Poole’s Agorà

Project

Living belongs to an individual’s daily experience. It is not limited to the house, it extends to exterior spaces like courtyards, squares, streets, theatres, markets, etc.

Heidegger pondered on the essence of dwelling, and realised it went beyond the mere use that man does of buildings. He reached a deeper understanding of dwelling when he stated that “it is the manner in which mortals are on the earth”. Hence, one does not just lodge in a square or a garden, he inhabits them. One still dwells within these spaces and fulfills his vital needs, as the need for conviviality.

The notion of gathering, particularly within the public realm, has been inquired through the design of a public piazza and market for the coastal town of Poole, Dorset (UK) .

The Comprehensive Design Project’s brief was to deliver a hybrid urban building, with public and private activities, including business and living accommodation for the Ellen Macarthur Foundation.  It made use of the knowledge gathered throughout the final year of study, to deliver a sensible design that would respond to its context and that would give back to the people of Poole a lost civic space, the market. A place that would respect the origins of food, promote healthy and local products. A place where conviviality could newly flourish.

The Design Process

The in depth study of the ancient Greek Agora, the place for social interaction within the polis, was the initial model of inspiration for the design, due to its architectonic elements and their location within the public realm. The study of the Agora was followed by a research on the market tradition in the UK. The element of the market cross, emerged as a strong landmark within market towns across the country. As the name itself suggests, it marked the crossing of the different roads that characterised the weekly markets and fairs. By analysing these two pieces of civic architecture, their symbolism and strong significance, as places of trade, conviviality and debate, highly in influenced the design.

An attentive observation and analysis of the site and its surrounding buildings, has determined the choice of a minimal, linear design, rich in details and materiality.

The design process was led by the idea of integrating both aesthetic and functional choices. Thus, from an aesthetic point of you, the aim was to produce a structure in harmony with its surroundings, in terms of geometric forms, linearity and elevation (not to exceed the surrounding buildings’ heights). In this way, it can be said that there was an attempt to create a sustainable design that would not pollute the existing waterfront, but that would rather enrich and connect the West side of Poole’s Quay to the more commercial and in-use East side.

From a functional point of view, it was ensured that the new development would be accessible to people of all ages and disabilities, and seating and sheltered areas would be available to the public.

As more was learned about the town of Poole, the Poole Borough Council Core Strategy (2008), became a key document in understanding how the design would have to respond to local requirements. Some of the key objectives as the construction of sustainable homes, reduction of local carbon emissions, revitalisation of the town centre through a more dynamic urban fabric,  all these aspects have been considered and analysed to create a design that would strongly respond to its context.

Interview

What prompted the project?

While researching Poole’s Online Archive, I came across a newspaper column from June 1868, in which a certain Ms. Pilot, was complaining about the “life less” markets of the town. Ms. Pilot talked of the markets as a weekly ritual, as a key part in the women’s everyday life in Poole, that was however disappearing.

This curious finding led me to conduct a more thorough research of the local markets’ history. I found out that Poole had specific locations for a corn, meat and a fish market; they have now disappeared and Poole is left with a poor and unpopular Saturday market.

So, the historical findings were the catalyst for the project. The design aimed at researching that lost thriving force that motivated the maritime town; not with a sense of nostalgia, but rather with the hope of enriching Poole Quay once again.

How important were references as those of Heidegger in the initial conceptual phase?

Heidegger’s teachings have guided my research through the last two projects of my final year.

What really interested me about Heidegger’s philosophy was that he argued that living belongs to an individual’s daily experience. It is not limited to the house, it extends to exterior spaces like courtyards, squares, streets, theatres, markets, etc. He pondered on the essence of dwelling, and realised it went beyond the mere use that man does of buildings. He reached a deeper understanding of dwelling when he stated that “it is the manner in which mortals are on the earth”. Hence, one does not just lodge in a square or a garden, he inhabits them. One still dwells within these spaces and fulfils his vital needs, as the need for conviviality.

So dwelling and the notion of gathering, particularly within the public realm, have become my key focus of research from the beginning of the project.

How and to what extent has the realm of the digital and social media effected how we conceive and think of gathering?

On one hand social media had a positive impact on gathering. They have allowed people of all ages around the world to be connected. So, social media should be thought of as an asset and as an easy and quick tool to engage in social interaction.

On the other hand however, the digital world has offered a variety of services that can be directly accessed from our houses.  Although this is an incredible commodity, in the case of purchasing food, for example, that has erased the relationship between the customer and the producer. So, it can be said, that the awareness and the knowledge gained through a visit to a market or grocery shop, has become less common.

In this time where life has such a fast pace, not many can afford to spend time grocery shopping on a daily basis.  So hopefully, movements such as slow food, and slow city, as well as architects and local institutions, can bring awareness and encourage people to reconsider this practice and create spaces to promote social interaction.

Do we still need physical spaces as the piazza? or can and has this been interpreted digitally?

Now, more than ever, we need to be aware of public space and need it as part of our daily lives.

Being from Milan and growing up there in my teenage years, public spaces as piazzas have always been key gathering points.

Either for an afternoon coffee or an evening beer, piazzas have become important places in our collective memory.

In the words of Doctor Susan Parham, when writing about her research on food and urbanism, she stated that “sharing food together allows for a daily physical and social re-creation of the self that is also fundamental to the sense of human connection to others”, and conviviality is “the very nourishment of civil society itself”.

What defined the use of these silhouettes? How do they inform the images and thereby the architecture?

Silhouettes were used to bring life to the architectural spaces and develop a narrative.

The silhouettes were taken from a variety of sources; a of black and white photos of people, cut out from paintings by the Flemish painter Frans Snyders (1579-1657), and illustrations by American painter Norman Rockwell (1894-1978), were used to create evocative images that could lead the viewer towards an understanding of the market and square’s atmosphere.

How does each view reveal specific aspects of the project?

The final collages where produced once the design process had been finalised and they differ in purpose from the initial collages.

These final post production images represent a quest towards finding my unique style of expression, to distance myself from the hyper realistic renders. They underline the relationship between human activity and construction. They clearly aim to portray the atmosphere of conviviality and sense of community, willing to be perceived within the designed spaces.

These images gave me the chance to freely express myself and create spaces that highlight the clean and simple geometry of the design, the use of local materials such as Portland Stone, in contrast with imported materials such as Italian terrazzo, as well as creating intriguing moments and atmospheres.

What is for you the future of public space?

Public space will play a key role in avoiding people from alienating themselves in their own homes.  So, architects and town planners, as well as business owners and public institutions, will have to think of ways in which they can create outdoor urban spaces where conviviality can flourish.

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