Terrain Vague_New Architectures in the Atrophic Landscape

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Terrain Vague_New Architectures in the Atrophic Landscape


Liam Bonnar & Pavlina Stergiadou


As an abstract concept, a specific locale, a subject of literary and architectural intervention, Atrophic Landscapes particularly deal with the architecture of Circadian and Synodic rhythms. Atrophic Landscapes open in the dichotomy of what we perceive as city and nature and the thesis proposes the possibility of a mortal architecture that rises into ruin after it is built. In testing design within Terrain Vague we develop an architectural language and attitude towards the existing, but when we begin to calibrate our series of connected architectural fragments we are to an extent taking ownership of this Atrophic Landscape.

The municipality of Almada witnessed the successive demise of its once vivid industrial life after the construction of the 25 de Abril Bridge which connected Lisbon to the South of the estuary. Albeit the demising character of the Almada, real community can be observed in and around the ruins; an informal public life which works autonomously with its own rules and conditions of life. Paradoxically, across the estuary, the Lisbon reality suffers from an overwhelming artificial presence of “urban renewal”, commercialism, cafe culture and tourist attractions leaving no room for development of local community. In response to the observation of this paradox, we identified the situation not as a problem but as an opportunity, a Terrain Vague for architectural intervention.

 Working within this narrative, the tale is that of conatus; the inherent instincts of self-preservation in regards of death, rebirth and sacrifice. To articulate this tale, a series of rituals stretch across our identified moments of Terrain Vague along the Almada coastline. Our proposed architectural moments deal with the time, movement and form. the crematorium, the cathedral, the necropolis, the flower market. the enflourage and copper workshops are presented as moments within the ritual. Spaces switch between private and public, inhabitable and uninhabitable, intensely personal and expansive, influenced by nature and points entirely removed from it, all orchestrating the ritual of the funeral and encouraging the development of community in the Atrophic Landscape.





Who influences you graphically?

We took a lot of influence from film; graphically in terms of tone and composition, but also in our architecture. Given the importance of atmosphere – and the industrial setting – we took influence from the films and photographs of David Lynch; the claustrophobic attack on domesticity in Eraserhead, the looming shacks of Twin Peaks, the vortex swirl of Mulholland Drive’s nightmarish party scene, the gutted interiors and billowing monolithic smoke stacks in his photo series The Factory Photographs. The stylistic atmospheres created through capturing menacing silhouettes, using blurred light and layered texture, choreography of the subject through foreground and background influenced both the way we chose to create atmosphere but also the way we chose to represent it.

Our first and strongest impression of the abandoned factory buildings of Lisbon was one of death. Not necessarily grim and dark, but skeletal, worn, punctured and frayed with an inherent sense of memory and history. We felt that the depictions of the project which developed from our experiences here had to be visually reminiscent of the spaces themselves which led us to work a lot with high contrasts, course textures and stripped down colour schemes.

Conversely, our architectural fragments appear as foreign objects in the ruinous landscape. We chose to accentuate this visually with solid white clean lines so the representation of existing and intervention was strikingly dissimilar both in the drawings and models

What is the significance of the use of monochromatic images?

The decomposition of original building form removed any semblance of the intended artificial environment. The facades that we studied had mostly eroded, leaving an elaborate sinew stretching between the strongest remaining structural members; the building carcass opens itself up to the elements over time, blurring physical edges, allowing light and foreign objects to penetrate the space in unexpected and interesting ways.

We felt that we could most effectively express the atmospheric condition of these spaces through documenting the depths of light and shadow through these monochrome drawings, this also worked as a method of subtly conveying the feeling of the dark and light spaces through subconscious associations to isolation, fear, relief, divinity etc.  We also wanted to visually separate this investigation from our material study which was much more about the material, colour, juxtaposition and finish which contributed to the atmosphere of the space. We later looked at to what extent these material and light elements together contributed to the atmosphere of a space in order to develop our proposals.


How does the lack of background help in emphasizing your proposal?

The task of atmospheric indexing was to isolate specific conditions of light and material, in the effort to deconstruct each specific instance into factors which contributed to the sensory experience. Stripping out and rebuilding, mapping only the elements which we felt defined the atmosphere of the space. After mapping this removal from context also aided our design process, allowing for autonomous development of moments and spaces. As the fragments were situated in context they began to react with the existing atrophic landscape; choosing existing elements to demolish, preserve or allow to fall into ruin over time.

You mainly explore your proposal three dimensionally, what is the effect of this? Do you trust that only through these kind of drawings is the viewer able to fully immerse himself in the proposal?

This comes back to the influence film and direction had on our work; using architectural elements which worked together to produce instances of parallax, contrast, focus etc. We explored individual moments and experiences in the proposal through a series of different drawing and modelling techniques, dependent on the atmospheric qualities we were trying to convey.

Our architectural fragments were used as way of curating movement through space; individually the fragments were intended to impose subtle mimetic effects on the user, holistically the project was a journey towards a cathartic release of accepting the death and celebrating the life of a loved one. We liked the way we could explore the materiality and atmosphere of these spaces through first-person exaggerated perspectives, whilst using exploded axonometrics to effectively convey the fragmented nature of our architectural interventions which seem to have been purposefully slotted-in to split up the coastline. Each piece was modelled in concrete and plaster which really accentuated the solidity of the landscape, the fragility of the factory skeletons and clearly situated the new architecture in the atrophic landscape.


To what extent is texture used as a tool to establish materiality or as a means to set the specific atmosphere of a space? 

Texture was used to encourage sensory experience of our architecture in addition to the building lines and materials. Additional depths of shadow, emphasis of smoothness, light catching protrusions and flecks of unexpected/changing colours all contributed to the atmosphere of the spaces but also encouraged users to run their hands along a wall, physically interact with the space. We thought this was important in creating spaces which would be associated with such personal moments.

Working between a degrading context, vegetation, the adjacent estuary waters and our new proposed materials we had a lot of considerations to make in terms of how built elements harmonised or resisted one another, what was to be kept as artefact and what was to be allowed to crumble. We preferred materials which had weathering qualities; solid structurally but with potential to chip and fray at the edges, to discolour and lose polish along with naturally resilient materials so the building could appear to age. Proposing buildings which embraced falling into ruin, encouraging nature to influence the building and be a tangible presence in our created atmospheres.

Mapping 2_Flour MillMapping 3_SteelworkMapping 4_Flour MillMapping 5_Boat YardProposal_Crematorium_Exploded AxoProposal_Necropolis_Exploded AxoProposal_Crematorium ModelProposal_Necropolis_ModelProposal_Perfumery and Soap Factory_ModelProposal_Flower Market & Store




Liam Bonnar and Pavlina Stergiadou met during their Masters of Architecture at the University of Edinburgh. They both graduated with distinction with their Masters project Terrain Vague: New Architectures in the Atrophic Landscape, which was subsequently nominated for the President’s Silver Medal in 2014. Liam and Pavlina now work in London (MAKE and HTA, respectively) and will be collaborating on more projects in the near future.


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