Orbits and trajectories: why architecture must never stand still by Deborah Saunt

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Abstract

This PhD reveals a mode of practice within our studio DSDHA founded on a conversational process that, whilst structured, is dynamic. “Orbits & Trajectories” best describe the nature of the way our architecture is both understood and designed.

A sense of “push-pull” is embodied in our city making and buildings. The PhD has revealed an overarching search for a kind of New Beauty founded on design values that stand for a sense of public good that aims to improve human conditions and that allows paths to cross, encouraging shared encounter and engagement; resulting in places which foster conversation and exchange. These are designed in a way that is responsive to place and environment, have an economy of means, and generate specificity. This architecture is designed to create a response, and to be responsive, and to engage with the wider world. An architecture that answers back, that is almost awkward in its modernity and that tries to embody imperfect contradictions; • solid, three-dimensional but best understood through movement; • ever-changing when experienced yet creating duration and persistence over time; • preoccupied with physicality and of matter being “made” (in terms of materiality and craft) yet irreconcilably connected to people, emotions, beliefs; • above all it is shaped by values and culture. And somehow being “authored” whilst so clearly being the product of collaboration.

A sense of “push-pull” is also found in the way DSDHA has evolved its practice. DSDHA is a place where ideas and people collide, in a choreography of chance and purpose.

Through analysing the way we work, our influences and the work that we make, characteristics have been revealed that we are part of a tradition of “creating socially-minded architecture”, that we never make the same building twice, and that every project is underscored with a research agenda. In order to arrive at this architecture we find the need for reflection, of bringing self-awareness to the way one choses to practice. Underscoring the process is the need for agency and participation.

Until recently, the “practice” and “academic” sides of DSDHA were parallel endeavours, whereas now a new consciousness has informed bringing them together to create a culture of the studio is, like any design, authored. In particular, the way we collaborate has evolved via our design methodology. This is based on workshops, using research as a driver to generate moments of resistance or collisions where agency pushes design forward.

Individually there has been the revelation that one must always try “to act upon an idea” and insert oneself into the project at key points to ensure its potential. These “design actions” impact directly on the outcome of the process. This sense of individual action and self-belief is key to moving projects forward. Speaking out, taking the lead, in the defense of this new kind of beauty are qualities to be cherished, and this is why architecture, as well as architects must never stand still.

Year: 2013
Examiners: Stephen Neille, Nancy Pollock Ellwand, Sheila O’Donnell  Supervisors: Leon van Schaik, Martyn Hook

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