David Kohn Architects
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2003-4: LMU
Kings Cross: Martin Naëssen

1/1 Kings Cross: Martin Naëssen

Diploma design studio

Across Europe, changes to major infrastructures such as port facilities and railways are making central urban sites available for redevelopment. When certain economic and political forces are combined these places undergo massive change, at a scale equivalent to their original industrialisation. King’s Cross in London is one such site.

A masterplan is currently at the planning stage to develop the area to a density far greater than London is familiar with. The very scale of the development, its proposed method of delivery combined with the place’s cultural and iconic significance situate it centrally in debates around contemporary urban practice. The unit has taken the proposed density and the assumption that such a project could be realised as its starting point. We have focussed on how beautifully made architecture and precise urban configurations could create a strong emotional sense of the dense metropolitan city. Can the physical reality of such a place ultimately resist the prevailing determinism of its provenance?

To begin to explore these issues, we carried out several research projects. Using precise techniques we surveyed several extraordinary urban moments in Rome. These ranged from the distortions of a mosaic church floor by the Cosmati masons to the structural economy of a Nervi concrete shell. A series of equivalent exercises in King’s Cross has encouraged a sensibility to the physical constituents and the patterns of these places and their origins in construction. Six masterplans were subsequently developed in groups of three with each student taking on a public space and then an elevation from their masterplan and exposing them to rigorous scrutiny. The unit was able to work at different scales simultaneously: as the architecture developed, the masterplans were revised, offering an opportunity to change the restrictions within which to operate. In these masterplans construction is instant, everything is built at once, streets always lead somewhere, buildings are all fully occupied. The usefulness of these masterplans is not that they offer an instantly applicable way of occupying the site over a generation. Rather, they offer a provocative habitat for us to work within. The masterplans are invented places where each student can operate with a mass of material with responsibility for everything around them. Too often today dense urban developments can leave you cold. Despite the mass of material, their emotional presence is draining. The feeling that we have searched for is one of fullness, a sense that the city is generous to overflowing. 

Students: Simon Bacon, Chris Clark, Yuval Gelbard, Louise Hoffman, Ah-Ra Kim, Cristina Lamiquiz, Robertson Lindsay, Niccolo Manco, Kazuyo Matsuda, Stefan Mordue, Martin Nässén, James Paul, Ian Ramsay, Isidro Rodriguez, Sabine Rosenkranz, Carolina Thorbert, David Wannerton, Dieo Weeranarawat.

Tutors: Rod Heyes and David Kohn

Visiting critics: Adam Caruso, Lorenzo De Chiffre, Tobias Goevert, Tim Gough, Cathy Hawley, Andy Houlton, Richard Lavington, Filipa Matos e Silva, David Partridge, Helen Robertson, Peter St John, Prisca Thielmann, Helen Thomas, Steve Witherford

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