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Prof Laura Allen

Prof Laura Allen

Professor of Architecture and Augmented Landscapes

The Bartlett School of Architecture

Faculty of the Built Environment

Joined UCL
1st Sep 1997

Research summary

My research looks at the intersection and interactions of landscape, architecture, art and science. The practice examines and interprets changing contexts of ecology and urbanism transformed by anthropogenic activities. It proposes that the dynamic dialogue between cities and the natural and unnatural processes in which they are rooted can be exposed and utilised to enhance the experience of the architectural landscape. Architectural interventions are transformed by the mutability of landscape and by shifting contexts such as ecology, climate change, sustainability and cultural heritage This practice promotes design as an architectural laboratory that merges imaginative speculation and making with design and research practice.

Innovative modelling and representational techniques including delicate drawings and kinetic models which subvert architectural conventions. These methods are used to expose how one might engage with architecture both perceptually and physically. This work underlies a theoretical interest in architectural morphologies, environmental responsivity, sustainability, optical and environmental phenomena and versatile structures. Architectural, industrial and environmental technologies are augmented to enhance the architecture’s relationship with its surroundings and with its users.

The work also bridges the territories of sculpture and architectural production and is relevant to both disciplines. Projects range in scale from infrastructural (Wetscape: London’s Hydro Infrastructure, 2012 and the Sheppey Battery, 2013) via intricate hand-held tools (Envirographic Instruments, 2011), large-scale installations (Universal Tea Machine 2012) to delicate drawings and kinetic models (Neo-natures, designs for Lanzarote, 2010). 

We explore unique sites and land use in dialogue with architectures, technologies, infrastructures and ecologies. Key Methods include: understanding land use through field trips and site visits and interpreting site through instrument and installation design; generating experimental technologies and design interventions that engage with the specific cultural contexts of occupation in the landscape; prototyping, digital and analogue fabrication methods and on-site fabrication; identifying and integrating architecture with hydrological infrastructures and technical design strategies that respond to emerging site and environmental conditions; developing fabrication techniques, systems and drawings that dynamically represent changing conditions.

Our work reaches both expert and lay audiences via public exhibitions and lectures at museums, galleries and public venues internationally. Key international projects include. L.A. Recalculated and L.A.T.B.D. for the Chicago Biennial and University of Southern California (2015), the ‘British Exploratory Land Archive’ for the 13th Venice Architecture Biennale, (2012) Surface Tension for the Nevada Museum of Art, Reno (2011).

The research practice, Smout Allen Architectural Design Research, is a collaboration with Mark Smout. We each bring to the practice complimentary preoccupations and methodologies with which to strengthen our design research projects. Interpretations of context, site, narrative and programme are developed during the iterative process of collaborative design. Since 2010 we have also worked regularly in collaboration with Geoff Manaugh an author and curator based in New York and Los Angeles.

Teaching summary

I have been teaching Architecture in undergraduate and post graduate design studios since 1994, first at UNL and from 2000 at the Bartlett leading MArch Architecture Unit 11 with Mark Smout.

My teaching promotes the design unit as an architectural laboratory for the invention of counter-programmes, where students can synthesise alternative propositions and where new architectural landscapes can emerge. A didactic approach to the delivery of normative technical information and architectural skill sets is avoided. Innovative work and good practice are particularly encouraged. Students are assisted in developing a individual architectural, cultural and theoretical preoccupations which can inform and direct their studies.

Uniquely the unit focuses on the design and investigation of architectural landscapes and the role of man in the historical and contemporary development of landscapes and urban environments, where we question and enlarge the usual field of reference, the scope of interventions and extend our spatial imagination. Site specific and context driven design projects are worked in a polemic that corresponds and contributes to my current research practice interests.

Modes, Methods and Representations

The Unit develops new techniques for drawing, modelling and narrative construction by which architectural space and conceptual themes are worked and represented. We challenge normative methods with modified compositions, multiple exposures and panoramic viewpoints that can allow, tangible recordings, ephemeral states and fictional events to coexist. Our architecture is correspondingly multivalent.

The Unit is interested in space and materiality encouraging analysis and testing by digital or fine art techniques, full-scale prototyping or animation.

Cultural Connections and Field Study

Teaching and learning within the unit is enhanced by means of field study trips, practice visits and workshops which aim to strengthen the students’ connection particular sites and environments and to improve their knowledge of local or national practice.

Themes and pedagogy developed in the unit are explored via international workshops with very disparate student groups and using unfamiliar and sometimes ‘live’ sites. These events broaden and adapt ones approach to design teaching and allow a cross over of techniques and attitudes through intercultural exchange. Recent workshops have been in Oslo, Australia and Canada and the USA. 

Education

University College London
DipArch, Architecture | 1993
Brighton Polytechnic
BA Hons, Architecture | 1990
Publications