We have just started a new art performance collaboration at the Studio National des Arts Contemporains (a.k.a. Le Fresnoy) in Tourcoing, France.
Titled "Symétriades" (a reference to Stanislaw Lem's book Solaris), the performance project is a collaboration with Nicolas Crosse (double bass player), Alain Fleischer (visual artist) and Yann Robin (composer).
The artists' intention is to:
... give rise to a gigantic, organic, “living” creature whose every component is interdependent and whose nerve centre whose vital organ is constituted by the double bass player and his instrument. The soloist and the double bass will be positioned on a structure placed in the middle of the “playing” space. The instrumentalist’s body, the double bass, as well as the structure, will act as surfaces on which various visual dimensions will come to life. By extension, this visual entity, whatever its forms, will extend and proliferate in the architectural space hosting the performance.
Using our experience with the Ooo-Ya-Tsu performance, also interweaving music and interactive visuals, we will be helping the artists to develop the concept and scenography for the art performance and to create the real-time interactions between projected visuals, the soloist’s gestures and electronic sound manipulations.
The first public performance of the piece is planned for October 2018. You can find more information about the project on the Fresnoy website.
Our director Chris Heuvel is one of only 15 architects to be awarded Royal Institute of British Architects Fellow status in the 2018 list. The RIBA says of the award that "Fellow Membership gives us the opportunity to recognise our inspirational Chartered Members, the sometimes unsung heroes of the profession, who have made a real contribution to architecture, and the community."
Chris' full citation reads as follows:
"Chris is a Director at 2hD Architecture Workshop and a lecturer at Nottingham Trent University (NTU), where he delivers the professional practice elements of both the undergraduate and postgraduate architectural programmes, in addition to acting as Professional Studies Advisor for students in practice. He also runs the Design Studio module followed by first year undergraduates.
Chris champions architectural education as an integral aspect of professional practice, and is currently undertaking a major research project on behalf of NTU into how practitioners’ engagement with their local communities can be compatible with their business development objectives. All his teaching is substantially informed by a lifetime of active involvement in community engagement projects – previously in Norfolk and now in Nottingham, where (in conjunction with 2hD Ltd) he is currently helping a local group develop a business plan for the revival of their recently closed community centre."
Congratulations Chris, the recognition is thoroughly well deserved!
Crafting our micro-office Mission Control has been a great opportunity for us to experiment with many of the technologies we implement in our larger projects, such as natural materials, prefabrication, breathing construction and self-build techniques.
Let's look back at how Mission Control was actually made.
Prefabricating the structure
We wanted to approach the making of our new micro-office as a full-scale architecture project and develop further our expertise in prefabrication and self-build techniques.The structure of the building is composed of 13 timber panels that were prefabricated in our workshop situated 50 meters (and 3 door frames! ) away, before being transported and assembled on the site,
Each panel was designed so that its size and weight would allow two people (Tom and me) to carry it on site safely. To simplify this, we created a small plugin for SketchUp to automatically check this as we modelled the structural panels, as well as to create detailed material lists and clear fabrication manuals for each module.
Assembling the construction
Once fabricated, each module was connected on site to the existing foundations of the former garden shed and to its neighbouring panels. It was then insulated with natural sheep's wool insulation, which was a real treat to install. The whole assembly was finally wrapped in wood-fibre boards for weather-tightness, extra insulation and breathability.
The interior climate is then simply regulated by natural ventilation (adjustable with vents in the door and skylight) and the heating provided by the waste heat produced by our computers. The whole wall construction is vapour-open, complementing the natural ventilation to maintain a healthy and comfortable environment inside.
The broom cladding
The outside of the enclosure was finally clad with a total of 546 wooden broom heads, with natural coco-fibre bristles, screwed to battens wrapping around the breathing walls.
The selection of broom heads as a cladding material has been the result of a careful search for a material that would fulfil all our needs: a natural material with an interesting texture, readily available and affordable, friendly to the touch, yet resistant to break-ins by concealing any opening into the building.
Broom heads actually proved a rather economical cladding materials, as well as creating beautiful shades of browns and greys that evolve with the seasons and ambient humidity, reminiscent of some traditional thatching techniques.
Imagine, design, build and own...
Designing and crafting our micro-office Mission Control has been a long story: we started toying with the idea almost ten years ago! And it has sometimes been a frustrating one, especially when trying to fit this project between our other "more urgent" projects.
But, in the end, this has been an immensely satisfying project and something we are very proud of — having converted our initial idea into an actual architectural space that we love and truly feel our own, every bit of it designed and crafted with our own hands. A project that embodies many of our ethical values and architectural sensibilities at 2hD Architecture Workshop.
Nicknamed "Mission Control", our broom-clad micro-office is an exercise in teleportation, designed to take us from the everyday hurly burly to a another world — one of calm, quiet and focus.
The inception of Mission Control
Our UK office was a home office — not squeezed in to a back bedroom but occupying a large ground floor room with direct access to the main entrance and the garden. For some years this served us well, but the arrival of children led inevitably to a loss of separation. As any home-working architect will testify, the room with all the paper and colouring pens is a kid magnet!
To some extent, the injection of informality improved things — collaborations became looser, more relaxed and more creative — but we were left with the need for a ‘cave’ to complement our increasingly lively ‘commons’.
Our working practices have always involved two very distinct modes. The first is highly collaborative and semi-structured, requiring large surfaces, space and materials for analogue production of drawings and models. The second, as a counterpoint, requires periods of immersion in focussed digital design and production work. Our existing home office provided ideal conditions for the former, but creating the conditions for the latter was always extremely difficult.
Crafting a solution
In the garden was glazed shed, built by the previous owner from repurposed corrugated iron, old windows, offcuts of vinyl and pieces of timber. Rickety in the extreme, we nevertheless blessed it with the name “Mission Control” because it was a great place to retreat to when setting off fireworks on bonfire night.
We decided the replacement for this shed would become our garden office.
The rise of the garden office has been met by a multitude of packaged solutions, and some truly wonderful bespoke designs. But nothing we could find in the market met our slightly odd needs.
We also felt the urge to make, at 1:1 scale and with our own hands, something that we had designed from scratch. So we decided to embark on a highly personal journey into design and build.
We designed Mission Control as a sort of antithesis of "the contemplation space with landscape views and flowing inside-outside space". We needed a cell, removed from physical context and worldly distraction, where we could retreat to immerse ourselves in brain work.
Our intention was that the building should create three totally separate experiences: an enigmatic exterior, a serene interior and a ceremonial commute to work...
An inscrutable box in the garden
Without any visible door or window the outer facades are entirely clad in natural coco-fibre broom heads: details and junctions are largely concealed, as the broom bristles interlock to provide a continuous and visually diffuse surface. Thus giving no clue as to its status as occupied or empty, the structure existing merely as an object of intrigue.
This is a reverse Tardis: much smaller on the inside than it appears from the outside. The difference in volumes results from the simple shed-like pitched roof hidden behind the parapet. The polycarbonate surface of the roof only pops through the brush cladding to divert — yet eliminates familiar details like fascias and gutters, which would make the box readable as an archetypal shed or garden office.
A serene enclosure
The space within is a comfortable and calm isolation chamber for undisturbed concentration. Two back-to-back desks are nested under the low ceilings, reminiscent of the containment created by the sloping ceiling of an artist’s garret.
Interior walls and ceilings are clad with whitewashed plywood, which adds to the calm and natural feeling environment. The breathable walls, wrapped with sheep’s wool insulation, create a healthy internal environment that is easily heated by body warmth and waste heat from computers.
Daylight and ventilation are provided by a single hidden skylight that perforates through the reflective roof surface.
A ceremonial commute
Commuting to work in Mission Control is an important symbolic process: the full experience of ‘going to work’ is here in condensed and enhanced form.
Leaving the house, and travelling the 4 metre journey to the door of the office, provides just enough time to calm and focus.
Entering the building requires interaction: finding the ‘secret panel’ broom head, sliding back the heavy screen door and pushing through the solid leaf behind...
This is a little ritual that requires concentration and creates distance from whatever else is on your mind. As the door clunks shut behind you, the box seals itself and the separation is complete. Let focus begin.
How to extend a 1930s 'Arts and Crafts' style detached house? One approach would be to mimic the original building, but that's not always the most sensitive or responsive solution.
Our clients asked us to extend their house over a dilapidated single storey 'lean-to' garage, to provide a couple of new bedrooms. They also needed more ground floor space to connect properly with their garden.
Looking at the street scene, it was immediately clear that development pattern was characterised by detached houses with relatively low-key side extensions, containing garages, porches and sheds. To extend with a typical two-storey pitched-roof building would change this pattern and detract from the prominence of the 1930s house. Instead we proposed a subservient, low pitched roof that would sit below the existing building's eaves and drop down into the slope of the land. This would be clad in dark-stained vertical timber boarding, reminiscent of a number of 1930s modernist buildings - a different style but still contemporary with the original.
Having consulted neighbours and the planning officer, we carefully explained this strategy through our planning application drawings and Design and Access Statement (DAS). This latter document is often seen as a bit of a token gesture on small scale project like this, but we see it as an opportunity to explain the care we have taken in our design and the various options considered along the way.
We were successfully able to make a case to go against the planning officer's pre-planning advice to use a pitched roof — it was a sensible suggestion and not one we rejected out of hand, but by careful analysis of the particular setting of this building we arrived at the conclusion that in this case, a pitched roof would not be the best way to go.
The end result will be a sensitively designed contemporary extension that extends the living space and amenities of the home without impinging on the neighbours or detracting from the proud character of the original house.
We like to describe Ooo-Ya-Tsu as an art performance of "collaborative soundscape painting", exploring the interaction between the gestures of classical hand-drawing, animated computer graphics and electronic music.
Ooo-Ya-Tsu is the fruit of our collaboration with visual art collective Qubo Gas and musician Olivier Durteste (a.k.a DDDxie), which took place during a series of artist residencies and public presentations between 2013 and 2016.
2hD takes part in the live public performances of Ooo-Ya-Tsu, but also developed the computer programme that drove the interaction between the drawing instruments (pencils and paint brushes), the video projection on the canvas and the musical instruments.
What is Ooo-Ya-Tsu
Taking place in the midst of the audience, three visual artists draw simultaneously on a large paper canvas laying on the floor, using pencils and watercolour brushes. Each of their actions leaves physical traces on the canvas, but also creates flurries of colours and animated collages — superimposed by a video projection that tracks their drawings movements — as well as layers of sounds and musical rhythms that build on the musical performance of the musician, sitting next to the paper canvas.
Responding to these new sound patterns, the musician himself adjusts his own live composition using electronic music instruments, creating in turn new visual effects on the paper canvas and influencing the live actions of the drawing artists.
As the performance unfolds, a complex graphical and musical dialogue develops between its different actors — each influencing the others' work, while all collaborate interactively to create a unique sound and visual landscape.
Inspired by the principles of phase music, the different rhythmic and visual layers of this landscape come in and out of focus: sometimes momentarily revealing the different musical and graphical universes that constitute them, sometimes recombining them into complex abstract patterns. Until eventually, both music and projected animations begins to evolve autonomously, continuing to shift and echo long after the performance of the actors themselves is over.
At the centre of the Ooo-Ya-Tsu performance is a custom-made computer programme created by 2hD, using the Processing programming language. This powerful language allowed us to develop a system that allowed linking all the different aspects of the performance, combining motion tracking, video projections, interactions with physical objects and simulations of autonomous particle systems...
The visual aesthetic of Ooo-Ya-Tsu is based on the dream-like imagery of French art collective Qubo Gas, whose work poetically combines painstakingly intricate paintings and collage techniques, with scales ranging from miniature to architectural.
Having scanned a series of artwork they produced for the performance, we programmed the system to dynamically recombined them into an near-infinite number of different collages.
These images could then be superimposed and animated onto the paper canvas, responding to the physical ink forms drawn on the canvas during the live performance, which are analysed by the programme in real-time using infra-red cameras.
The modular aspect of the Processing language also allowed us to combine existing programming libraries to interact remotely with the musician's live performance: triggering visual events in response to certain of his composition patterns or sounds, but also playing sounds directly on his electronic instruments in response to drawing actions on the canvas.
The resulting soundtrack of the performance is a layered composition of phase-shifting abstract samples, overlapping and structuring DDDxie's live electronic music:
Despite its technical complexity, we conceived Ooo-Ya-Tsu so that the technological aspects of the performance remained mostly inconspicuous, keeping the focus instead on Qubo Gas' poetical hand drawings, the materiality of the paper medium and DDDxie's layered and minimalist sound compositions.
In 2013, the Ooo-Ya-Tsu performance was awarded a production grant from the prestigious Centre National du Cinéma et de l'image animée (CNC), in France.
In our latest collaboration with David Boden, of Boden Associates, we produced a series of visualisations for a twenty-story mixed-use development in central Leicester, UK. These were used as part of an on-going consultation with the local planning authorities.
While this project was still in its sketch design stage, we built and maintained a SketchUp model of the building, based on the 2D drawings (plans and elevations) produced by the design team. As the design evolved, we updated the 3D model to reflect changes and provide visual feedback to the team, allowing them to explore alternative design options and assess visual impact.
We eventually produced illustrations of the proposed building for presentation to the city planners, who had specific questions about massing and facade treatments. The challenge was to clearly illustrate the design aspects in question, while emphasising the fact that the design was still in progress.
To achieve a subtle blend of sketchiness and detail, we used a hybrid presentation technique combining photorealistic renders of our SketchUp model (using Maxwell render) with hand drawing and photography.