What is the nature and role of historic sites in cities today? How can these places be understood, and adapted to today’s life? How could were-use them? What part of their nature should we preserve or forget? The work explores the above concerns through a compositional exercise at such a palimpsest place inthe Cityof London; in the public garden of St. Dunstan in the East,a park in a ruin that stands as what’sbeen left of the former St. Dunstan in the East Church. The intention here is not simply to preserve the existing, nor to oppose the new layer to the old. The thesis attendsto explore how this layercould become a tool for both preserving such an environment and at thesame time encouraging further transformationin the future. It is more like a‘Progressive Preservation’. St Dunstan in the East is proposed tobecome a new archive centre through a new architectural layer, to becomea point of knowledge, of interaction, of spectacle and at thesame time, to reveal the essence of memory which is currently inoblivion.
What prompted the project?
What is the nature and role of historic sites in cities today? How can these places be understood, and adapted to today’s life? How could we re-use them? What part of their nature should we preserve or forget? The work explores the above concerns through a compositional exercise at such a palimpsest place in the City of London; in the public garden of St. Dunstan in the East, a park in a ruin that stands as what’s been left of the former St. Dunstan in the East Church. The intention here is not simply to preserve the existing, nor to oppose the new layer to the old. The thesis attends to explore how this layer could become a tool for both preserving such an environment and at the same time encouraging further transformation in the future. It is more like a ‘Progressive Preservation’.
What informed the choice of site and city of London?
A first choice was to work on a site in London. The main reason was so as to be able to visit the site often during the period of the project and to survey and record it systematically. Secondly, I was searching for a site of rich history but at the same time to have a historic complexity. I was looking for an urban London palimpsest that would summaries the city’s history. St Dunstan in the East appeared ideal in the sense that it has witnessed multiple destruction; the same ones that the city witnessed throughout its history; the Great fire, the Bombing etc. By doing an exercise of its reuse, I realize I could narrate a story about the building and the city at the same time.
How big of an issue is preservation in London where entire facades are preserved? What is your take on this approach and condition?
I believe that the so called “facadism” in London is a way of maintaining a historical presence. This presence may be an element of identity that one wishes to maintain or to construct. However, I believe that the core of preservation is keeping evidence of important elements of the past which we wish to remember and to learn from. This may not always be a surface and sometimes a sole surface may not be enough. It may be a spatial experience, a specific feeling of a place, an urban condition which we maintain and preserve. Historic places are not only places of the past. They are active parts that form the present of a city and thus should be treated as part of it.
Could you expand on your methodology?
The research of the church was a process of collecting any evidence that could be found thus forming a large ‘collage’ of information. The oldest archive testimony of the church’ s existence is the Ancient Vestry located in the London Metropolitan Archives, which records the church’ s events. Visiting different archives, making a thorough on-line research, reading different reports of different times, along with tracing drawings, sketches and old photographs provided an understanding of the various ways of documenting and their importance when dealing with historic buildings. Furthermore, it developed a ‘mosaic of information’, which consists of all these layers of documentation in order to understand and further document or re-use such a place. This historic mosaic of the building, works as a foundation in connecting today’s traces that are found on the site with the different events of the church’s past, leading to their “historic stratification”.
How important was the initial scanning and research of the site for the intervention? What tools did you use?
In order to understand and to be able to record any physical evidence and marks of the churches history, it was important to carry out a precise survey of the site. The main surveying technique chosen was the 3D scanning [point cloud] survey, a method I had the opportunity to learn in a series of lectures from the BScan team in the Bartlett School of Architecture, which resulted a three-dimensional replica on the site. For the survey I used a Faro Focus 3D Scanner x 300 along with spherical Targets in order to align the 14 scans that were carried out.
What lead you to the idea for an archive centre?
St Dunstan in the East seems to summarize the city’s history since all historic events have left their scar on this site. It is this quality along with the church’s nature of evolution through destruction the elements that have to be preserved and therefore define the new proposed program. The proposal for St Dunstan in the East attends to re-use it as a park of memory, and as an Archive centre. The site is proposed to become an archive of its own documented history. A place of exploration where the archive is both the historic objects and the building itself. An Archive of the place’s Archiving! An Archive of the way we Archive! This archive centre should consist of fragmental experiences of documentation, of ‘multiple realities’ and interpretations of the ruin, of archiving and tracing it, in a similar way that the journey from a sketch to a final 3D replica constantly adds pieces to the mosaic of understanding a historic environment.
What role did the drawing play in the development and representation of the project?
The drawing as a tool of architectural design was at the beginning a way of reading what was already there. It was never an empty drawing. Throughout the project the drawing was a field of underlining what was important, of removing what was not so important. This was done through the intervention. The new layer of history had ì to explore this ‘puzzle’ of multiple meanings that co-existed and to arrange them in such way as to form a story. This was done mainly through the architectural drawing of ‘synthesis’.
What defined the language of representation? How does it relate to the project itself?
For the presentation of the project I decided to create an ‘archive box’ as a summary of my research towards understanding the churches history before designing. The end product which is the portfolio was also a part of the presentation and summarizes the design and reuse of the ruin. Overall the representation language narrates this journey of designing within a historic place, through research and design.
What role does the model & artefacts hold?
The model and artefacts actually represent a summary of a variety of approaches to the analysis of the site and to record the traces of time. These include:
1. 3d printed models of objects that were found on site
2. Stereoscopic images of the main photographic documentation of the church during WW2
3. Sketch drawings of the site during the first visits.
4. a plaster model of part of the church as an artifact itself
What is for you the architect’s ultimate tool?
Personally I do not believe there is an ultimate tool. I believe in working with multiple tools at the same time and combining different methods as to maintain a holistic approach on the design. I believe in the architectural drawing for example to be a rather constant never-ending process rather than something finalized and static. I always try to combine numerous tracing papers, texts, traces of analysis that will coexist with current thoughts of initial gestures of design. For me this result a palimpsest of the mind that constantly informs the design and probably never ends.