visit.

Posted in: Department of Architecture & Civil Engineering, Student projects, Undergraduate

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