This year the unit will propel its investigation into Protoarchitecture through questions of self-sufficiency, interdependency, adaptation, synthesis and ephemeralization. In the first half of the year, we will adopt the bombarded hulk of Orfordness in Suffolk as our laboratory bench upon which to conjure, invent and breed a new species of architectural construct. As a growing and shifting appendage upon a disintegrating coastline, the shingle promontory bears the physical and vivid evidence of significant experimental intervention.

The Ness has been home to the Armament Experimental Flight (1915), it is also where Robert Watson-Watt began and carried out his pioneering work on Radar (1935-37), later it became a Ballistic Experiments Station (1938-59), and afterwards a test bed for the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment (1950-71). Now in the ownership of the National Trust, the Ness is a designated area of Special Scientific Interest, a RAMSAR site, an EU Special Protection zone, and a National Nature Reserve. It is an extraordinary catalogue of our paradoxical behaviour on survival and its impact upon ecology.

Upon this ‘tabula’ individuals in the unit will be asked to take a position on making experimental architecture for an unprecictable future. Some may wish to form a robust challenge upon the blanket preservation of the site; others may seek amongst its micro environment, a cause for critical reassessment. Some may envision new trajectories upon its ephemeral and temporal aura, and others may transpose its context and deploy a programme of hypothetical purpose. The outcome of the many and varied projects we anticipate will determine the direction of individual design research in the second half of the year, where some projects may remain on the Ness, others will migrate.

Now in its fifth iteration, the unit continues to pioneer and establish innovative and critical positions between analogue and digital design. We shall continue to transgress disciplinary protocols between the ideal and the real by infiltrating realms of architectural production beyond reach of the desk bound designer. Our tools are melded with those of the seamstress, the silversmith, the clockmaker, the mason, the cabinetmaker and their digital siblings. Our knowledge evolves through tacit experience and inquisitive intuition; through critical imagination and tactile experimentation; through the actions of forming, honing, assembly and testing; and with every step, extrapolation and proposition.

Unit 23 field trips are organised to visit significant figures and their places of work or production. In 2005-06, we dropped in on the great Walter Pichler in Burgenland, in 2006-07 we landed in Newbern to get our hands dirty with Rural Studio, and in 2007-08 we hooked up with Mark Burry’s team on the spires of the Sagrada Familia. This year we hope to take this tradition forward by visiting Naoshima Island and Koshirakura Landscape Workshops in Japan. This trip will take place in February only if pending applications for subsistence funding and sponsorship are successful. If not, alternatives will be organised, such as a visit to see Theo, or his Belgian brother, the maker of lead spaceships.

In December 2008 the unit will be invited to the unveiling of sixteen*(makers) inaugural shelter for Kielder Park, a Protoarchitectural event of unfathomable magnitude and unearthly excitement. Sure to put fire in every U23 belly.

Note: Ephemeralization is a term coined by R. Buckminster Fuller. It refers to the ability of people to use technological advances to continuously do more with less. Fuller’s vision was that ephemeralization will result in ever increasing standards of living for an ever growing population despite finite resources. Students of the unit are invited to take their own view on Bucky’s theory.

Unit 23 2008-09

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October 26, 2008