Architecture Blog: Final Presentations and Architects’ responses: 1st December 2015

The final workshop took place on 1st December 2015 at Royal Holloway’s campus in central London, Bedford Square. At this workshop each student group came to present their design to the jury which consisted of Stephen Foley and Ada Yvars from Mangera Yvars and Eduardo Palau Valverde for Norman Fosters Partners.  The aim of this workshop was to make it like a proper architecture competition, so each group came in separately to present to the panel and to get the responses of the architects.

The first group, Khursheed and Udbhav, presented a striking pyramid building with three different entrances making effective use of the corner plot. They explained that they wanted to incorporate different religions into one building:

‘So we thought the best way to do this was with a pyramid, because the pyramid either has three or four sides, so you could dedicate each side to each religion’.

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They used symbols on the apex of the roof and at the door to convey the coming together of different faith groups:

‘I think people sometimes see them as controversial these three religions, so we wanted them to be in one place and to show that they can be at peace. That’s why we had the three religious symbols at the top of the pyramid to show that they can be together and we can pray in one place.’

The design included different doors, marked with different religious symbols as they explained:

‘So firstly we thought that we should try and get everyone to go through one door. But then we thought it would be quite plain. We also thought that some people might not feel comfortable entering with other religions. But at the same time the whole point of the building was to try and bring people together not pull them apart. So ultimately we came to a conclusion that people will walk in through different entrances but they would congregate in the same area in the middle.’

The architects’ jury praised this design for its simplicity and the overall concept. They liked the idea that visitors entered through different doorways but could share a large prayer space, which could be used flexibly by different groups on different days. In their own response to the design, ‘Three Doors’ , the architects reduced the scale of the building, incorporated the symbols into the roof space and added some additional smaller rooms.

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The second group, Anastazja, Archuna, Mariam and Yasmin, presented a design of intercepting arches which was a more architectural version of their phase one design. They explained that they had taken inspiration from the field trip visit to different places of worship and the research they had done on religious buildings:

‘The key thing we were trying to portray was to have a shape that is represented in many religious buildings. So our building ended up being like an arched shape, because we noticed that arched shape is actually like a common shape represented in loads of religions.’

The simplicity of their design also reflected their concerns that ‘we had to think of a way that really, if we were going to have all these religions how one doesn’t offend the other.’

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The group explained that they wanted to produce something which was striking visually and would appeal to different people, particularly young people:

‘We were trying to go for something that was different and that would stand out within the road, because it would attract people to come.’

The architect’s jury described this design as ‘very sculptural’ and suggested that this worked more like a landscape element in Greenford Avenue offering a meditative space or walk. Their own adaptation retained the archway as a void between prayer and community spaces.

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The third group, Ahmed, Alya, Avelyne, Kinga, Milica and Victoria started their presentation by explaining that their own experiences directly informed the task of constructing a building to be shared by different faiths: ‘We’re all from different religions, we all worship in completely different ways and that’s more or less a reflection of what we’re trying to do with this building. We’re capable of working together on one project and then we wanted to build a building which is capable of having many people from different religions worship’.

Their building was organised on three floors because ‘everyone prays so differently’. However they emphasised that the building was designed to think of ways of connecting different groups:

‘It’s not like everyone’s having their own space and you can’t communicate with anyone else, we do have stairs of knowledge which incorporate all their religions. When you walk in on those stairs you get to see bits from different religions. So if you’re interested you could be, “Oh that’s really nice, that’s from this religion. The stairs connect everyone and there’s like a garden where everyone can join together.’

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The ‘stairs of knowledge’ built upon a calligraphy inspired detail from their phase one design where they wrote ‘love their neighbour’ in different languages. This was then developed, and tested via a prototype made in persex, as a staircase lining all three floors.

The garden was inspired by their visit to the mosque when they spoke to women about the challenges of bring children to pray. As they explained: ‘if the woman can bring the child into a safe place like a garden where they can play with other children while they go pray, we thought that would be really great. Obviously children from such a young age can learn that they need to respect everyone equally.’

The architect’s jury praised this group for their ‘pragmatic’ approach to the challenge of a building for different faith communities to share. Their own adaptation of the building kept the essential design and built on the staircase with an additional light well.

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The fourth group, Christal, Emin, Kieran, Maryam and Zach brought a keen interest in architecture and design to the project as it contained several would-be architects. Their design was a cone of interconnected circles. They explained that this design was symbolic:

‘The shape, we really wanted a circular shape because it’s like a uniting shape and it’s just all one side.’

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While their building had different rooms none were designated for any particular faith with glass walls so people could pray without disturbance but were still seen and sharing the space. They had different rooms but the walls were made of glass, so you could see what other people were doing but you couldn’t hear them. As they explained:

‘The closest you could get to integration and inclusion and everyone, you know just cohesion under one roof with religion, it was actually putting them all under the same glass. You have the visual aspect of integration, inclusion on a visual level. It is kind of on a spiritual level as well seeing other people praying and being spiritual, even if it’s not in the same way as you, does translate to integration.’

They wanted their building to be different and standout from the rest of the neighbourhood, as they explained:

‘I think with something like a new idea like a multi-faith space we wanted to make something contemporary and different. Because it’s a different concept and a different idea we wanted it to be something that stood out from mundane, because obviously the opposite of mundane is divine religious. It needs to be a timely space, it doesn’t need to be stuck in the past, because it’s meant to be contemporary.’

This group also emphasised the need for a dynamic response to the task: ‘We kept plain rooms so if there’s any fluidity on the future of dynamics of growing new religions there’s always a space there for them.’

The architect’s described this design as ‘a very 21st Century concept’ which responded to an individual’s personal response to spirituality and faith. They complemented the group on the ‘well designed’ conical shape with the private spaces arranged around a central atrium. The architect’s version of the building was simplified slightly to fit the suburban context with the cone expressed as a void rather than a closed in shape.

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Such was the quality of the final designs that the architects’ jury awarded each team certificates of merit stating the key outstanding features of each design.

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