Unit 15 strives to produce projects that are grounded in economic reality and hands-on practice. The studio is lead by James Binning of Assemble alongside architects Jon Lopez (OMMX), Elli Farrant (Elli Farrant Architects) and Louise Underhill (Mull Underhill). The teaching and projects of the studio group aim to explore what agency our abilities as architects equip us with to challenge the status quo and to address critical, contemporary spatial, material and social issues, employing the diverse skills our architectural education provides us with to produce diverse strategic architectural proposals that have the potential to become prototypical models of the future.
This year, Unit 15 explored the role of architects in orchestrating responses and developing strategies that can enable the profession to more meaningfully contribute to the substantial and complex challenges that face both society and the environment today. The scale and interconnectedness of these issues demands collaborative responses, and throughout the year the teaching emphasised the importance of working together to think critically, openly and fearlessly about our role as architects in the development of the built and natural environments.
Our work this year focussed on the South coast, in the Dorset town of Bridport. Our projects developed in dialogue with the local economic think-tank Stir to Action, community-led development group Wessex Community Assets and the environmental arts organisation Common Ground, with an expectation that the research and projects produced by students should set out ambitious, inclusive and ecologically sensitive alternatives for Bridport’s future. In Bridport as in many other rural areas, the Council and other community organisations lack the resources to firmly resist or advocate for better local development. Within the context, the students are expected to take seriously the idea that their production of proposals that are both credible and compelling can enrich and embolden local planners and activists to advocate for more civic, generous and architecturally rich alternatives.
Our projects are situated in Dorset broadly and the town of Bridport specifically. A centuries-old town on the Jurassic coast, Bridport’s charming and characterful high street and its location within an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty mask a more complex and turbulent reality. Income inequality is amongst the highest in the country, affordable housing is beyond the reach of almost all local young people and substantial new developments are set to alter the fabric of town, stripping out employment land, compounding local social and economic problems and causing harm to a sensitive ecological area.
The year began with a material and cultural research project to deepen our understanding of the town and the wider territory, equipping ourselves with the tools to propose projects for the town that are ecologically responsive and architecturally rich. This work acted as the foundation for propositional projects, principally sited on a large, undeveloped agricultural site on the West edge of Bridport. A broad range of projects and ideas were studied, from the tectonic and material expression of several early projects by Herzog and de Meuron, the urban and strategic ideas of Colin Rowe, OM Ungers and ARU, and the economic models of historic and utopian city projects.
The teaching emphasised the value of collaboration and co-production. Students were actively encouraged to develop projects in groups and develop the skills and confidence to work together effectively, reflecting our belief that the complex challenges we face today require the profession to move beyond the narrow conception of the architect as an individual author.