The Central Civil Registration Bureau
Sophie Barks @ MArch Bartlett Architecture
Civil Registration plays a vital role in modern British society and underpins the civil status of each person giving them protection, as well as protecting society as a whole. Civil Registration is integral to the key life events of Birth, Marriage and Death in which the CCRB re-addresses the process of civil registration at these key points of life as a matter of celebration and reflection. As civil registration is mandatory- why should it be a chore and bureaucratic when it is surrounded around such pivotal life moments? The CCRB’s jurisdiction is the entire inner London boroughs and caters for on average 50,500 Births, 17,000 Marriages and 16,000 Deaths annually.
The project sits adjacent to the Palace of Westminster, contrasting the civic nature of the programme with the political stance of the Parliament. This contrast and connection aims to juxtapose the civic and political relationships and responsibilities of individuals and the effects of this on societies as a whole.
The CCRB offers a stage and back drop for these life events to take place, using symbolism of animals and architectural elements from different ‘styles’ and historic periods to encourage a reading of the building and signs it offers. The three key life processes are intertwined together without delineation of the occupancy of the building. The monolithic sculpted exterior of the CCRB contrasts drastically with the highly ornamental interior, exploring thresholds and what it means to be ‘inside’.
The project explores architectural language and historical ‘styles’ with the hybridisation of the image of history within modern design as a tool of both communication and in turn a design challenge. The project seeks to assemble historical architectural elements and craft them using a hybridised method of both drawing production and design realisation.
What prompted the project?
The project was promoted by an interest in rituals within society and civic responsibilities. It interrogated the current process in Britain of registering Births, Marriages and Deaths which is mandatory but arguably a bureaucratic chore and anticlimax. When there is such emotion, celebration or reflection around such life events it prompted me to explore how this process could be made more of a spectacle by the Architecture that both represents and embodies theses processes.
What inspired/defined the language of representation of the project?
I was hugely inspired by Piranesi throughout the project, in terms of both the wonderful atmospheric etchings but also his intellectual ambition and intentions to explore a design freedom and controversial break from traditional architectural ‘rules’. Particularly in the publication of ‘Parère su l’architettura’ as a response to French critic and Philhellene, Pierre Jean Mariette over the Greaco-Roman debate, which manifested itself as arguments between the importance of stylistic integratory in Greek Classicism [Mariette] vs the Roman Hybrids and an emphasis on design freedom [Piranesi]. The project explored both the aesthetic and representation techniques of his work by using pen markings similarly to the process of etching but also investigated designing with a historical repertoire but breaking expected rules and associations with specific architectural styles, collaging elements together.
Within the project there is also a stylistic contrast between the internal and external treatment, with a sculpted, concrete, monolithic exterior and highly ornamental and extravagant interior.
What defined the use of black pen and white paper? What is your relationship to colour?
Throughout my studies I have always been drawn to representing my Architecture in black and white. I’ve been hugely inspired by the drawings of Palladio and other classical architectural representations and this has lead me to explore these techniques myself. I personally find myself drawn to black and white images and felt it was appropriate for the project to highlight the forms within a consistent materiality.
What drew you to use, explore and collage the various styles and architectural elements? How were these fragments assembled into a ‘final composition’?
I was heavily inspired by Piranesi as mentioned above but also his successors in John Soane and Joesph Gandy. It was also the 19th Century Crisis of Style that I found many parallels with in architecture today, at a time where there isn’t an overwhelming consistent aesthetic, even Modernism now also a historical style.
I looked to explore their design methodologies within which they used various styles and influences to create something reminiscent but new, for example Soane’s ‘Pastichio’ and Gandy’s ‘Comparative Architecture’. I chose to explore this myself, which lead to the collage of architectural elements and styles.
The fragments and elements that I accumulated in a taxonomy throughout the year of the project were then all assembled in the ‘final compositions’. The elements were chosen specifically as they emulated key ‘principles’ of the historical style within which they are associated.
Could you expand on the project as a means to ‘assemble historical architectural elements and craft them using a hybridised method of both drawing production and design realisation’?
The project would be constructed using a variety of building methods. There is a number of handcrafted elements that would be carved and cast using historical techniques but also modern technologies of CNC and 3D printing. These methods would sit alongside each other seamlessly, so it would be difficult to distinguish between the methods used. The project is represented using a hybridised method of both 2d computer drawings and hand drawings too so the proposed construction/ design realisation and the drawing production would use both traditional ‘hand crafted’ techniques but also have the benefits of advanced technologies.
What was your work process in terms of drawing?
I would sketch out compositions for my drawings, and use my taxonomy of elements, juxtaposing them together. I would use the computer to construct a simple computer 2D drawing, print this out and then draw in further elements by hand. I would then use a 0.05 pen to ‘render’ the drawings, including textures, hatching and shadows. All of the drawings presented would then be originals to achieve the aesthetic that I desired.
What is your take on the role of drawing within contemporary architectural practice?
I think hand drawing should always be a fundamental part of architectural practice, it enables a design freedom that I feel is difficult to seek when confined to a computer. I have found that sketching is invaluable when working through a design project both at university and quickly communicating ideas with clients. The definition of a ‘drawing’ can however be incredibly ambiguous and this can extend from a hand drawing to a full computer render. Drawings will always be a fundamental part of Architectural practice, it just depends what your definition may be.
How has the advent of digital tools shaped our relationship to the making of architecture and the role of drawing itself?
I think in the advent of digital fabrication there is a detachment from the hand of the architect or hand of the craftsman in a traditional sense. It has however made a lot more possible, the benefits of digital tools allows for speed, finite precision and ease of amendments. It do however think there will always be an appreciation of the ‘hand made’ and I hope this will never be lost.
Sophie is a recent graduate of the Bartlett School of Architecture, having completed her MArch in Unit 12 under the tutelage of Jonathan Hill and Elizabeth Dow. She is a London based Architectural Assistant and strives to hybridise advancing computer technologies and traditional hand drawing techniques.