Tiny house movement, which is a theme of DS10 second brief, is closely linked to the idea of self-build. It is commonly thought that both emerged simply as a response to housing crisis. However, compelled limitations can also encourage other unexpected movements. Here, I want to talk about how the self-build practice allowed discovering new possibilities that go beyond economy.
In 1980s, Berlin-born modernist architect Walter Segal proposed a solution to shorten the housing waiting list by allowing people to build their own homes. With the bold step of London borough of Lewisham, an ‘awkward’ piece of sloping land, that was found unsuitable for council’s programme, was donated for the experiment. People that got randomly chosen from the waiting list were allocated a site and given a basic induction in how to saw a straight line and drill a hole. Segal believed that a house should adapt to its occupants. Each household was invited to participate in the design stage, while the construction principles included lightweight timber frames and stilt foundations, meaning the layout could always be adjusted. New residents of Walter’s Way all worked collaboratively from the project commencement and as a result formed a tight community. At the end of the project, new occupants were given a chance to buy their homes. Walter’s Way became UK’s first self-built council housing project.
In spring 2016 I visited the site to interview residents for my undergraduate dissertation project. I was keen to understand how design principles of community influenced the level of happiness of it’s residents and therefore affected sustainable behaviour. Walter’s Way was a unique case study. Walking onto the street felt nothing like the rest of London and more like an eco-village in a countryside. You could sense a spirit of community that seemed to work great almost naturally. The road slopes down and main entrances to houses are oriented in such way, that you always see your neighbours as soon as they walk out their private spaces. The central core is used for weekly community activities and as a kids playground. All residents were happy to talk and during the conversation it was common to hear “I’m not as sustainable as my neighbour, but I learn from them”, which is almost like a good eco-competition. That is without saying that certain homes achieve carbon savings of 73% (according to SuperHomes).
Today, all houses are private with many owners occupying their homes for over 20 years. Everyone remembers the history of Walter’s Way and feels proud to be a part of it. Many continued the legacy of self-build by attaching extensions or upgrading buildings. The fact that all houses were designed by those in need and built with their own hands allowed for an activist community to be born. It not only challenges the traditional approach to solving housing issue, but creates new opportunities in the city by building on ‘abandoned’ sites, creating a new model for urban life and teaching others sustainable lifestyles.
Whatever your creed your reliance on the sun is unquestionable.
We have worshipped it as a God.
Spent lifetimes studying it through science.
Yet human hands will never touch its surface.
Celestial Field brings our sun to the Playa for us to dance in its glory.
Triggering our own solar flare.
From the dawn of time the sun has been a constant in human life. It has been central to the beliefs of nearly every civilisation throughout history. What was once an astrological wonder sustaining life; dictating when to plant and harvest our crops; evolved into a god and deity, woven into the stories and teachings of nearly every culture, from the Egyptians to the Ancient Greeks and even Christianity.
The oldest man-made structures in the world have resounding astrological connections to both the sun and constellations, covered in carvings they unquestionably align to major astrological events.
Newgrange in Boyne Valley, Ireland, thought to be built in 3500BC, has a tomb in which sits a stone basin lit by a single beam of light at sunrise on the winter solstice.
The Egyptians, Greeks, and Christians have all referenced the sun within their religion and beliefs.
The Egyptians in 3000BC had Ra, the Greeks in 400BC believed Helios to be God of the sun, and Christians have often depicted Jesus in front of what is thought by many to be the solar cross.
In the past the sun has been depicted as a 2Dimensional disk of light travelling across the sky before dying only to be reborn at sunrise.
The Ancient Greeks believed Helios to be the personification of the sun. A man with a many rayed crown of light, pulling the sun across the open sky with a horse drawn chariot. The Helios named after the Greek god has been used and adapted through the ages, with one of the most recognisable iterations being the logo of global corporation BP which symbolises “a number of things – not least the greatest source of energy … the sun itself..” – bp.com
This once celestial being has now become a tangible thing. Through advances in our technological and scientific capability we have gained an understanding of the suns chemical make-up, uncovering many of its secrets from sun spots to solar flares. Although we have developed an increased understanding of the forces driving the sun, it is still no more accessible to us mere humans than on the first day on earth remaining an impenetrable sphere in the sky only to viewed from a far.
Digital animation of lighting tests
The suns surface has taught us much. Galileo’s sun spot diagrams unknowingly demonstrated the unique fluidity of the suns chromosphere. Further study of these sun spots and magnificent solar flares proved that the surface of the sun is covered in billions of interlaced magnetic fields all interacting together to form the whole. When these fields cross swirling plasma burst in an instance out into the corona bringing with it immense light displays that can be seen on earth as the aurora.
In an age where endless streams of newfound knowledge are accessible with the touch of a finger – it is easy to lose our sense of innocent amazement and unquestioning awe. We have a constant need for explanation of why and how phenomena exist, no longer blindly excepting their beauty and revelling in it.
The indescribable beauty of these gigantic magnetic fields can often be lost and forgotten in the mundane when scaled down to earthly objects. Viewing them at a micro scale allows us to connect with their other-worldly nature.
Science has taught us how a magnet attracts and repels enabling use in industry, medicine and everyday life. And as our knowledge expands, we move from child to adulthood and our desire to play diminishes – burdened by explanations and reasoning; we are no longer in awe of our ability to make metal move without laying hands on it. It has become the norm and the expected, it is no longer ‘magic’.
Life should be fun and full of mesmerising moments. Our increased knowledge should enable and enhance our experience of ‘magic’ not hinder it.
Celestial Fields captures the unexplainable wonderment the sun once held and makes it accessible through modern mediums, combining two worlds; science and enchantment, imbedding them on the Playa at Black Rock City, Nevada, for people to explore and lose themselves in.
Thousands of swaying rods made of tubes of one-way mirror form an undulating field, rising high above your head, and falling like the plasma pulled in all directions by the phenomenal magnetic forces found on our sun.
By day a field of mirrors reflect and intensify the suns natural beauty and power. Creating a maze of ever changing light to explore, push through and play within. At sunset everything transforms. The field morphs, bursting into a sea of glowing beams reacting to movement and mimicking the fluid, almost pulsing nature of the suns corona.
Like the chromosphere, magnetic fields have informed density and pattern, creating patches of pure brightness and areas as dark as sunspots. With each rod built on a spring loaded base it can be pushed a manipulated, enabling you to forge your own path through the densest areas of Celestial Field, parting rods like magnets repelling polarised iron.
Movement through the sprung rods creates interest not only for the participants but also onlookers. During daylight hours people weaving in and out can be seen across the playa through the constant glinting of the sun on the reflective rods. An ever changing shimmer, like sunlight dancing across water in the distance, drawing people in from all directions out of wonder and intrigue.
Once the sun has set the lights come on, and the show only gets better. The rods now glow and pulse, changing colour, transforming the world around them – each equipped with a sensor so as to react to movement as people push past; creating tracks of swirling light shifting like the turbulent surface of the sun. Areas of intense and overwhelming light can occur when people team together to trigger a cluster of rods forming a concentration of light evocative of a solar flare.
The sun is not solely about light, with it comes inevitable darkness. Shadows too have been used throughout time as a symbol in opposition to that of the sun; and in this instance the areas of shadow formed in the magnetic layout create areas of calm within the thrill of the lights where one can sit and ponder everything from the dessert to the sky and the sun that brings life to earth.
What was once worshipped as a distant god and celestial being can now exist on the surface of the earth as a Celestial Field in Nevada. The sun has risen and set, bringing with it heat and light; powering life on earth since the dawn of time, a focus of incomprehensible wonder and fascination for each and every culture across the globe.
Celestial Field intends to reignite our faith in the intangible, while showing us there are powers and beauty still to be found in the modern world.
“We can also discuss the mandala in terms of the soul. The soul is the totality of the mandala. Essence arises in the soul, but for a long time… the soul is not completely essentialized; only part of it is. The rest of the field of the mandala – the rest of the consciousness of the soul – is composed of all your mental, emotional and physical experiences. The thread is defined by the center of the soul, and we can know that center most specifically and in a delineated way by recognizing the essential presence and what quality is manifesting.” – A.H.Almaas
The word Mandala derives from:
manda =essence, la =container
Thus, the word Mandala translates as “the container of the essence”
However, as an image the mandala is a symbol representing both the mind and the body of the Buddha.
In esoteric Buddhism, the Mandala’s main principle is the presence of the Buddha in it. This can be represented either as a tree, a wheel or as a jewel, or in other symbolic manifestations.
The Mandala is consecrated to a deity. In its creation, a line materializes out of the dot, while other lines are drawn up to the point where they intersect, creating in that way triangular geometrical patterns. The central area of the Mandala is the residence of the deity. Each Mandala has its own resident deity, with whom the mandala is identified. The circle drawn around the deity’s residence stands for the dynamic consciousness of the initiated. It is the gathering point, in which all the outside forces are drawn.
The centre is visualised as the essence and the circumference as grasping.
In its complete form Mandala means:
Grasping the essence.
The residence of the deity is located in the square structure concentrically within the surrounding circles. The outlying square symbolizes the physical world bound in four directions, which are represented by the four gates, which in turn symbolize the bringing together of the four boundless thoughts.
The square structure is divided into four isosceles triangles by lines that run from the center of the Mandala to the four corners. Each detail in all four quadrants or triangles faces the center, where the deity of the mandala resides. The square form defines the architecture of the Mandala described as a four-sided palace or temple.
Palace – Residence of the presiding deity
Temple – Contains the essence of the Buddha
The four quadrants of the Palace or Temple are divided into isosceles triangles of colour.
white, yellow, red, green, dark blue
Each of the aforementioned colors is associated with one of the five transcendental Buddhas, further associated with the five delusions of human nature. These delusions obscure our true nature, however spiritual practice can transform them into the wisdom of these five respective Buddhas.
The series of concentric circles surrounding the central palace or temple follow an intense symbolic structure.
Ring of Fire
Ring of Thunderbolt or Diamond Scepters (Vajra)
Eight Cremation Grounds or Graveyards
Ring of Lotus Leaves
A person meditating on a mandala visualizes himself going into the mandala and making his way through the levels of images until he arrives at the center. Buddhists believe that the Mandala meditation helps concentrate spiritual power and bring freedom from suffering.
Drawing the Mandala
After thorough research on the Indian Mandala, I started designing mine taking into consideration the various symbolizations and components that constitute the traditional Mandala.
The Final Proposal – The Cubic Mandala
According to Buddhist religion, the mandala appears as a series of concentric circles that are a representation of the process of transformation that human beings are asked to undergo before entering the sacred area, located at the centre of the mandala. In other words, when meditating in front of a mandala, human beings move through the different layers, liberating themselves from the delusions that obscure our true nature, and consequently reach the centre of the mandala and attain enlightenment.
Based on that theory, the Cubic Mandala is a three dimensional, cubic representation of the traditional Indian Mandala and is designed in a way so that all the fundamental elements of the traditional mandala are being incorporated into the design. For instance, the central area, the palace or temple, the four quadrants along with the four gates, the ring of fire, the lotus and diamond ring, as well as the eight graveyards. The aforementioned are of great significance and vital to the process of transformation and the attainment of enlightenment and spiritualism.
This process is further emphasized by the introduction of 4 layers that form each side of the cubic mandala and represent the different stages that human beings have to overcome in order to reach the centre of the mandala. The cubic mandala is an actual representation of the difficulties one is asked to overcome in order to put an end to human suffering and acts as a means to discover divinity by the realization that it resides within one’s one self.
The Cubic Mandala is a 4,5 m high timber and acrylic construction consisting of layers that form four concentric cubes, creating a journey to the centre of the mandala. The twenty layers that form the four concentric cubes are made out of timber. However, a 10mm acrylic sheet is attached to the five layers that form the first cube as well as the third concentric cube. LED strips will be attached at the edges of the acrylic sheets, lighting up the whole structure during night-time.
Each cube consists of five sides, instead of six, as the bottom side has been removed and replaced by a base that holds the whole structure. The sixteen vertical layers of the structure are being inserted to the pockets that have been created at the base of the structure. The remaining four horizontal layers are attached to the horizontal elements.
While observing a mandala, a kind of spiritual essence surrounds the one observing it, which as a result allows him a higher level of awareness and consciousness. Consequently, the creative mind of the individual is allowed to escape reality and run free. The mission of the “Cubic Mandala” is to encourage people to focus on it, absorb the beautiful designs and allow their minds to wander. People are tempted to let the “Cubic Mandala” absorb all their attention, by moving into the mandala and gazing into its patterns.
A feeling of lightness is what people are going to experience, while falling into the mandala. Intuitive thoughts might arise. People are encouraged to relax, embrace one another and let the feelings come to them. According to the tradition, the making process of the mandalas involved four monks – one at each quadrant – working simultaneously until the mandala was complete. Having said that, the original process of making highly encouraged interactivity. Therefore, the purpose of the “Cubic Mandala” is to bring people together and, through the ritual of mandala meditation, to raise their spiritualism, to promote self-expression and finally, to liberate them from the everyday life.
The time has come for the Church to take up the joyful call to mercy once more. (Pope Francis)
During the Jubilee Year of Mercy, the faithful are invited to make a pilgrimage to particular shrines around the world, many of them hosting a Holy Door.
In London, the Cardinal has designated a number of parishes where indulgence may be gained by passing through the Holy Door. My project intends to use this opportunity to create a pilgrim chapel which would travel throughout the year to highlight the London churches designated with a Holy Door.
London churches with a Holy Door
Not only will this chapel be a place of prayer, it will also be a space for reconciliation. When the Missionaries of Mercy will be sent out during the season of Lent to the Diocese of Westminster, the chapel could be used for confession.
The chapel is meant to have a strong relationship with the door of the church by resembling the geometry of the rose windows usually found above the entrance to a sacred place. The configuration with eight petals was chosen for its pleasing symmetry, and because of the geometry it creates when tessellated: a Greek cross.
The canopy is formed by two layers of expandable geometries to give added rigidity and privacy. The two layers are spaced apart by metal rods fixed key nodes of the two layers.
The canopy is fixed to the rectangular base by metal bolts, at the four corners. Also attached to the base are the two confessionals, the kneeler and the cross, symbol of mercy and forgiveness.
The Pilgrim Chapel is intended to be a space of light, peace and reconciliation, where visitors of all faiths and none can experience tranquillity. Light plays an important role in the experience of the chapel as it creates intricate shadow patterns.
Here is a short video showing the design development process:
As part of my research to inform my final thesis project on the London Housing Crisis, I have created a short multiple choice survey that would benefit greatly from the input of members of the WeWantToLearn community who have lived in London at any point over the past six years. The survey only takes a few minutes to complete and will directly influence the design progression of my project in the coming weeks. Please spare a few moments to participate, and/or share with friends and relatives who may be able to contribute also.
You can find the survey at the following link: Here