Alexander Mallalieu (he/him)
This year my studio practice revolved around critical theory studying the systems that structure our ways of living on a global scale – such as, systems of consumer capitalism and the growth of digital culture – to implement novel ways of living on a local scale; I have also been influenced by Zen and the new perspectives that its philosophy gives to us. This has resulted in a somewhat provocative project that reconsiders societal norms and conventional ways of living to expand the conversation about how we live today – this, I believe, is important for the conversation surrounding post-growth living in response to the climate emergency.
Throughout my studies at GSA, both undergraduate and postgraduate, as well as in practice working in Glasgow I have developed a keen interest and skill in the medium of model-making, both as a tool of development and presentation of architectural design – I would like to develop this specialism following graduation.
The Self and the City
The Self and the City: An Ontological Investigation into Individualism and Impermanence in Architecture
Mark Fisher proposes Capitalist Realism as the contemporary construction of capitalism which has created the ultimate structure of socio-political and economic systems, of which there is seen to be no alternative. It is however, “both … a hyper-abstract impersonal structure and it would be nothing without our co-operation.”
This is mirrored by Adam Curtis’ HyperNormalisation which describes a world of hopeless, individualistic consumerism by powerless individuals complicit in a system of plutocracy exploiting themselves and their planet. The people avoid the nightmarish real world by seeking refuge in the believed freedoms of cyberspace, in an attempt to find their authentic self. As conservative politics of stability and risk aversion pervade globally, Curtis argues that this stability is an illusion that the population are totally aware of but are powerless to change as they see no alternative. Fisher writes: “It is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism”, hence for Curtis, HyperNormalisation occurs as life continues.
This project responds directly to the need for a more communal way of living, in opposition to the individualist standard model of housing in the UK. This is proposed in a medium-density, medium-rise co-housing project which revolves around shared living spaces. The ground floor leaves room for a circular economy focussed programme which connects with the wider community, including flexible working spaces, repair shops, shared tools and household items, and a communal library, along with other positive aspects of the co-housing model, such as shared cooking and childcare.
By focusing on a forum for interaction, integration and gathering with the wider community, this thesis aims to build for communities and collective action, as civil society emerges through ‘Less Self, More Other’, as Richard Sennett suggests. Further, the design will be in keeping with Sennett’s concept of a designed disorder: open systems which evolve the city, rejecting the simplicity of market-driven, one-dimensional building in favour of the complexity of embodied reality. In order to encourage grassroots power, the design questions and challenges engrained hierarchies, systems and perspectives currently seen within UK housing and societal norms, providing an alternative form of relationships and responsibilities amongst families and communities.
Informed by Curtis, I have extracted themes of uncertainty and impermanence within contemporary culture that I would also like to respond to with respect to the Ethical City. These themes result from a disconnection between the world we create inside our heads and embodied physical reality, resulting in a collective anxiety. These boundaries are further disconnected through the online civic spaces of social media which paradoxically bring us closer together whilst driving us further apart. The inclusion of publicly accessible and clearly visible cemeterial architecture is an act of direct-pointing – Zen’s upaya – to clearly present the impermanence of life and reconnect the viewer with their embodied reality. This follows Sennett’s designed disorder that disregards conventions that act to disconnect. The provocation of this is the development of compassion and empathy that follows reflection and meditation on the impermanence of life. The aquatorium and surrounding cemeterial buildings, therefore, reinforce collective cohesion within the communal housing and wider community by providing solace.
Together, the co-housing and the aquatorium create spaces for connection and spaces for reflection, though they are not mutually exclusive. The two programmes overlap and inform each other, trading activity and passivity to create a holistic reification of the present moment through mutual observation within our community and meditative observation of ourselves.
Future by Design
As part of a team of student volunteers I worked alongside a diverse team to design and build this gridshell structure that will be an outdoor classroom at Cove Park – an artist’s residency centre on the west coast of Scotland. We have been nominated in the ‘Low-Cost Project Schemes under 200k’ category in the Scottish Design Awards 2022. The text below is from Arc Architects, the lead architects, and describes the project:
“Young Architects will spend the bulk of their careers responding to the climate crisis. To do this successfully they need new materials, new design strategies and new ways of working. This project, the British Council’s Architecture project for COP26, addressed that challenge.
Future By Design brought together young designers from 17 disciplines in two countries – Scotland and Ghana, in a north-south collaboration that created structures in Accra and Argyll.
Future designers need strategies to re-use the carbon embodied in existing structures. Responding to the constraint of four lines of concrete, the team developed a 3-d curvilinear lattice structure, the most different form imaginable.
The group explored low-carbon, non-toxic technologies, natural fibres and bio-composites, constructing a curvilinear lattice gridshell of Larch, and grew furniture from mycelium and agro-waste on site in moulds in only four days.
The process fused landscape and building architecture into place design, less fixed on producing ‘more stuff’ and more engaged in creating meaningful spaces.
We discovered that the post-farming landscape was part of the original Scottish Rainforest. Partially enclosed, the timber gridshell reinstates rainforest conditions of shade and shelter, acting as an educational resource and a space that brings people’s attention in close, reducing environmental stresses.
This temporary structure suggests a more mutable, adaptive and restless architectural future, echoing the bent hazel frames of traditional Scottish Traveller’s tents. It also reflected the need for greater diversity in Construction, the least gender equal sector in the UK.
Though at times challenged by Covid and technology, the trans-national nature of the project gave huge depth to our understanding of difference in design and climate change. The Ghanaian structure addressed an urban parkland blighted by flooding, working with the diverse community, including young people without fixed homes, through terraforming and urban agriculture with native species.
By making spaces for learning, we learned many things. We learned that by recognising our place in nature we can re-discover what it is to be human. We learned how bio-materials can help us grow our way to a zero-carbon future. We learned that diversity brings strength. We learned that trying to achieve something new comes with the risk of failure, but we must take that risk. And we learned how Architects across the world face a common design challenge – one that can only be solved together.”