Studio Urban Field Lab models its studio frameworks alongside profound societal, politic, economic and cultural transformations for which alternative spatial responses are sought. The studio is interested in validating what has been side-lined by market economies. At the same time, we are clearly not outside these forces. It is the studios strong belief that the future of architecture lies in our ability to broaden and deepen our professional frameworks, thinking and acting beyond our own disciplines. The urban condition resides in all scales; with the close-up scale being deeply connected to larger urban forces and vice versa. We will work multi-scaler, often working simultaneously in starkly contrasting scales, from the remote to the close-up, the global, national, regional, city-wide, localised, inhabited, but also the personal, intimate, close-up scale, magnified, linking everyday experiences to wider urban systems. We use drawings, physical models, films, immersive techniques, installations and explorations to drive the design process, not to represent or illustrate. We ask questions through critical practice and reflection, committing to comprehensive, rigorous and deep research spatial exploration. We take responsibility and ownership of our own work, its process and its professional and creative output. This will seamlessly lead us to coherent, comprehensive and original spatial projects worked out to a high standard in all scales.
Our framework is titled Contested Lands. Made Rich.
Contested, because land is contested. Amongst other valuable resources, land is a key resource for architecture. Not because architecture is on land, but because architecture works with land. We shall engage with the complex forces that land is inscribed in, from the political, legislative, environmental, economic to the social, habitual, cultural, to the actual matter itself, and it’s livelihoods.
Rich, because we will try to make the land rich, not just in monetary or quantitative terms, but in qualitative ways.
Our ‘Land zone’ will be situated in the area that stretches from Crawley / Pease Pottage to Balcombe / Cuckfield, a patchwork of suburban, peri-urban and rural textures, situated in Mid Sussex; the “slush-land” between London and Brighton with some well-connected rural ‘jewels’ dotted in between situated in the High Weald Area of outstanding natural beauty. Here, in the unassuming villages, commuter towns and fragmented peri-urban realm, global forces act, and deals are made. Just outside Balcombe, energy companies are seeking permission for fracking, gas or oil extraction and villagers have struck an unlikely alliance with global climate change protesters. Crawley, with its high reliance on Gatwick Airport, has been identified as the place in Britain at highest risk of widespread job losses amid the coronavirus crisis (The Guardian,16th of April 2020). In Pease Pottage, located on the ‘outskirts of the outskirts’, 600 new homes will be built. Here, £545,00 buys you a ‘rural’ dream home that is virtually built on the hard shoulder of the M23, with your local shop being, thus far, located in the motorway service station. The political and economic background to our discussion is the huge increase in the value of land that has happened over the last decades, which in turn has increased its financialization, its acquisition processes and its exploitation. “The city is produced for its exchange value rather than its use value” (Bell & Davoudi 2016, 10). The development processes that act in our urban and rural contexts are witness to this process. The quick solution to shortages is ‘adding’ quantities. The problem with ‘just adding’ is that what’s added is usually more of the same. 600 houses + 1 hospice + 1 school + 1 café, on a landscaped surface = community (and 13% net profit for the provider of the Masterplan). The problem lies with the dependencies and fragilities that these systems tend to cause. By dealing with issues in isolation, monocultures and isolated typologies are created that fail to consider things in relation. There are efforts to include citizens and residents in the decision-making process, through neighbourhood plans and other platforms, which we shall consider.
The current pandemic has provided us with a unique opportunity to pause and reconsider, and to examine some of the dogmas we have created. This has giving rise to a renewed public interest in asking fundamental questions that attempt to redress certain balances we may have lost. How do we want to live? What are our values? What do we want and need in, of and from our cities, villages, offices, schools, hospitals, homes, streets, neighbourhoods, public spaces? Which precarious relationships have we set up? How could we shift and edit the status quo? The pandemic has also led to some ad-hoc, unorthodox and more un-bureaucratic and ingenious responses that have put rigid codes aside: Goats in the streets. Music from balcony to balcony. Tables, deckchairs and paddling pools on pavements. Dinners in doorways. Swimming in rivers… Some of these recent ad-hoc measures have now changed legislations. This, one might hope, will give citizens more rights and access to their cities (Harvey 1973, 2003) and rural context and it will hopefully free us from some of the monocultures, ‘frozen typologies’ and dogmas we have created. Delight in despair? Might fragility bring out humanity? If yes, what can we learn from this? This is the mindset that we will harness. Rather than creating another set of spatial doctrines, the ambition of the studio is to harness dormant opportunities and capabilities, picking up left-overs, making alliances, grafting typologies, crisscrossing territories, using hidden resources to infuse the status quo. Through a rigorous, invested and original research and exploration process that employs critical thinking as well as critical making, we will work out complexities, test, explore and propose. We are less interested in excavating than constructing knowledge. The knowledge we will construct shall be embodied and materialised in the spatial process and research techniques we use. We shall show no fear. We shall not avoid complexities, but we will also find delight in the things that already surround us. To help us along, we will use a variety of methods and methodologies, from film to macro and micro-drawings, to montage, collage and bricolage, from hand-made pieces nurtured over a long period of time, to super-size drawings. Our working methods will be unorthodox.