The extent of boundless movement of water has led to its description as an ‘organ’ mediating between earth and sky. Existing in a range of material states, under varying conditions of pressure and temperature, the project hypothesizes water as a complex ‘living’ architectural material.
Weather material marks the passage of time – it punctuates our everyday lives, informing patterns of behaviour. Olafur Eliasson stresses that people ‘have learnt to use and relate to the weather as a mode of time.’ The consideration of time is fundamental to my approach, and in the context of the transitory, 4-week Olympic Games phenomenon, my architectural proposition is expressed as a series of events with multiple durations. In relation to this approach, the notion of the journey as a choreographed movement through space and time, operates as an underlying strategy. Michael Webb describes the journey as ‘an interval between the memory of the place one has just left and the anticipation—contrasted with the actuality—of arrival at one’s destination.’ As a flow of material matter, my chosen site – the Lea River, inherently denotes a journey. My proposition employs the typology of the ‘strip’ to support leisure programmes, canal-boat services and water management infrastructure, along the river.
Designed to facilitate the Olympic legacy plans for 11,000 new homes and swathes of leftover sporting facilities, a bathhouse is hypothesized as part of a leisure strip on the banks of the Lea. The bathhouse is conceived as a journey through carefully curated ‘weathers’, that invite juxtapositions of seasonal activity. Inspired by films such as Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away (2001) the bathhouse is conceptualized as a separate reality in which weather is used to construct an alternative perception of time. Here, architecture facilitates a relationship between the body and sensation. The relationship of our bodies to water is exposed further through acts of sweating and shivering. The bathhouse ultimately questions rituals pertaining to washing in contemporary society.
Water is explored in more detail at a domestic scale, in relation to the nomadic lifestyles of canal-boat inhabitants. With the inability to house washing machines on their boats, a launderette is proposed as a social focal-point for this community. This references the historical industries of soap-making and dry-cleaning in the area. Micro-weathers – the agitation of water, heating, drying, and steaming, form programmatic connections with the bathhouse.
The River Lea runs through a wide flood plain which is subject to periodic flooding from its banks. The project aims to integrate systems of water management into the ‘strip’ that tie into existing infrastructure such as Old Ford Lock, the Old Ford Water Recycling Plant and the Middlesex Filter Beds. The water-tower system is proposed as a technique to store and pressurize water and store energy. The strategy proposes controlled flooding to create a series of temporal beach hubs that facilitate a wide range of water and land-based activities along the river. This controlled flooding can also enable the cooling of the urban environment to combat the effects of the urban heat island or in the circumstance of a heat-wave.
Weather is often cited as the last form of ‘uncontrollable nature’, and from the invention of the umbrella to complex systems of forecasting, humans have been perpetually fascinated with controlling it. Given the manner in which the Chinese designed precipitation out of the 2008 Olympic event, the project considers the British approach to London’s water-cycle activity in 2012 and beyond. ‘Although many tourists may dislike the rain and fog, this prevalent weather condition has bred a distinct psychological and cultural heritage that is unique to that part of the world, therefore constituting its own ideal.’