Unit C 2017-18
Undergraduate Design Studio at Oxford Brookes University
This year Unit C explored the notion of alien buildings in highly sensitive, urban contexts
as part of it’s continuing research on Biophilia and digital tools. The work focused on
both the ‘alien’ and its environment. Students were asked to methodically investigate,
3d-model, and design the interface between the two, carefully regarding each other’s
characteristics, forms and functions.
The brief’s title is directly inspired by the Kunsthaus Graz, designed by Peter Cook and
Colin Fournier in 2003, which shortly upon completion was dubbed The Friendly Alien. The
blob’s local nickname is derived from its aesthetic and formal presence which is at odds
with the UNESCO world heritage site that defines the city’s baroque center. Students
were asked to investigate this condition and take a position on what is it that make the
building friendly and what can be derived from its success in the creation of their own
The unit travelled to Bologna, Florence, Siena and Pisa in Tuscany. The region is one of
Italy’s most revered and the birthplace of the Italian renaissance with some of history’s
greatest minds including Leonardo da Vinci, Sandro Botticelli Niccolò Machiavelli and
Galileo Galilei to name but a few residing in the area at that time.
Since 1995 the city’s heart is protected by UNESCO world heritage. The organisation’s
own declaration states, that the city is suffering from Environmental Pollution, Intense
Tourism and the Progressive Abandonment of its Historic Core. Students will investigate
forms of sustainable tourism, that embrace the contemporary development of a city,
rather than solemnly indulging in its romanticized past.
The students created proposals that operate in the periphery of the UNESCO site that
draw tourists away from the centre, therefore relieving the intense pressure it is subjected
to during high season. The proposals explored the notion of an alien building, and took
a position as to what makes a piece of architecture friendly or unfriendly in it’s context.
The proposals were developed through their materiality, understanding of local social
practices as well as integration of biophilic concepts. The buildings simultaneously
strengthen the tourist economy through their programme and provide novel public
spaces that serve the local community and their evolving needs.