JUST my cup of tea A 2036-Exposition celebrating England’s Innovativeness

Project

The project is designed to be hosted close to the Modernist grid of Milton Keynes, precisely in Campbell Park, England.

How can a national Exposition and its by products become vessels to define long-term cultural and stylistic values for the definition of Britain as a nation?

The entrance of Expo36 “Who could fail to be charmed by the legendary Water Knob sculptures in front of the Expo’s entrance? When I first arrived in Milton Keynes for Expo36, the Festival embraced me in its stylistic diorama that I felt was truly representative of British culture. I was curious to see more”

Expo 36 takes place in Milton Keynes in 2036 to represent a constructed image of Britishness. The project is explained through the eyes of Brian Wilson, a journalist that visits the Expo briefly after its opening date, the 23 June 2036. Brian, nostalgic towards a sense of tradition and Britishness, and willing to reaffirm such notions in a period in which they are constantly being questioned, takes for granted that everything in the Expo has a truly national character.

Materials such as Soft Concrete, an endless set of totemic teapots, and perpendicular gothic column forests, being all these newly invented objects of Britishness, are for Brian parts of England’s communal memory and identity, as they are scattered both around individual homes and public places, in the same way as the pavilions act as narrative triggers in the Expo.These clues lead him back to the often forgotten narrative of the innovative past of the country, undetachable from its tradition, which is praised in the Expo’s five different pavilions.

A new material for Englishness: Soft Concrete The invention of a new way of making concrete comes indeed after a provocative critique supported by Brexiters about this material not being traditional enough. Through this new technique concrete takes the shape of corduroy, doilies etc and becomes more site specific.

But in this constructed scenario has Brian actually stopped for a moment to ask himself if a mere material such as concrete or an object such as a simple teapot can ultimately represent something as intricate and wide as Britishculture?

Is Brian sure that this selective and exclusive Expo will be representative of something so complex and intricate as the same idea of Britishness as shared by everybodyelse?

Finally, is this Expo not just a mere participatory utopia of a simplified populist architectural agenda that excludes a wider understanding of such notions?

Inspiration/References

The inspiration for this project came after Brexit became a truth. Being an international student studying in vibrant and multicultural London,I decided to explore the dangers of what It would mean to call and define  a Styleas“unitary”and“national”nowadays. Starting from a provocative video released by UKIP supporters in which Modernism and concrete were defined as an“eyesore”,I decided to locate my Exposition in Milton Keynes,one of the most experimental, and potentially the biggest Modernist project acrossEngland.

In terms of drawing style, one key reference was the study of the 1984 Sussman-Prejza’s Los Angeles Olympic design, where graphics and colors became ways of branding the crafted identity for the city. Other sources of inspiration came from Sam Rodia’s Watts Towers, Adam Firman’s models and graphics, Elsewhere Architecture’s colorful and detailed drawings, and Ettore Sottsass as a general reference. Something that helped the project develop further is the tool of the score, a descriptive and analytical drawing which puts together what is necessary to develop a strategic agenda to drive the intent and the desired impact of the project,invented by my tutors Tyen Masten,director of PHASE3 Architecture ,and Inigo Minns,architect and currently Diploma tutor at theAA.

“The site on Campbell Park was plotted like a series of enclosed pavilions, opening one from another, and contained into a glass box that functioned as a time framer. The Grid remained an “off-stage presence”, unstressed, vital to the Expo’s sense of itself. The view across the city was acknowledged as a backdrop, as a comparison between the new and wanted with the old and weary generic urban fabric of the Old New City. Inside artificially fabricated clouds were blurring the boundary between sky and ceiling, and rainy storms happening here and there between the Pavilions reminded me of the awful yet familiar burden of the English weather”

Interview

Who influences you graphically?

In terms of drawing style, one key reference was the study of the 1984 Sussman-Prejza’s Los Angeles Olympic design, where graphics and colors became ways of branding the crafted identity for the city. Other sources of inspiration came from Adam Firman’s models and graphics, Elsewhere Architecture’s colorful and detailed drawings, and Ettore Sottsass as a general reference. Some drawings that I also like looking at are Eduardo Paolozzi’s colorful and complex compositions.

Innovative Tapestries and Wallpapers
Wallpapers take traditional aspects of England such as William Morris, Tudor architecture and
perpendicular gothic and alter it to create a New vernacular pattern.

What brought you to explore the project through a variety of mediums? How do these work and communicate with each other?

I believe that, in order to communicate distinct ideas, distinct mediums should be used. Therefore “The medium is the message” is a statement I agree with. I think the medium one decides to use needs to be well selected according to what one wants to communicate. For this project, for example, I decided to opt for embroidery as it is a quaint and traditional technique that suited well with the idea of a more conservative Style for Brexit, to represent a possible intervention on the site.

Could you explore the ‘score’ tool in greater depth?

The score is an extremely important tool for me organize thought. Divided in five sections, or key themes, it combines all of the ideas and precedents for a project. The score is a tool that forces you to think in a 360° perspective, as it combines questions around Community, Spatial Context, Architectural Language, and most importantly, Legacy, and puts them into relationship with one another through Time. I like using this tool for multiple reasons: it is an active and dynamic type of drawing, as you complete it while thinking and reflecting on the questions it poses, while giving an overall view on the entirety of the project.

Programmatic Score

How important was the initial embroidered concept for the development of the project?

I think that this initial step was key for me to understand the tone that the project would have needed. Handling themes such as Identity, style and Brexit was not easy or straightforward, them being delicate themes that are being heatedly discussed everyday. Hence the embroidered model became the project in itself: a piece of hand-crafted reality, one of the many souvenirs that this fictional Expo produced.

How important is the aspect of narrative within the architectural project? What role does narrative play for you and the way you approach the act of designing?

I think it is very tricky to refer to narrative in a project, as we should distinguish this word from fiction, as they are two very distinct attitudes towards a way of presenting an idea. For Just my cup of tea, I used a fictional character, Brian, to present to the viewer the way in which a specific community could perceive the spaces of the project. Nevertheless, although Brian does not exist, Brian is in this sense all of those people that are nostalgic towards a sense of tradition and Britishness, and are willing to reaffirm such notions in a period in which they are constantly being questioned. Hence narrative aided me to present the project through a specific lens, and to give a hint of sarcasm to his reading.

Brian Wilson surrounded by his Very British souvenirs after Expo 36 “My home is now full of tea pots and other souvenirs from Expo36, and I believe in their importance more and more as I venture through my everyday life. Almost like totemic objects, they act as powerful agents of British culture, as constant reminders of my identity”.

To what extent and how has the environment of the AA influences how you operate as an architect?

This is a hard question to answer shortly: there is so much to say! The AA is a cradle of ideas, events and great conversations. It would be impossible to detach my way of working from this energetic environment.

What are you currently working on?

Currently I am working on a project in Athens which deals with rewriting the protocols of trash management in the capital for my third year project.

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