Bartlett book: a decade of daring design and ideas

8 July 2009


A magicians’ theatre fit for Houdini, an opium refinery floating on the Thames and a home designed for, and inhabited by, the weather – that's just a tiny sample of the mind-expanding ideas to be found in a new book from the UCL Bartlett School of Architecture.

Bartlett Designs: Speculating with Architecture is a collection of the best student work from the last decade – other examples include a parasitic robot that attaches itself to the side of ‘host’ buildings, and a casino where high rollers with private jets gamble their carbon allowances.

The book is intended to show how architectural designs and ideas can creatively address some of the world’s most pressing urban and social problems through buildings and other forms of architectural invention.

It contains more than 250 pages of images showcasing student projects, all of which are accompanied by explanatory text. Complementing the projects is a series of short and provocative essays written by tutors at the school.

Head of the UCL Bartlett School of Architecture Professor Iain Borden, who co-edited the book, an heir to the Bartlett Book of Ideas (2000), said he hoped it would influence and inspire students and practising architects around the world.

Professor Borden said the ideas contained in the book showed how the school had maintained its focus on cutting-edge aesthetics, but also engaged with issues such as sustainability, housing, and the design of public urban space.

He said: “In the 1990s the Bartlett had a strong focus on visually extravagant work: the speculative, the imaginary and the technical aspects of buildings. Students were also interested in the context of a project, but often these elements ran in parallel to the concept of design.

“I think that emphasis has changed a bit in the last four or five years. A lot of projects are still visually extraordinary, but there’s a deeper engagement with the social, cultural and economic context in which they operate. The way we see architecture, it’s not just about buildings, it’s part of a whole ‘what if’ scenario.

“For example, what would a post-oil town look like? How should architecture respond to scarcity of fossil fuels, rapidly changing climates or a place where the lighting conditions change from minute to minute? How would we experience those architectures?

“The book is intended to bring forth the idea that each of these projects, no matter how outlandish they may seem at first sight, is dealing with real-world situations – but often in critical, imaginative and innovative ways.”

Professor Borden said he hoped the book would have wide appeal.

He added: “I think the general reader will enjoy this book because of the sheer quality of the imagery – it is as enjoyable as art work in the sense you can bring to it and take away from it as much or as little as you like. People with a particular interest in architecture, cities and urban space will be fascinated by the amazing ideas contained in it.

“A sense of the burgeoning creativity at the Bartlett is what we hope all readers get from this book. Architecture is an area of suggestion and proposition. That is one of the things that makes it unique – as a university subject, it not only analyses problems but also offers solutions and energises our thinking about the world.”

To order a copy of Bartlett Designs: Speculating With Architecture (£20) email archlist@ucl.ac.uk or contact Nadia O’Hare on +44 20 7679 4642. It is also available from all good bookshops.

Image: cover of Bartlett Designs: Speculating With Architecture.

 

UCL context

British architectural education began at UCL in 1841, and since then the UCL Bartlett School of Architecture has been at the forefront of the international architectural debate. This is a reputation strengthened by the most recent period of its history, during which a cohort of highly innovative teachers, designers, researchers and students have created a new wave of different architectures. The Architects’ Journal recently judged the UCL Bartlett School of Architecture as the best school in the UK – for the sixth consecutive year.

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