Working And Dwelling

To do that, local initiatives are a beginning; but the term local can be understood in two ways: local to place and a specific set of problems and conditions; or local to a cultural or social form, or specific practice. I turn to low-impact architecture as a case of the latter. There are many cases of projects using renewable energy sources and recycled materials, restructuring patterns of mobility in multi-function zoning, and reintroducing high density living in forms other than the tower block.17 But I look now at 9/10 Stock Orchard Street in north London, by Sarah Wigglesworth and Jeremy Till, completed in December, 2000 on the site of a forge and outbuildings where automobile springs were tempered (which replaced the original, nineteenth-century house). The building combines work and domestic space, and demonstrates a range of low-impact building technologies. The site is adjacent to a rail track, and previously belonged to British Rail. It was auctioned in 1994 and planning permission for the house and workspace granted in 1997. In one part of the L-shaped building are the studio and office of Wigglesworth and Till's practice, and in the other a bedroom, living room, kitchen and bathroom. Above the living room at the studio end is a library tower to house tiers of books rising to a room at the top in which a day-bed and desk offer a space for contemplation, or to look out over London. The living room roof supports a meadow, and the land around the house is cultivated to provide herbs and flowers in organic plots. On open days in 2002, more than 1,500 people visited the studio-house.18 Its technologies, such as straw-bale walls and recycled concrete in gabions, have potential for use in a spectrum of public- and private-sector buildings, in social housing for instance, where cost is a key factor.

The method of design enacts a fusion of working and living. In 1998, Wigglesworth and Till asked rhetorically: 'Faced with a blank sheet of paper and a couple of buildings to design, where do you start?' (Wigglesworth and Till, 1998b: 31). Their design began from the transition from a perception of order, disorder and reorder on a dining table (through a dinner party), charted in a series of drawings tracing the placing and displacing of objects.19 The same table was used at other times for office meetings in their previous house. This intersection of domestic life and work is carried through in the new building, where the dining room is a hinge between office and domestic spaces: 'This final condition became an emblem for the plan of the house, a seemingly disordered collection of objects set on a plane - but in fact a collection which allows the passage of time and domestic life to pass through it in a relaxed manner' (Wigglesworth and Till, 2001: 16). The window is set low, at a height level with that of the trains passing by outside.

The interior spaces of 9/10 Stock Orchard Street are simple but not without luxury, and decidedly urban: the dividing wall which can be pulled across to close off the studio from the dining room is of Douglas Fir, with a rich natural variegation; the living room has the extent and light of loft living, and there are paintings and pieces of designer furniture which denote cultural capital. At the same time, the adobe larder cooled naturally by air, and use of recycled materials and those which ensure an even interior temperature through the day, denote an economy of means. As the architects say: 'Our tactic is not that of the hair-shirt puritan; we aim to seduce you with the gloss, and slip the world of the everyday in through the back door' (Wigglesworth and Till, 1998a: 7). There is an arresting inversion of convention: the living room has industrial-scale windows to give maximum light and views (in and out); the office is enclosed, its slit-like windows framed by railway sleepers to peer out through a sandbag wall as if under siege from the passing trains, or as a place to silently watch them. The domestic zone is open to, and the work zone enclosed from, the visible world.20 The building has an ambivalent relation, too, to Modernism: the wide glass windows of the living room suggest the transparency of the houses designed for the Bauhaus masters in the 1920s; the emphasis on horizontal windows in the office suggests Le Corbusier; the library tower is reminiscent of that of the Villa Stein a Garche into which Le Corbusier retreats in his film L'architecture d'aujourd'hui (1929).21 Yet the building is clearly of now in its accommodation of a tension between order and disorder which is a refusal of Modernist purity; and the references in materials and surfaces are, despite some pre-industrial nuances, to post-industrial urban conditions and a post-modern contingency: '[It] will remain permanently incomplete, as what is both already there and not yet there is continually reinvented, adjusted and played with' (Wigglesworth and Till, 2001: 2).

Beginning at the entrance: the gate is made of willow hurdles in a galvanised steel frame.22 Next are the gabions filled with roughly broken up, recycled concrete which support the base of the office floor above. This material is in

Nothing Can Seprate Love Grave

cheap and plentiful supply23 and has a weight tolerance in excess of that required here. Above the gabions the office wall uses sand, cement, and lime packed in sand-bags which will gradually erode to leave a wall of rippling forms; and on its other side - referencing the fusion of domestic and work spaces in a metaphor of comfort which is also gendered - the office outer wall is clad in a cloth of silicone-faced fibreglass 'puckered and buttoned like a domestic quilt' (Wigglesworth and Till, 2001: 6) with an insulating layer and inner lining.24 Under the building, two tanks collect rain-water for use in clothes-washing and to irrigate the roof meadow. There is a compost toilet, a solar panel and a wood-burning stove (though heavy insulation reduces the need for heating). The bedroom is encased by a straw-bale wall, which continues on the north side of the building.25 While in vernacular buildings straw tends to be rendered with lime plaster, here it is encased in a rain-screen of galvanised steel, ventilated to allow moisture to escape. A section is visible behind transparent polycarbonate. Inside, lime plaster is applied directly to the straw, with small metallic strips bridging the wooden frame to prevent cracks. Recollecting on the catalogue of materials and processes used, the architects

write that they 'form a repertoire of technologies from the everyday, raiding the techniques of other disciplines for inspiration' and that their approach 'has been to borrow and adapt technologies from outside the normal . . . architectural canon' (Wigglesworth and Till, 2001: 12).

Thinking again of Benjamin's idea of the artist (architect) as producer I see this building as intervening in the production of categories such as domestic space and work space. Learning from an architectural everyday,26 beginning with people not things, its form is not an engineering solution to a visual concept but follows from its means of production. This refuses modernity's privileging of visuality (but does not mean it is visually unrewarding), suggesting that in a new architecture the act of building and engagement with materials might be as important as design, and not relegated to a secondary tier or delegated to technicians and construction workers.27

Wigglesworth and Till write of mainstream architecture set like More's Utopia on a remote island:

We first came to the everyday from the furthest shores of architecture. Conceived of as an island, this architecture concerns itself with internalised notions of form and style. Aesthetics and technology enter into an unholy alliance which allows the self-contained and self-referential language of architecture . . . Occasionally boats arrive at this island, bringing with them fresh supplies of theory, geometry and technique which inject the flagging body of architecture with new life. It is not surprising that the architecture which is thereby created is obsessed with notions of the iconic, the one-off, the monumental. It privileges the final produce over the process, the perfected moment of completion over the imperfections of occupation.

(Wigglesworth and Till, 1998a: 7)

Yet there were no difficulties in gaining planning permission for 9/10 Stock Orchard Street, nor in insurance or mortgage cover. So why is this kind of architecture not taken up more widely? Wigglesworth thinks that in the bureaucracies of health and social housing which might be obvious clients, few are prepared or encouraged to take risks. Within its profession, architecture remains 'structured around a cult of novelty', and alternative architecture is identified as either conceptual or fit for rural situations (conversation, September 4th, 2002). Yet it is in cities that low-impact forms of high-density housing and hybrid spatial categories can produce sustainable forms of settlement.

I turn now to a case that might seem out of place in a book on urban avant-gardes: a rural campus built by barefoot architects at Tilonia, near Jaipur, India.28 I include it because - apart from its intrinsic interest - it demonstrates more than a technology for sustainable settlement. The buildings on the college site and in surrounding villages denote new social and cultural possibilities, and new forms of power relations, which have implications for urban living in the affluent world.

The campus comprises a clinic with dispensary, a library and dining hall, guest houses, an amphitheatre, residential blocks, craft centre, workshops and administrative spaces. It was created in local stone by Bhanwar Jhat with 12 barefoot architects and local labour. In the surrounding area, 250 or so homes have been built for homeless people by 60 barefoot architects; a rainwater harvesting system was installed to collect rain from rooftops and ensure local control of its use, by Laxman Singh assisted by Ram Karam, Kana Ram and Ratan Devi. Geodesic domes made by Rafeek Mohammed and seven barefoot architects are used for a clinic, telephone exchange, teaching rooms and guest

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