We (Performing Architecture) are inspired by cinema, television, photograph, literature and computer games and we challenge the empty formalist pursuit of contemporary built form in the search for a critical and politically engaged role for the architect.
As a MArch Unit at the Northumbria University in Newcastle, UK. Our work is centred around the (re-)production and narrative of artefacts, identities, culture, heritage, and places, with a particular focus on city centres and high streets.
Studio Lead: Jiayi (Jennifer) Jin
In the academic year of 2020-2021, the studio looked at the future of performance spaces in Newcastle’s city centre. One result of this global pandemic has been the indefinite closure of arts venues. We took this as an opportunity to reconsider the nature of live performance, and the structures designed to facilitate it as new infrastructure.
We started the exploration by studying the theatre and similar venues as an architectural and urban typology, a place of expression for an art that has always been able to precisely reflect the current world with crises and its mutations. Each student in the studio was asked to develop a particular ‘narrative’ nuance under the studio ethos, by investigating the existing Newcastle-Gateshead Cultural Venues (NGCV), talking with insiders, using a wide range of exploratory research methods, and then slowly building a specific narrative which helped to define the potential project as a synthesis of the present, also encompass the availability of technologies, cultural preferences, contemporary aesthetic tendencies, values of cultural or urban practices etc.
This year has evidenced students embracing these opportunities, with an extensive selection of sites, scale and topics on display, their projects have also addressed much broader themes such as alternative development, multisensory experience, city as a stage, social equity etc. They have responded with imagination and creativity to all aspects of architectural design process.
This year the studio looks at the crisis of high streets in the Gateshead, we try to re-imagine high streets as city lobbies, which originating in capitalistic societies, these lobbies are oddly socialistic entrances to mundane, stratified private spaces above. Formed in the gap between the ground and surrounding towers, the lobby is a distinctly modern type, conjuring notions of transparency, coexistence, continuity, and universal hospitality. Though often understood as a trivial space for moving through, the lobby also becomes a deceivingly important space for staying precisely because of its lack of definite program.
We are asking, if it is possible to offer new programs for Gatehead high streets, creating the design proposition that responds to its context and forms part of a new urban fabric. Which includes recreating interactivity with novel technologies / re-planning the street which acts as the civil plaza / re-building the community cohesion / forming the political action or linking the street with nowadays environment, gender, well-being and identity issues.
This year the studio took the principal routes into Newcastle upon Tyne as its initial territories for investigation. These historic roads represent the entry points to the city both physically and metaphorically; being also the centres of successive waves of immigration which then ripple outwards as communities establish and then hybridise.
We began the year by tracing these routes on foot, walking in to the city along each of the roads, noticing the finer-grained social and spatial transitions and implicit thresholds, documenting both built fabric and atmospheres. Through the first semester we became Flâneur-detectives, uncovering narratives of past and present, experiencing ourselves slipping between living in the moment and in deep time, meeting shopkeepers and ghosts, and telling these stories using narrative devices or highlighting the everyday sublime with our interactions directly on the street(s).
With this rich experiential and experimental knowledge, the second semester projected us into a near future, in which the existing city is considered as a given, or a ‘second nature’ in Walter Benjamin’s expression. We proposed new layers of material history superimposed on the present, ‘incomplete’ interventions that allow communities to take ownership of and shape their built environment, micro-infrastructures to perform everyday lives and to create contemporary rituals of gathering, eating and drinking, making and exchanging.