Adventures in Architecture

Merrett Houmøller run undergraduate design Unit E at Oxford Brookes University with artist and designer Jack Wates.

Teaching and practice go hand in hand. The research undertaken in the Unit is applied directly to the way in which we operate as a practice. Our interests in architecture are explored through academia, and the lessons learned, thoughts and ideas are applied in practice. We think that every architectural proactice should also teach.

The unit is specific. We are interested in the real world, real problems and real sites. The outcomes don’t necessarily feel ‘real’ but the ideas and thinking behind them are based on real life issues and constraints.

In 2016/17 we explored the Broadwater Farm Estate in Haringey. In serious need of investment, and chronically overlooked, rumors of demolition are rife among it’s inhabitants. The ‘tabula rasa’ approach to solving the housing crisis is often the only approach considered. The unit explores alternative methods of development; incremental development, small community lead projects that inject life and activity into a site. The unit explores the idea of something small having a big effect on the estate.

The unit explores the notion of weather and architecture: both weather as a physical phenomenon and weather as broader change. Architecture is in a state of constant flux, but is often viewed as having a clear start and end point in it’s process. Briefs are written to explore life cycles of buildings, programmes and the construction process.

The site is always critical in the approach to developing a brief and programme. Understanding how the wider context of the site (oten miles around a specific building) and how it has changed over time, how it will change in the future, and how it has affected and will affect channge in future is critical in the approach to teaching - and therefore the way we practice as architects. As a result, context is hugely important and good design cannot happen without thorough understanding of context.

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