The International Symposium of Virtual Allegories_Nominated for RIBA Bronze Presidents Medal 2015
The culmination of a year long investigation into the disenfranchised district of Lea Hall outside of Birmingham and it’s tensions with the bypassing proposed HS2 line, the scheme consists of a socio-economic district scale intervention into the region promoting the bitcoin as a new regional [and possibly global] currency. This is delivered through a network of community mining towers linked to a central headquarters that harvests the currency for residents of the district.
A monolithic ‘temple’ aimed at becoming a landmark for the area grounds the scheme while promoting the digital process; the other designation is an internet addiction retreat for employees of the mining company and its addictive digital process. There are two architectural languages present; the temple forms a cold, monolithic mass compared to the retreat that is a much soft intervention materially.
Timber framing and shingle cladding are used in the retreat, aimed at using residential holistic therapies to rejuvenate residents; the architecture of the housing units change as one moves from digital to physical integration, from faceted to organic form. The pool that the scheme sits above is a balancing lake for the surrounding landscape, helping to drain the nearby country park in times of flood and creating an essential link with the surrounding park-scape.
Who influences you graphically?
I have a wide range of influence when it comes to the graphical style that I use when illustrating a project. Particularly for my final year thesis, I was experimenting throughout the year, with hand drawn and computer generated experiments running in unison with each other, which creates a different take on traditional representation of one cohesive style. I started to become interested in international travel posters that were produced during the first half of the twentieth century as a starting point for coloured visuals. I was also really interested by illustrators that I found on Instagram; Thomas Danthony and Tom Haugomat create beautifully coloured and detailed illustrations that bring spaces and people to life. My own style of hand drawing has been developed over a number of years, I stumbled upon it almost accidentally from my incessant doodling during my school life, which finally manifested itself in a unique style of drawing where I like to fill and animated a space as much as possible.
What defines the means through which you chose to reveal elements of your proposal?
The proposal itself was a complex one, a headquarters for a physical bitcoin mining corporation, which was a new type of program to incorporate, also including a community rehabilitation facility that aimed to reintroduce employees addicted to digital interactions into the physical world once more. I took inspiration from current-world issues including online addiction and corporations that have employee wellbeing at the heart of their practice for ideas on how this could be achieve. This played out against a physically changing landscape, situating the scheme on a floodplain for the close-by River Cole in a suburban area that had been forgotten by the wave of progress focused on Birmingham city centre. Because of the various facets of the proposal, I chose to focus on the community retreat as fully-fledged project in its own right, detailing the process of being brought back into the physical world through living conditions – morphing from singular isolation pods into a free and open network of living spaces while also participating in three stages of activity – production, performance and preservation. Consisting of growing produce below the accommodation modules, performing for other residents and the wider community to scanning books in the library for the next generation of humanity. I created a ‘day in the life’ drawing detailing this experience of how one would live and work on the retreat, contributing to the recovery process and also revealing one of the key processes that happen on site. I feel that while detailing this process fully, it also revealed elements of a more mysterious side to the proposal, the bitcoin headquarters towering in the distance, to the pumping station, tying the project to the artificial lake and helping the physical landspace in which it resides. I wanted to retain the duality of space and play, by also weaving it into the drawings I created, revealing and concealing the two social sides of the project by how they were represented through drawing.
How does the monochromatic drawings relate to the more coloured views? To what extent do these two different methods help you to explore different aspects?
In my final thesis project I was still experimenting right up until the last second as to how I would illustrate the project. Resulting in two styles of drawn work, the comic book-style color illustrations and the closely detailed hand drawn work. At first glance these could be seen as two different projects in themselves, but I think they do relate to each other, revealing different facets of the complex programme and the set of environments that the project proposes. Many of the schematic drawing set were produced by hand – individually illustrating plans, sections and elevations of the scheme allowed me to investigate and propose a divergent range of living and working spaces that I had mostly dreamt up as an enclosed exercise. I really enjoy getting in to the very close details of how the pieces would be constructed and the finishes of each space, which read as a way finding exercise, using different shingle patterns to direct inhabitants towards living, working and community spaces. The hand drawn aspect allowed me to do this by illustrating the tiles and the way each space would be used by a group of people, rather than a few. The colour visuals I believe are the antithesis of this approach, by simplifying the planes of each interior space, the proposal started to become more diagrammatic in its representation and can reveal different kinds of qualities such as light and shade, colour and texture but in a stylised way that goes against the current trend of photo-realistic renders. As this could be described as a fictional and whimsical project – why should it be represented through the lens of a real camera?
How important is the hand sketch for you?
I think in our age of digital reproduction, the hand sketch is perhaps more important than ever in revealing ideas, narratives and how we communicate the feeling of place and space. On the other hand, I also do an extensive amount of digital drawing, modelling and experiments so I would say it’s really important and interesting how these two divergent threads of representation can come together to form a cohesive graphic language that illustrates the projects intentions and also how these spaces can be occupied, by people and objects. While I do use computer-generated guidelines to start a drawing off – I believe that a project starts to come alive when you start to fill in all the detail, of how a space really is inhabited. When taking a photograph of a figure (most probably from the internet) to collage into views, I feel it is almost restrictive in the way the space is portrayed. By drawing your own figures, it allows you to fully explore how the proposed environments may be used and explore the perhaps ‘messy’ side of how space is used and perhaps abused. This leads onto a topic of conversation on how sketching is used in an early stage of a project, and how these messy drawings can start to reveal design skill through a drawing that you feel more than you think about and most importantly have fun with.
Jac studied at Birmingham School of Architecture where he was nominated for the RIBA Bronze Presidents Medal for his undergraduate project. He currently works at Intervention Architecture in Birmingham.