Phase 2: Workshops 6-8
At the UCL workshop the students were introduced to the second stage of the project. They were given a mock architectural brief from Mangera Yvars. The assignment was to create an architect’s model and design for a real site – the site of the closed White Hart Pub on Greenford Avenue. This building was about 400 yards away from the school and thus familiar to all the pupils. Their brief was to create ‘a new faith space for Ealing’. They were told that their building ‘must be a space where different groups can share and where they can interact’. The students were encourage to think about how the building could incorporate different uses and to think about how the building might link to the locality and surrounding buildings.
Mangera Yvars also created a 3D model of the site via the computer-aided design programme Sketchup and suggesting that the students could use this software to try out their designs. They were also given scaled maps of the sites on which to work and a site plan of the surrounding area.
Following on from the previous tasks, the students were allocated into three different groups to work on the task (although this later became four groups). They were encouraged to build on some of the ideas they had developed in their phase one designs and respond to what they had learnt from the architects. We are also joined for two sessions by Heidi Au Yeung an architecture student from UCL who worked with the students to teach them how to go about the design task.
The first workshop was a brainstorming session with pupils learning to use the software, trying out ideas with their new group and lots of discussion about the practicalities – as well as the design elements of making a shared faith space. This was quite a challenging week because students had to get used to working with different people and also share and agree ideas.
All of the groups debated the practicalities of designing a faith space that could actually be shared by different groups. While some groups prioritised more open spaces in which all groups would interact, other groups saw the difficulties associated with sharing space. Would the sounds from one form of worship practice distract or interfere with others? Was it practical to tidy away elements of one form of religious practice? Or could they coexist in the same space?
One group reflecting on the issue of entrances – should there be one shared entrance or different entrances for different faiths? How did you avoid making one group more important than others? Or the problem of one group having to walk through another’s space? This idea of separate entrances, shaped differently to denote different faiths, was eventually to find its way into their pyramid shaped design.
Another group started with what they’d learned on their fieldtrips. After a conversation with women they met at the mosque they decided it was important to incorporate a play space into their building so that children could play safely while parents were praying. While their building also had separate prayer spaces for different religions – on separate floors – the roof space, café and children’s play area became sites for communal interaction.
As the designs began to emerge there were some creative and imaginative way to bring different faith communities together. One design was based on a circular form designed to reflect ideas about ‘unity, flow and togetherness.’ The students suggested that ‘it’s more fluid if you walk in a circle, you don’t go in one direction.’ This group argued that some religious groups will need distinct prayer spaces but they suggested that this could be separated by ‘sound proofed glass walls’ so groups could pray separately and yet be seen by others which they felt would help ‘integration’.
There was also imaginative ideas about how to communicate and facilitate connections between different groups. Many of the designs included a café or play area for groups to interact. One design had three floors which were identified with distinct faith groups, however these were united by a book lined spiral staircase. Picking up on the use of calligraphy which this group had developed in their phase one model, this staircase was modelled in Perspex with ‘love thy neighbour’ inscribed in many different languages. This group not only developed this concept but also successfully modelled the staircase inscribing and firing a Perspex model.
Another group also reused the ideas they had developed in Phase One where they had developed the concept of arches – drawing ideas from the church and the mosque – as a linking theme. Their model building was a more thoroughly developed image of their earlier building with consecutive arches in glass and concrete making use of natural light ‘to enhance the feeling of spirituality’ and ‘make the building more welcoming’ . Their building did not separate faith groups or make distinctive spaces for prayer instead it was where ‘we want to make them all faiths come together’. Rather than a place of worship, per se, their building was a place of education about different faiths – they pointed out the site location was between two different high schools – making it an ideal learning space.
Interestingly none of the groups chose either to retain and adapt the existing building. Instead they pointed out that they would produce something ‘unique to its surroundings’ or ‘an attraction.’ As one group pointed out ‘there’s nothing special about that strip of shops, we could make something really dramatic and unusual to attract people here’.
Images: Laura Cuch