UCL Urban Laboratory


Jacob Paskins - Situating Architecture Lecture Series

24 October 2016, 1:00 pm–2:00 pm

Geograph - Nick Smith

Event Information

Open to



Room G02, 140 Hampstead Road, London NW1 2BX

Hovercraft Architecture

What connects the Millbank Tower in London with Archigram and the "Jungle" refugee camp in Calais? The hovercraft, surprisingly…

The hovercraft is an amphibious vehicle-somewhere between a boat and a plane-that can travel rapidly on a cushion of air, free to chart its way over land or sea, regardless of obstacle. Vickers, one of the developers of hovercraft, would once proudly show off its fleet beside the company's new HQ (now Millbank) by the Thames. For nearly forty years, these vessels provided fast and affordable high-speed travel between Britain and France. Beyond its position as a popular form of transport, hovercraft technology had a no-less notable role in architectural research in the 1960s and 70s, spawning new breeds of pneumatic architectures and floating structures. It is well known that the hovercraft inspired designs by Archigram and other radical practitioners who proposed mobile, floating and amphibious architecture. This talk examines one of the most striking aspects of this "hovercraft architecture": its desire to eliminate fixed structures, and reconceive urban and geopolitical boundaries. The cross-channel hovercraft, meanwhile, operated within the confines of conventional built structures and fixed international borders. In Calais, the hoverport triggered significant urban development, creating the very sites where, in more recent years, the so-called jungle encampments have been located. At this time of crisis in European politics and territorial control, it is more pressing than ever to recall the era of hovercraft architecture that promised an alternative to the notions of nation, place and permanence.

Jacob Paskins is an architectural and urban historian, and teaching fellow at the Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL. He has held research and teaching positions at the University of Cambridge and the UCL Department of Geography. Jacob's research centres on the production of the built environment, with a particular focus on the social and cultural implications of architecture, construction work and urban development in Britain and France. Other research interests include multi-sensory architecture, and urban film. His first book Paris Under Construction: Building Sites and Urban Transformation in the 1960s was published by Routledge in 2016. He is currently working on a history of cross-channel port infrastructures and high-speed marine travel.

Situating Architecture lectures are free and open to members of the public on a first come, first seated basis.

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Image: A Hoverlloyd hovercraft, Pegwell Bay, Kent. 1980. Photograph Copyright Nick Smith, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic Licence.