©2019 by UNIT 17, The Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL

THE PROTAGONIST

Yeoryia Manolopoulou, Niall McLaughlin, Michiko Sumi

 

Architectural education is not merely a preparation for professional practice, where skills and
techniques are acquired in anticipation of the challenges of the working world. It constitutes a form
of practice in its own right.

 

We believe that the concept of a seven year warming-up period is untenable and that it is essential
for students to put themselves forward as protagonists in the architectural discussions of their time.
They should create experimental forms of practice that stand in a critical and enhancing relationship
to the world of building. The teaching studio can test propositions in a critical culture that allows for
flexible thinking, inventiveness and openness to failure in a way which is impossible in professional
practice. For this process to be effective, the studio practice must understand the realities of social,
political and financial mechanisms, without necessarily accepting them. It is this discourse between
the possible and the conceivable that is the fertile ground of architectural speculation.

 

In order to think and act ambitiously, an architectural student is required to acquire and internalise a
formidable range of skills. We believe that certain core abilities are central to the discipline and have
to do with knowing a broad range of buildings, unbuilt propositions and texts that come from inside
the discipline of architecture. Architectural plans and sections, for example, embody a way of
thinking and manipulation of ideas that belongs only to architecture. They give us our potency and
authority among other languages and forms of production.

 

Unit 17 will engage directly in issues that are relevant to the public life of our city now. In London,
there has been a looming sense of crisis about the role of the architect and the relationship between
construction expertise and public life. The mainstream media has openly questioned the role of
architects in the creation of just and well integrated urban communities. Architects are often seen as
cowed servants and tools of a dominant and predatory capitalist mode of production. They are
equally accused of unrealistic forms of idealistic or liberal thinking at odds with the realities of
contemporary economy and construction culture. This alleged balance of powerlessness and
impracticality is deeply corrosive of the discipline of architecture. Developers speculate that
architecture might die out as a discipline while architecture schools look for teaching new
specialisations often undermining the expert knowledge of architecture itself.

 

Architecture in London has a fight on its hands. We want to work with students who have the tenacity
to see themselves as protagonists in this battle for relevance and influence. We will work towards a
collective proposal for a quarter of London, each student designing one building within a larger
assemblage. We will consider the relationship between housing stock, public buildings,
infrastructure, landscape and public space. How can architecture help create a just and equitable
neighbourhood? What can you propose through drawing and making at different scales
simultaneously? How can individual voices intermix successfully?

 

We believe in the centrality of architecture. A profound literacy in the architecture of the past and its
continuing relevance to the future is a cornerstone of our discipline. We will approach the great
horde of existing architectural forms with seriousness, reverence and the desire to exceed the
achievements of the past by first understanding them. We will also undertake research into a range
of ambitious urban thinking over the last centuries in order to support our proposals for the future.
Be humble listeners, inventive designers, disciplined makers, self-doubters, good collaborators and
outrageous self-publicists. We will expect you to have a deep appetite to develop productive
relationships between construction and spatial thinking. We will build big models that will explicitly
communicate our ideas. We hope to exhibit this work publically at the end of the year to issue
discussion and a challenge to others within and beyond the discipline of architecture.

 

Our field trip will be to see the great city of Chandigarh designed by Le Corbusier. It will show us the
scope of thinking available to a single architect who boldly sought to set out a comprehensive plan
of public life in the city. We want to witness it in all its vision, labour and errors.