My trip to South Africa has begun, and I have been greeted by sunshine and smiling faces on arrival here in Cape Town, filling me with a sense of possibility and excitement. The trip is part an Art Connects Us grant from the British Council, that is aimed at developing connections between the UK and the creative sectors in Sub-Saharan Africa. To give myself what can only be a taste of the local architectural scene in this short period of time, I have arranged to see buildings and meet a few architects of different generations – from young students to the great masters. I will share as much as I can through this blog and on Instagram as I go (although I already a day behind!). These works and conversations will be approached in consideration of what it means to be generous – a quality that I believe should be central to architecture, especially at a time where social and economic inequality is rising across the world.
This ‘research’ is approached without a fixed outcome in mind, instead I wish to pursue ideas and conversations to see where they take me, letting the material I gather and encounters I have help define the product. I have intentionally not overfilled my schedule and am trying to allow time for reflection and absorption, accepting that this will not be a comprehensive survey, but will hopefully give rise to a few meaningful connections.
Where did I begin? Underlying almost everything I have done in recent years is a pursuit of a human architecture. This has often focused on a discussion about experience, because when lived, inhabited and occupied architecture becomes interwoven in our existence, having an impact on our emotions, psyches and bodies – or more generally to our well-being.
I sought a word that would encapsulate my interests. I tried empathy (which I think has both possibilities and problems), and care (which is loaded but interests me because of its ties to the etymology of curating) and landed on generosity, as is a quality I greatly admire in people and is about an attitude as well a quality in architecture. Generosity to me is about listening and acceptance, about give and take, about a relationship of reciprocity and about partaking. A generous building carries these qualities and allows us to be who we are, allows and supports difference, encourages humility and generosity in its occupants.
Generosity also raises questions about the relationship between a benefactor and recipient, of the role of the architect and of the client, of the individual and society. Does a generous attitude of creators of buildings result in a generous building? What are the forces at play that might prohibit a building from fulfilling its potential to be generous? I hope that by involving others in the discussion I can help give greater definition to what might constitute generosity in architecture and how it might be achieved.
Sub-Saharan: I have received a research grant from the British Council to travel to South Africa in
March 2018 to meet young architects and creatives and pursue on an ongoing interest in
architecture and generosity. I will be blogging about my experiences and documenting the
conversations I have, the people I meet and the work I uncover, on this site and on Instagram.
Part of Prelude Talks, an online series celebrating scientific and creative investigation into the determinants of a healthy brain, for Creative Aging International, based in Dublin.
“We need to change the way architecture is framed within society and culture – expanding it beyond something that is functional with the primary purpose of providing shelter – to recognise the profound importance it plays in human existence. To do so, the conversation needs to shift towards the complexity of the lived experience of architecture rather than simply the architects intentions, or the performance of a building such as whether it represents value for money, efficiency, functionality, sustainability, structural innovation etc – all measurable and important, but when viewed in isolation from human experience they can lose their relevance and potential to make a positive impact upon the world. Because it is when lived, inhabited and occupied that architecture becomes interwoven in our existence, and therefore has a deep impact upon our emotional, psychological, physiological states- to our overarching well-being. Architecture can take us towards the sublime and the ephemeral, and not just through rarefied experience but through ordinary. In order to realise its full potential, it is important to have awareness and ideally comprehend of the expansive and varied ways in which architecture can do so – and to appreciate the active relationship we can have with our environment. Over the next 50 mins or so, I hope to take you on a journey through these ideas…….”
Sensing Spaces: A Creative Experiment, in peer-reviewedSensing Architecture: Essays on the Nature of Architectural Experience, Royal Academy of Arts (2017)
Sensing Architecture sets out to provide a thoughtful commentary on our lived experience of inhabiting the world from several different and often surprising angles. The essays derive from a symposium of the same name held in March 2014 at the Royal Academy of Arts, London, which accompanied the exhibition ‘Sensing Spaces: Architecture Reimagined’, in which seven leading architects created unique installations that the public was invited to move through and explore. Four papers from the symposium are included in this collection in revised and expanded form. They are joined by an essay from curator Kate Goodwin reflecting in detail on the ideas that informed ‘Sensing Spaces’, introduced with a series of images of the exhibition taken by the architectural photographer Hélène Binet. This collection is conceived to complement the exhibition’s insights and to offer further consideration of the different registers of ideas – philosophical, psychological, social and economic – that shape our experience of architecture.