Room at the Size of the City
A collaboration with Larry Botchway, Royal College of Art.
An analytical exploration on the themes of architectural type (housing) and programme (distribution centre), operating at the scale of the very large.
Climat de France
Through detailed models and drawings, the study dissects spatial and social aspects of Fernand Puillon's Climat de France housing estate in Algiers, Algeria.
A monumental courtyard framed by a heavy and dominating colonnade speaks of political influence in a colonial setting. Decades on, the imposing architecture sits as a contrasting backdrop to the colourful everyday reality of thousands of residents who continue to appropriate the spaces to their needs.
the distribution centre
In parallel with the architectural type of large scale housing, the study analyses the building programme of the distribution centre.
These sophisticated storage sheds have been shaped by principles of purest efficiency and capital profit. Companies have been reviewing and redesigning distribution facilities for the last three decades to feed the ever increasing demand for fast deliveries - a cycle established and perpetuated by the likes of Amazon.
The exterior of a typical distribution centre is like a busy ant trail: dozens of HGV access gates along corrugated steel facades allow for a highly efficient plug-in-plug-out system that feeds the vast stream of products and goods arriving to and leaving the warehouse.
Typically a distribution facility is built as a lightweight steel frame structure, vast in footprint and relatively low in height. This building type facilitates a flexible, rearrangeable layout for the logistic components that make up the warehouse, such as inbound and outbound docking, sorting, barcode identification, picking, slamming, packing and quality control areas, along with staff support spaces, management, training rooms, canteens, changing rooms and lockers. The largest portion of the building is normally occupied by storage itself.
Situated on brownfield sites on outskirts of cities, where connections to major road networks are essential, these facilities strike a strangely lonely and isolated image, despite the vast workforce of people who run the place every day of the week.
Is AI technology slowly pushing people out of this industry? Despite automatisation and the development of robotic technology, distribution centres still employ hundreds of people and human labour is vital to the operation of these centres.
AI aided technology creates systems where humans aren’t capable of fully understanding and therefore controlling the processes. A prime example of this phenomenon is the way goods are being stored. Previously, items were stored and stacked according to their use, e.g. plates next to cutlery, or cleaning products all stacked in an alphabetical order. Today, computer technology is able stock items according to an algorithm that groups them by popularity, size and sales prediction parameters.
Contemporary distribution centres are hybrid systems - exploitative human participation is still common, but can't be at its most efficient without automated technology.
The study finally synthesised the politically charged social housing estate of Climat de France with the utilitarian system of a distribution centre. Such a symbiotic relationship has also led to drawing parallels with the Victorian era train station or urban market typology.
In an urban setting, the exterior of such a vast amalgam of two spatial and programmatic forms would seek to relate and communicate with its city context whilst housing an infrastructural function within a courtyard of sorts. The walls of the enclosure would thicken to become living spaces which overlook the busy workings of both city and industry, whilst utilising a lightweight and transparent roof structure to unite the block as a whole.
Blowing Climat de France up to the size of an average distribution centre by continuing the repetitive pattern of domestic units presents us with a housing estate of alien scale.
Studying a synthesised version of the two entities raises questions about neo-liberal spaces in the city – is it possible that a function such as a distribution centre can enhance city living? Whilst it would accommodate the needs of the city by localising distribution, it may simultaneously help to create a space of community, at once autonomous and inherently part of the city.
Architecture Research Study with Larry Botchway
MA Architecture, Royal College of Art
tutors: Douglas Murphy and Nicholas Lobo Brennan