'Creative Practice Inquiry in Architecture' edited by Ashley Mason and Adam Sharr
Davidson Prize 2022 Entry
A drill rapper on a bench, a dressmaker at their dining table, two friends broadcasting 80s music online from a bedroom, the Byker estate in Newcastle hums with the self-initiated hobby activity that it's now vacant hobby rooms were intended to host.
Challenging capital-centric notions of home as self-sufficient which leaves inhabitants isolated, the Ralph Erskine designed development features 60+ hobby rooms in an area of 2010 homes. These spaces were meant for the pursuit of a specific leisurely craft or hobby by residents.
Key to our vision of co-housing is the activation of collective space through shared ‘hobby’ activity, enabled by social infrastructures of individuals, resident committees and third sector organisations. Such ‘hobby agencies’, modelled in Byker, have the potential to augment housing more broadly, transforming individual units into a collective practice of dwelling spatially and socially.
Some of the pursuits will be social in nature, transforming the loneliness often experienced in mass housing. Potentially they may act as a way of managing surplus within the community, be that space, resources, or equipment. For a younger generation, these activities can provide a meaning or entrance into the productive economy. While for an elder demographic, they offer space for social support and opportunities to pass on skills whilst learning new ones.
Our proposal re-inhabits Byker’s hobby rooms and spare residential space with specific activity and associated equipment. Crucially, the social infrastructure and organisation lacking in their initial realisation is enabled through an app.
MONU #27 Small Urbanism. October 2017
Byker's hobby rooms are a form of small urbanism par-excellence, domestic in scale – with most the size of a single bedroom – nevertheless they were intended to play a key social role in an integrated urban redevelopment strategy.
The Byker redevelopment in Newcastle upon Tyne where these hobby rooms were realised was designed by Anglo-Swedish architect Ralph Erskine with a team of locally situated architects during the 1970s. One of the central aims of the redevelopment design that the architects pursued was the retention of the social ties of a close-knit working class community. This intention drove the creation of what Erskine termed an ‘integrated environment’ – informed by his experiments with designs for a self-sufficient Arctic town and fascination with mediaeval Swedish towns – that saw the retention of existing social buildings of particular import, and the incorporation new civic space.
A unique feature of the redevelopment was the provision of a series of small hobby rooms as a new site for civic engagement. Designed as an interpretation of the domestic spaces of informal hobby activity – sheds, garages and spare rooms – it is in part due to their sheer number – between 66-88 in an area of 2010 homes – that they were able to take on an urban role spatially and socially, generating a critical mass that provided them with the potential to break loose of the domestic sphere of their origins.
This paper explores the origins of the hobby rooms, and traces their subsequent use, neglect dereliction, and some recent refurbishment, to draw out lessons for similar micro public space intended for social and collective activity. My exploration interweaves a cultural history of these spaces with reportage of my own direct engagement with them as a resident of Byker realising a set of furniture scale designs and interventions that aim to unpick the underlying issues of their use and speculate on a potential future.
Though hobby space is common within the private domestic sphere, the realisation of hobby rooms in Byker as public space is a unique phenomenon in the U.K. and was informed by both Erskine’s experience of Swedish co-operatively managed space – a result of approaches to housing design and development in Sweden the in the early and mid Twentieth Century – and a more local tradition of hobby activity prevalent amongst the British working classes in industrial cities.
In this paper I argue that a key issue underpinning their present lack of use extends not from the diminished popularity of hobby-type pursuits, but rather from the ambiguity of the social model governing and structuring their use that resulted from the intermingling of the two ideas that influenced Erskine. I conclude with the proposition that equal emphasis needs to be given to the civic institutions and forms of social infrastructure that underpin the use of communal public space as to the physical form of such space, and that a socially embedded role for the architect can serve to support this development of these two aspects in conjunction.
Link to this Issue at Monu
THE PLEASURE'S ALL OURS
Asymmetric Labors: The Economy of Architecture in Theory and Practice. June 2016
Adam Sharr, James Longfield, Yasser Megahed, Kieran Connolly
The Architecture Lobby will debut its edited booklet, Asymmetric Labors: The Economy of Architecture in Theory and Practice at the 2016 Venice Biennale. With contributions from over fifty architectural historians, theorists, students, writers, and practitioners from across the globe, the texts provide a slice through the uneven terrain of values and unequal labor practices of historical and theoretical architectural work. The booklet is intended to spark a conversation about what the value of such labor is, both within the discipline and profession of architecture, and how it impacts and is impacted by the discursive and material production of the built environment.
Link to research from the Architecture Lobby
OASE #96 Social Architecture: The Architecture of Use and Appropriation. June 2016
In this paper I outline a a series of in-situ social practices that take inspiration from the ‘amateur’ activities of Erskine’s team at the Byker redevelopment in Newcastle upon Tyne in the 1970s. By stepping outside the architectural profession I explore the latent potential within personal hobby activity, for users to intervene within the city.
Through a project focussed on Byker’s hobby rooms, I advocate a mode of practice situated within the post-occupancy conditions of inhabitation, operating in the realm of the user, and engaging with architecture as an ongoing process of adaption, (mis)use, management and maintenance, capable of supporting the engagement of users through interrelated acts of spatial and social poesis.
Link to this Issue at OASE
ECHOES OF ERSKINE
Architectural Research Quarterly Volume 18 Issue 3. September 2014
Design research emerging from intersecting social and professional personas, engaging with hobbies and echoing the approach of Ralph Erskine’s team who worked and lived in Byker.
Link to this Paper at ARQ
TRACEY Journal. Drawing In-Situ. February 2014
In this paper I will explore how the process of drawing in-situ can help to define and influence the particular practices of the citizen architect; the designer, whose approach to architecture is bound and influenced by their location of residence. My method of investigation will be through the presentation of a situated drawing of my own.The site for the drawing is Byker in Newcastle upon Tyne, a location that holds a history of situated practice. During the redevelopment of the 1970s a group of architects, led by Ralph Erskine, lived and worked on site. Their experience, of an overlap of their professional and social commitment, provides the start point for my investigation. In 2011, attempting to learn from their approach, I took up residence in Byker.
The drawing situated is a Nolli plan of Byker, drawn directly onto my dining room table. In the drawing the personal and professional interweave, offering new insights into a particular approach to architectural practice, which I will draw out through the paper. I also argue that the representation of public and private spaces of the city, within the Nolli plan, reflect two positions of relating to the site based on the architect’s citizenship within the site. Finally I propose that the situatedness of the drawing influences the architect’s practices by reconnecting them to a phenomenological experience of site as well as to its social and political context.
Link to this Paper at TRACEY Journal