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Between the Object & the picturesque

UG 2 2019-20

Undergraduate Design Studio at The Bartlett School of Architecture

Tutors:

Barry Wark

Maria Knutsson-Hall

Levent Özruh

In many cities our primary interaction with nature is through two perceptive models of appreciation, either as objects or as the picturesque. We commonly experience these objects of nature as potted plants and small items scavenged from their context and turned into sculptural artefacts. We consume images of nature through documentaries and social media feeds where we bask in their visual stimulus.


Nature is neither object or image, it is a wide variety of environments and spaces in which we have evolved in and experienced for millennia. It is a complex ecosystem; it evolves over time and seasons; it is fragile and volatile and has the power to comfort and unnerve us. Our built environment has increasingly controlled and minimised the natural world to the point where we have become physiologically and perhaps psychologically separated from it. With this in mind, we looked to challenge the way we experience nature in our buildings, between the object and the picturesque. 

Continuing our investigation of cities in desert biomes, this year we travelled to Amman, Jordan. The city is facing many challenges, such as its lack of urban mobility due to its poor planning and steep topography; the prevalent use of A.C to cool its buildings; and a severe water shortage. The later has led to the government anticipating that Amman will run out of water by 2025. That said, Jordanians have survived its harsh conditions for millennia. The Nabateans were masters of both rock cut architecture and water management systems allowing them to build the spectacular city of Petra. 


The projects imagined what impact further environmental degradation might have on the communities of Amman. We proposed buildings that could mitigate these projected environments through passive design whilst still offering new forms of public and private space that respond to the evolving needs of urban life.


We explored what an immersive nature space would mean in Amman, working with its idiosyncrasies and challenging the notion of sustainable architecture beyond its current image.  They controlled the sand blown into the city by dust storms to create spatial effects; celebrated the mundanity of rain , turning it into a precious spectacle to be appreciated; and developed novel bioaesthetics derived from the Wadi Rum desert and Petra. The resulting buildings engage with nature in novel ways in the hope that it will strengthen Amman’s citizens with their sense of place within their beautiful but precarious landscape.  

In many cities our primary interaction with nature is through two perceptive models of appreciation, either as an object or as the picturesque. 

The object model is most commonly found in the potted plants filling our workplaces and homes. Here nature is removed from its context and turned into a sculptural artefact, in turn focusing our attention on its formal qualities. 

The picturesque model is served to us in abundance through documentaries and social media feeds where we bask in the visual stimulus of the colour, lines and compositions of what we see on our screens. This 2D representation of nature again draws us to the formal qualities of nature as image.


Nature is not an object, nor is it an image, it is a wide variety of environments and spaces in which we have evolved in and experienced for millennia. It is a complex ecosystem; it evolves over time and seasons; it is fragile and volatile and has to the power to comfort and unnerve us. As inhabitants of cities we experience very little of the afore mentioned qualities of nature. Our built environment has increasingly controlled, minimised and mitigated the natural world to the point where we have become physiologically and perhaps psychologically separated from its true essence.

We are now experiencing a period in history where natural disasters, recording breaking weather and the climate change activist group ‘Extinction Rebellion’ are bringing the message to the forefront that our planet is drastically changing through our actions. How can we re-establish our biophilic connection in the hope that it can change our behaviour and habits for positive environmental change?  How can we establish a sense of place within the biosphere as well as the city ?


This year UG2 will explore the territory between the object and picturesque in the creation of environments where nature is experienced and appreciated beyond its current prevalent consumption. We will create spaces that flood, rooms that wilt and decay and atmospheres that changes as often as the weather and seasons themselves.