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

TAKING TIME

Yeoryia Manolopoulou, Niall McLaughlin, Michiko Sumi

Thirteen‐hundred years ago, two buildings appeared at the opposite ends of the great Eurasian

 

landmass. One is a Christian chapel on an island in the west of Ireland, and the other a Shinto shrine

in a forest in Japan. For two buildings conceived in entirely disconnected cultures and time, they

show remarkable similarities; the crossing of the rafters on the gables, originally a pragmatic

construction detail, has in both cases been retained to serve a symbolic function. Additionally, people

inhabit both buildings today.

 

Those forms and meanings endure even as the buildings decay and are rebuilt again and again. Time

itself is a very significant character of their architecture. Both are versions of previous buildings that

existed on the site and borrow forms from their now‐lost ancestors. But, they differ significantly from

each other: the Christian chapel is built to endure for millennia on its blasted site. It is a once‐ timber

structure, now rebuilt in stone to last until the end of time. The Shinto shrine achieves permanence

by being rebuilt in perfect replica on an adjacent empty lot and taken apart every twenty years.

So, the Western building follows time’s arrow in a linear trajectory, while the Eastern building is

endlessly repeated in a concept of time that is circular and cyclical. These deep models of time that

underlie building activity brings us beyond pragmatism into another dimension of architecture that

is dreamlike, even ghostly.

 

This year we will take the theme of time as our subject, the time of the design process itself is a space:

it could be a moment or a century. Does it matter how we think of time in a conception and life of the

building? The construction process and the building site are all temporary architectures with a

powerful presence in the landscape: they are fugitive places where people work and live and dream,

and then they disappear. The building aims to endure the continuous scouring of weather,

inhabitation and change. It might become itself over time, or it might dissolve and loose its identity.

When is it the most itself? Other buildings and other places haunt most buildings that we know.

Architecture might always be a fantasy about the past or the future. Can it have a present tense? We

seek to explore the dimension of time in the life of a building, from the sketch to the ruin.

There will be three areas of focus in our investigations this year. We will explore the themes of

Landscapes, Construction and Dream. Certain places, certain landscapes can become charged with

significance. We want to design in these places in a way that understands and amplifies their deep

poetic character. We believe that construction begins in particularity and ends in magic and sacred.

We want to trace these paths and transformations in our own work. Making charged constructions in

significant landscapes will take us into the boundary between the knowable world and the world of

dreams of the unsayable. Architecture should strive to be just beyond the limits of out rational

understanding. It is this fragile, poetic quality that will allow it to endure because, like the Irish

chapel and the Shinto shrine, it will be treasured. Our physical construction will become a point on

the timeline of the two buildings.

 

All students in our unit will spend the first term designing a ghost building to stand beside the tiny

stone chapel in Ireland. It will be a freely imagined projection of its lost wooden ancestor. We will

each make a large model of our design for Christmas. Then we will go to Japan in January and

stimulate ourselves in a joinery workshop where we will learn skills from the best woodworkers.

YR4 will work with them to produce working drawings of one of the designs. The DR project for YR 4

will involve the design development, detailing and manufacture of one such structure. It will be prefabricated

and constructed by students on the island in Ireland beside the ancient chapel. The

development, organization and execution of this project will be the YR 4 Design Realisation project.

Y5 is free to engage in the process to develop their own researches. From January YR 5 will pursue

individual projects in chosen landscapes in Japan, Ireland or England with programmes exploring the

theme of time in building.