House? Of Cards

Benjamin Satterthwaite

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Modos Hero Benjamin Satterthwaite
Axonometric of the final project - 'The Town Hall'

A pessimist might suggest the past two years have painted a rather ugly picture of western politics. Indeed, we find ourselves amidst a decidedly unique era of politics, one fraught with division and marred by vitriol. In fact, the Brexit Referendum, New Zealand’s 2017 Election and Donald Trump’s 2016 Presidential Campaign [and following tenure] are all evidence of deeply ingrained social division, each speaking to the palpable miasma that solemnly orbits the political sphere — one which has left the global public exhausted and disenfranchised with the political process.

At the crux of this thesis is the notion that contemporary political architecture is not only reflective of this social schism between public and political, but is in fact also an active perpetuator of its existence. Isolated within the urban fabric, existing political infrastructure is largely unreflective of the omniscient influence and importance of the political process, and the crucial role the public should play in it. Herein lies the foundation of this thesis: at its crux, the project seeks to demonstrate how architectural intervention can sculpt the relationship between the public and the political — for better or worse.

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Much of this thesis’ theoretical exploration was rooted outside of the built world. Delving into political science and sociology as much as architectural history and theorem, the author deconstructed the relationships between the public, the political and the architectural from a variety of perspectives, eventually constructing an anthology of disparate, yet interconnected theoretical tenors designed in the vein of Black Mirror.  This anthology — one exploring ancient Greek public space, contemporary feminist theory and the weaponisation of architecture among other equally heterogeneous topic — laid the foundation for the final project of the thesis. The scheme designed amalgamates the anthology’s various theorem with the political climate in which it was constructed, specifically that of the United States of America.



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As an ode to the holistic desire for engagement and accessibility, collage was activated throughout the project as a means of articulating complex political ideas into broadly understandable, if abstract, forms. More than merely a tool of representation, the method inadvertently revealed itself to be a design driver; The process of layering, combining and distilling would often reveal new relationships between seemingly disparate elements, or uncover revelations concerning existing ones. In this sense, the works tended to generate as much as they condensed.

Given the rather tumultuous political landscape of 2018, the project changed considerably throughout the year, often shifting and adapting in response to the seemingly daily controversies of the US political sphere. The result of this dynamic endeavour assumed the form of an urban-scale scheme in River Falls, capital of the state of Michigan. The project explores the architectural and political qualities of control and transparency, ultimately demonstrating how the relationship between the American public and their politic system can be manipulated by carefully considered political architecture. Largely inspired by the Agora of ancient Athens, the scheme weaves a smorgasbord of public and political infrastructure through a blanket of lush public space in the heart of River Falls. The result is a new rendering of the ‘town hall,’ one ultimately intended to strengthen the tethers between the democratic process and the public it serves.


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Critic's Text

The world after the 2016 US presidential election became a radically different and indeed a shocking one. We are left wondering why and how such populist propagandas that dehumanise women, minorities and immigrants (to name a few) find so many supporters worldwide. We might have moaned often about daily-discovered scandals in the US or even mass shootings, but very few of us take it seriously enough to welcome the challenge of making sense of such events. Ben however takes his anger seriously and deploys the thesis as a medium to directly engage with politics as a discipline in and of itself and more importantly to investigate the political role of architecture. The thesis engages with public space and its role in practicing democracy, employing theories formulated by key thinkers in this field such as Habermas, Arendt and Mouffe.

 At its heart, the thesis highlights how architecture can facilitate the dialogue between the public and the government and shows that there is no a simple answer to this question. Ben beautifully crafts a complex project of a town hall that oscillates between satire and sincere architectural language. The final design of this fictional town hall, was a result of numerous iterative collages, writings, sketches and models that not only informed the architecture of each individual building and the overall landscape, but generated the format of the final presentation as a press-conference. 

— Dr Farzaneh Haghighi, supervisor