Brief 2c

Projct 2c. Writing a Building

Design a 12,000 sq.m building, or collection of buildings, on a site in Swindon that will accommodate a publicly-accessible repository for your London-based institution.

Extensive research and analysis of a number of public repositories and sites in Swindon, combined with meetings with curators, planners, visitors and residents, has given you a unique combination of expert knowledge. This knowledge needs to be developed, edited and formatted into a detailed description of what your building proposal needs to ‘do’. This apparently simply action is potentially the most critical stage of the architectural design process and is the first part of the complex translation of needs and desires into formal proposal. You should continually aim to balance the pragmatic and the aspirational.

The starting point for your brief should be to declare your intentions. Your intentions may evolve over the course of the project but it is useful to state now exactly what it is you are trying to do. Articulate your intentions through both text and images to create an illustrated declaration of intent.

What are your architectural intentions for the proposal?
What formal concerns are you exploring?
What is your ambition for the relationship between viewing and storing?
Between viewer and artefact?
What role are you aiming for the respository to play in ‘public’ life?
What are your aims for the building’s contribution to the specific context of your site in Swindon?
Or to the post-suburban city in general?

On a purely quantitative level a brief must provide a schedule of accommodation, a list of all the required spaces. This can be further developed into an indicative performance specification, describing humidity, temperature, lighting, etc, providing a precise description of how the building must perform. Yet this process fails to capture any of the subtleties, any of the qualitative information, that your research has revealed. It’s all very well knowing there are 21 mummies stacked in 3 rows, 7 high, at 45% relative humidity and 65F but it is the abrupt entrance from the main museum, the smell of 3,000 year old wood and the prosaic nature of the shelving that define the visitor experience.

The Collection – Given the nature of the typology your brief should grow from the collection. Your proposal is to accommodate part or all of the collection of the institution. Your brief should define the number, scale and nature of the collection. Without showing all 13,000 / 154,000,000 items (delete as appropriate) how can you convey the collection qualitatively and quantitatively? What viewing and storage arrangements might you use and how does this affect the area or spaces required?

The Viewing Spaces – Learning from the repositories you have seen what type and amount of viewing spaces do you need? This depends on your attitude towards the visitor’s engagement with the collection store. Large galleries, compact study centres, open stores – your brief should state the type, size and range of viewing spaces.

Support spaces – In your repository visits you have seen a range of support spaces, from the technical facilities required to maintain the collection to the cafes, bookshops and restrooms that service the viewing spaces. Your brief should state the type, number and range of support spaces. It is important that this is appropriate, to ensure your scheme is credible, yet be careful to ensure that you do not spend an unrepresentative amount of time focused on these matters to the detriment of the broader issues.

Public realm – You are designing a public building and have already considered one possibility for the entrance in some depth. What is the scope of your public access, both within the building and in the surrounding areas. Where does the repository visitors’ experience start and stop – the car park? the piazza? the front door? the entrance doors?

The first act of translating the written brief into a proposal is to develop a drawn brief. At its most basic this is a scaled drawing of all the spaces required. Correctly sized coloured rectangles on a page are useful to develop a sense of the scale of the programme but lack the experiential richness of your research. A useful way of developing this quantitative drawn schedule is to replace the blank geometry of key spaces (storage, viewing) with plans and sections of existing spaces of a similar size from buildings you have experienced. In this way the drawn schedule becomes a rich collage of suggestive possibilities, based upon existing examples. In practice this means your drawn schedule will slowly evolve into a collaged proposal of spaces, as you find appropriate precedents to sample for each space.

The critical question at the heart of your design is the relationship between visitor and artefact, stored and viewed. This has been explored through a series of 1:12 sections. For your brief you should develop a proposal for a 1:12 section for your repository. This is the turning point, where brief becomes proposition. The drawing will continue to evolve through the design process but as part of the brief is a useful device for capturing your intentions for the visitor/artefact relationship.

Following on from the logic of your 1:12 you should develop an adjacency diagram that suggests the fundamental relationship between the storage and viewing spaces, showing the scope and nature of public access. This is a declaration of intent, a concept for how the pubic interact with the building and is by definition propositional.

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