Landhaus: ‘A Deep Topographic’ Approach to Killingworth Moor

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Landhaus: ‘A Deep Topographic’ Approach to Killingworth Moor

Tom Hewitt

Project

The thesis continues exploration into walking as a design methodology. Extensive walked enquiry into Newcastle’s edge lands revealed a latent mining infrastructure, experienced primarily via long, linear waggonways. The Seatonburn Waggonway is particularly prominent where it bisects Killingworth Moor, a strategic site allocated for 2000 houses, two schools and 17 hectares of employment land.

Landhaus - Tom Hewitt - Northumbria Masters 2017 (1)

The proposed research facility manipulates the landscape “artefacts” which constitute the moor: waggonway embankment; hedgerows and irrigation letches; pylon “furniture”; and material traces dating as far back as the Iron Age. Long linear buildings “make boundary”, protecting historic edges; their layered construction reflects the layered reading of the landscape. Within this boundary, an earthwork building “makes ground” and acts as a public interface.

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Interview

Who influences you graphically?

The composition of the images has been influenced by the Dusseldorf School and documentary landscape photographers such as Axel Hütte and Bernd and Hilla Becher. The Bechers objectively framed industrial typologies against overcast skies. In Italien, Axel Hütte, a student of the Bechers, uses the compositional technique of repoussoir, using buildings and tectonic structures in the foreground the direct the eye to the landscape. Alex Lowery’s oil paintings capture object-like buildings on the horizon, whilst George Shaw’s paintings elevate the familiar and everyday English landscape to something special. The architecture and representation of OFFICE KGDVS have also been influential stylistically.

What defined the images through which you chose to reveal the project?

The images try to capture the perception of the campus as objects on the horizon, and – as you move around the ensemble – the landscape territories the buildings command. They demonstrate the range of spaces in the ensemble: external landscape ‘rooms’, semi-external working rooms, and interior spaces. The interior views illustrate how the buildings reinforce, protect and frame the constituents of the landscape: waggonway embankments, ancient hedgerows, pylon “furniture”. They also reveal the layered construction of the buildings, which relates to the layered reading of the moor’s regional memory.

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What defined the subject of the thesis? 

The academic provocation asked what it means to make a Landhaus, where “building and land enter into a ceaseless and reciprocally conditional dialogue”. This combined with my research into the underused potential of walking and mapping in the architectural design process.

Walked enquiry into Newcastle-upon-Tyne’s edgelands – inspired by the Nick Papadimitriou’s practice of deep topography, and travel writers such as Robert Macfarlane – revealed the “latent energies” of the mining infrastructure. Today, the waggonways which historically transported coal to the River Tyne and the coast are experienced as a long, linear pathways. The Seatonburn Waggonway is most powerful where it crosses Killingworth Moor, scheduled for development under North Tyneside’s Local Plan.

Following critical looking through walking, the thesis aims to re-appropriate the language and spaces of the working landscape and to propose alternative development strategies which protect the moor’s layered histories. This is achieved by re-using the boundaries which constitute this landscape – irrigation ditches, hedgerows, earthworks – in opposition to housebuilders’ tabula rasa approach.

What was your work process in terms of concept development in relation to the production of images?

The final images were set up within the three-dimensional working model of the campus. The design was developed through this series of images, as well as in plan, elevation and section. In terms of producing the drawings, exported line drawings were layered with paintings, papers and textures. Multiple revisions were made to strengthen the relation of the buildings to the landscape and to refine the drawing extents to communicate this dialogue.

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If you could explore the proposal further, what would you do? Is there space for an animation?

The thesis has been nominated for the RIBA Silver President’s Medal, so I will have the opportunity to develop the technical resolution of the earthwork building, the inhabitation of the workshop spaces, and the extents of the drawings.

There may be space for animation, as this would be useful in depicting the buildings as experienced by the walker, walking having been an important design tool in designing the project. Animation would communicate changing perceptions of the ensemble. Seen at distance from passing vehicles, the buildings are versions of the familiar, just special enough to be noticed; close up, the qualities of bespoke concrete panels and ceramic tiles and their relation to the textures and tones of the moor become apparent.

However, I am most interested in pursuing this approach to making buildings in the landscape, its application to other landscapes, and its translation from academia to industry.

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About

Originally from Leeds, Tom completed his Part I at the University of Cambridge and a year in practice at Nick Brown Architects. His Masters of Architecture thesis, undertaken at Northumbria University, has been nominated for the RIBA Silver President’s Medal. Tom’s wider interests – walking, photography and ceramics – inform his architecture.

 

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