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The Metaphysics of Concrete

news editor27 February 2012

Professor Adrian Forty (UCL Bartlett School of Architecture) began the Lunch Hour Lecture on 21 February by capturing the audience’s attention with the startling statistic that almost three tons of concrete are produced every year per person. It is now second only to water in terms of human consumption.

Although, perhaps the obvious question would be, how is this massive amount of concrete used each year? This was not the focus of the lecture. Professor Forty, instead chose to concentrate on the less mainstream topic of the metaphysics of concrete. “As well as having physics, concrete has metaphysics,” he explained.

For the laymen (myself included) Professor Forty explained that this was basically a consideration of how we make sense of a material, which is now so present in our lives, but has been around for little more than a century.

Concrete is abundant within our world, but it seems to evoke very different opinions in different people. In Western countries, it gets the blame for ‘erasing nature’ and making everywhere look the same. Despite this antipathy from some, it remains a medium of interest to many architects and engineers.

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Landscape and Critical Agency Symposium

news editor27 February 2012

Written by Tim Waterman, Writtle School of Design.

The ability to dominate and bend the planet to our creative or destructive will has guided our collective action in the landscape in recent centuries, but a richer idea of the landscape and our engagement with it may yet save us.

The Landscape and Critical Agency symposium at UCL on 17 February brought together 12 committed advocates for landscape in a one-day single-panel event designed to situate this discourse firmly within the range of disciplines concerned with the built environment.

The symposium posed the question:

“What agency does landscape possess, as a means of territorial organisation and creative production, to engage critically with the conditions that define the collective aspects of our environment?”

Bestowing agency upon the landscape itself is the first crucial step towards engaging in a conversation with it rather than perpetuating the obliterating human monologue to which we seem so tied.

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Peter Cook: Designing for Students

David R Shanks15 December 2011

My final blog article of the semester responds to architect Sir Peter Cook’s Lunch Hour Lecture on the subject of designing for students. Despite being in the wrong city at the time, I managed to attend by watching the live stream, furiously typing notes while trying to eat lunch in the spirit of the occasion.

Before studying at UCL, I had been an ardent admirer of Sir Peter Cook’s work as part of the Archigram group, and of his subsequent drawings and writing. At the UCL Bartlett School, where he had been Chair and Professor of Architecture until 2005, an influence still loomed large, with most of the tutors having studied under his watchful eye.

This reputation was largely predicated upon his output of ‘paper architecture’ and the strength of revolutionary ideas in architectural education, rather than on built work. If the construction of the Kunsthaus in Graz (2003), a collaboration with Colin Fournier, was an exception to these more academically-orientated pursuits, the formation of CRAB studio, in partnership with Gavin Robotham, signified a commitment to testing spectacular, playful thinking in a commercially driven environment.

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Urban Constellations: Book Launch and Panel Discussion

news editor12 December 2011

Regner Ramos writes on the UCL Urban Laboratory’s Urban Constellations book launch and panel discussion, held on 20 November in the Bartlett Faculty of the Built Environment.

It was a ‘short and sweet’ event, in tune with the structure of the book being launched by Matthew Gandy, its editor, and the UCL Urban Laboratory. When Gandy, the former director of the Urban Laboratory, commissioned Urban Constellations nine months ago – I’m not sure if the gestation period was intentionally this length and was too shy to ask – he had a very particular idea in mind for what he wanted to publish.

Rather than a conventional collection of academic papers, Gandy approached various city scholars and Urban Laboratory staff, graduate students and collaborators, and asked them to submit essays that did not exceed twelve-hundred words. Admittedly, I was relieved to find out that experienced academics found this as challenging as I would myself.

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