Diploma Unit 2 has been re-named to MArch Unit 2. Please go to www.march-unit2.blogspot.com
Diploma Unit 2 addresses urban and architectural conditions in locations undergoing critical change and over the years, has worked in North Africa, Scandinavia, East London and other places in Europe.

Through a combination of research and creative practice, we propose interventions, which respond to urban challenges and introduce elements of cultural and imaginative vigour. The Unit explores extremes of interrelated scales, from urban geographies through to building and detail qualities. In this process, student's strategies and building designs formulate responsiveness to global contexts, site conditions, understanding of scales, architectural sensibilities, as well as structure and materiality, to create social, spatial and timebased habitats and environments.

Unit 2 trip to Africa Pikine/Dakar, 1997 - partywalls

"Cityspace... our performance as spatial beings takes place at many different scales, from the body, or what the poet Adrienne Rich once called ‘the geography closest in‘, to a whole series of more distant geographies ranging from rooms and buildings, homes and neighbourhoods, to cities and regions, states and nations, and ultimately the whole earth - the human geography furthest out." Ed Soja (2000)

Throughout the academic year, students use diverse design methodologies and develop skills, knowledge, intuition and judgement. Working collaboratively and individually in various locations and scales, the Unit builds an ability to engage in complex design discourses. In this process we use drawings, models, photography, film and other architectural media.

At the beginning of each academic year, students engage in a research exercise, to understand architectural ways of thinking and designing. Furthermore, students familiarise themselves with the teaching and learning environment of the course. For example, we walk in urban environments, visit places or experiment with drawings and models beyond mere representation, also as a means to develop designs.

For the main architectural project, each student is responsible for finding a site and identifying inherent qualities and potentials. At the heart of this analytical and creative process are individual briefs, programmes and spatial propositions which address urban, building and detail scales. Students are encouraged to use additional architecture related disciplines such as urban and landscape design as well as art, sociology and engineering.

In a search for qualities, fast and slow means of exploration support an understanding of a more holistic project scope, contextual relevance, economy of means, as well as crafted project finesse. For example, fast means of exploration are like the wisdom of spoken words and slow means of exploration are like living in a familiar place. The methodologies guide the design work through its various stages of researching, representing, testing and refining.

Towards the end of the academic year, we focus on sited buildings, by invigorating existing and imagining new, creating schemes that are both, sustainable and enjoyable.

"The neatness of architecture is its seduction; it defines, excludes, limits separates from the ‘rest‘ - but it also consumes. It exploits and exhausts the potentials that can be generated finally only by urbanism, and that only the specific imagination of urbanism can invent and renew." Rem Koolhaas (1995)


Cityness - Cities are our critical starting ground and ongoing territory. Cityness is hereby a form of being together and it is expressed in a matrix of cultural, social, spatial, environmental and time-based layers. By sharing space and spatial habit, it is more than the sum of its parts.

Technique - to be able to understand, link and connect parts and factors together. It is methodology and craft of both, the physical, technical and environmental propositions, as well as judgment and articulation of integrative programmes and cultures in social environments.

Process - considering imagination and realisation, process refers to both the practice of designing as an architect and the subject of study itself. On one side, the way of doing things is hereby directly connected to what we do. On the other side, cities and human environments are susceptible to different temporal modes and change.


Context City

This year, our design investigations and projects will focus on deprived neighbourhoods around the City of London. We will explore strategic and architectural potentials within an ongoing process of urban transformations.

The guiding theme of this year is Context City. This refers to both, the location next to the City of London and architectural interventions that critically engage in social and spatial urban contexts. We will explore ways in which sharing and living together can be part of a unique and synergetic urban life.

For further studies and inspirations, we will visit the city of Berlin in Germany, in the beginning of November.

For more information please go to www.unit2-2013-14.blogspot.com



Our design investigations and projects focused on key central neighbourhoods of Athens in Greece. We explored strategic and architectural potentials within a critical process of change.

The guiding theme of the year was Synoikismos. 'Oikos' literally means house. As such, Synoikismos is used to describe synergetic household conditions of sharing and living together, applicable to buildings, neighbourhoods, cities and larger urban systems.

For further information please go to www.unit2-2012-13.blogspot.com


Open Land

This year Unit 2 will focus on the theme of Open Land, exploring ways in which architectural interventions can mediate between urban contexts and diverse landscape conditions. The main sites of interest and student projects will be located along Open Land in East London, stretching from the Lea Valley to Barking Creek.

As a preparation for the main project, we will make the East London Planning Atlas, in collaboration with other academia and practice.

For further studies and inspiration, we will visit the city of Barcelona in Spain and a recent architectual scheme in Cambridge.

For further information please go to www.unit2-2011-12.blogspot.com

Chain of Sites in East London by Michalis Christodolou, 2012-13


Shared Topography

This year, Unit 2 will focus on the city of Bergen. It is located on the west coast of Norway, where archipelagos and Fjords form a unique landscape of islands and waterways.

We will carefully explore diverse existing spatial practices and topographical conditions, to develop responsive and imaginative proposals. Within this process, students will explore ways in which sharing and living together can be part of a unique and synergetic urban life.

A range of sites around the inner part of Bergen capture a diversity of urban dynamics and topographical conditions, by opening new and invigorating opportunities for the city. Each student will work on one of the sites, by addressing three important topographical scales. The unique setting of Bergen allows a particular understanding of the city, as a collective and formal entity. Furthermore, communities, neighbourhoods and streetscapes demand a careful exploration of their relationship to one another and to themselves. On the scale of immediate sites, the work will address both the way buildings meet the ground and the potential to form their own topography.

For further studies and inspiration, we will visit the Portuguese island of Madeira.

For further information please visit www.unit2-2010-11.blogspot.com


Un-Common City

This year, our design investigation will focus on the city of Marrakech in Morocco. The unit will engage in this North-African city, as an uncommon territory and culture that is undergoing critical change. We will carefully explore diverse existing spatial practices, to develop responsive and imaginative proposals. Within this process, the unit will explore ways in which conditions of urban inhabitation and communal spaces can be part of synergetic urban life.


To prepare for uncommon spatial conditions and to introduce unit specific methodologies, we will explore diverse cases of vernacular architecture, described in Bernard Rudofsky’s book Architecture without Architects. By extracting key architectural qualities, this will serve as a source of inspiration for a small design exercise of an Urban Room, where sharing and living together demands unusual spatial solutions.


In Marrakech, the unit will focus on three major sites, which capture the diversity of recent urban dynamics. The first site focuses on the Tannery community in the east of the Medina. This part of the city is a close knit meshwork of alleyways and partly neglected courtyard houses.
The second site is in the north of the city. Here diverse hybrids between European planning and North African urban cultures are rapidly expanding, opening questions of sustainability and demanding unusual responses.
The third site is in the south east of the city. Here the city has been extended with fairly loose planning frameworks in a self build manner. These areas resemble the density of the medina, but not their quality.

For further information, please visit www.unit2-2009-10.blogspot.com

Palmeraie Working Edge by Daniel Rees, 2010


Urban Works

This year, we will explore ways in which conditions of work and inhabitation can be re-established as an integral and synergetic part of urban life. We will look at diverse modes of spatial and social behaviour to be able to develop skills, intuition and judgement, for a vigorous, yet crafted culture of place. The way of designing is hereby directly related to what we do.

Our context, East London and the Thames Gateway, is part of some of the largest urban restructuring processes in Europe. The urban region bears ongoing traces of ship yards, containerisation, industry, global financial markets, housing, dereliction and speculation.Located within East London’s Lea Valley, the particular site of interest is an industrial island within a topographical and urban archipelago. Streams of water and transportation, as well as highly deprived communities form a demanding context. Subject to a particular grain of industrial buildings and intricate yards, the site is in parts a conservation area, a conglomeration of used and disused spaces. Tracing the site and acknowledging an ongoing re-industrialisation process opens the scope for diverse scenarios.

To gain inspiration and a measure of urbanism, we will research particular conditions of cityness in Shoreditch/ London, Venice and the Netherlands.

The site and its context, as well as guiding research will set the tone for distinct strategic interventions in a range of scales, from urban through to building qualities and their immanent details. Using urban design methodology, the projects will focus on sited buildings, by invigorating existing and imagining new, to create schemes that are both, sustainable and enjoyable.

For further information, please visit www.unit2-2008-09.blogspot.com


Room for Change

We will explore ways in which places of inhabitation are seen as the grain of a city, and look at how they can be reestablished as an integral part of city life. The Unit will work on projects in Soho and Canning Town/ Beckton.

‘While it is natural and necessary for architects to concentrate on the building itself, the bright light of this often eclipses the surrounding world, darkening the very horizon that grants the building its standing. Anyone who stops to think about it knows perfectly well that individual settings are always interconnected with and dependent on a horizon that transcends them, sewn into a fabric of rooms, buildings, streets, towns, and nature, ….’
From Uncommon Ground by David Leatherbarrow

Recalling first exercises and interrogating a 1 ha pilot project framework, we will explore and define our individual briefs for this main project, a brief for inhabiting cities. As cities are places of different speeds and perpetual change, we will investigate in these conditions with Room for Change. Located in Canning Town/ Beckton, it will be a physical articulation of dayly, seasonal or long-term transformations, informed by...

agriculture, children, climate, communities, components, culture, decisions, details, densities, diversities, economies, frameworks, households, imaginations, improvisations, income, infrastructures, location, materials, needs, place, pleasures, principles, strategies, structures, tools, typologies, weather ...

The propositional process implies, analysis, personal interests, experimentations, interpretations and intuition, to make coherent places at the scale of a room, dwelling, street, neighbourhood and city.

Neighbourmaker by Masamori Magota and Naohiro Mizushima, 2007


Infrastructural Events

The ongoing dynamics of a hundred and fifty years of infrastructural events have determinded the present landscape of the Lower Lea Valley. Canals, outfall sewers, dual carriageways, railways, gasometers and power pylons, compose a physical matrix that inscribes the valley into distinct isolated fragments. The historic urban geography of emptyness that has made this terrain so suitable for the enterprises of efficient metropolitain connectivity, has paradoxically lead to the Lower Lea's manifest physical isolation from the surrounding urban territory of East London.

The ambitious of the Thames Gateway Project envisage the rapid development of this fractured land and its social and physical integration into the local fabric of the existing neighbouring communities.

The Unit's investigation focused on Bromley-by-Bow, West Ham and Canning Town. All designated as centres in this pending transformation but ultimately comprised by their situation within the local metropolitain paradox of infrastructural events.

The Unit's work continued its emphsis ont he development of strategic proposals and thought in order to support and create the conditions that facilitate individual physical interventions. The development of urban prototypes and hybris supported this discourse and sought to ensure that the proposals participated in a larger field of new and imaginative urban and architectureal practice.


2012 Olympics

The lower Leal Valley has always been a unique and diverse spatial, social and topographical territory, penetrating through East London from the countryside towards the Thames. In 2012, the Olympics will come to visit the Valley, bringing with it a 6 km, 5 meter high wall to surround, erase and replace landscape, making room for the festivities. Once the games are over this new landscape will again be radically reconfigured before the wall is eventually torn down and the outside world presented with the legacy.

The edges of the Olympics, Bow, Hackney Wick, Leyton and Stratford, will feel the full impact of this enterprise. For them the effects will be felt immediately and 10 or more years of constant and rapid change, upheaval and transition are promised. The investigations of the Unit utilised this temporal and spatial frontier as their subject.

The Unit's work emphasised the development of strategic proposals and thought in order to negotiate this rapidly changing situation and to create the conditions that would facilitate the development of an appropriate and responsive physical architectural intervention. The concurrent development of the urban thesis sought to ensure that the proposals participated in a larger field of new and imaginative urban practice. The scale of urbanism was intermediate, ranging anywhere between 1:10 000 and 1:1.

During the year, the Unit sent three urban reconnaissance parties, to Berlin, Sofia and Istanbul in order to create a more diverse dialogue about the nature of change and development in cities and define the spatial and cultural urbanisms arising from these processes. Student projects are a result of this discussion.

Unit 2 in Chile - Open City Cemetary, 28.01.2004


Horizontal Topographies

Diploma Unit 2 addresses concrete urban conditions in locations undergoing rapid change. Through a combination of research and creative practice we are proposing interventions which resolve existing problematic situations and introduce more audacious elements of cultural and imaginative vigour. Extremes of scales, from a dwelling's tectonic and inhabited qualities to the constitution of landscapes are explored, and found to be mutually supportive and suggestive of radical responses to seemingly intractable problems.

Location One - Elemental Housing Competition in Chile

"Concept: if the Weißenhofsiedlung in Stuttgart, in 1927 can be seen as the beginning of Architecture's commitment to reduce the housing deficit... and the Previ Lima in the 1970's can be seen as the end of that collaboration between Avantgarde architecture and low-cost housing... well, this initiative seeks to write the 3rd chapter of this story by bringing together the best architects in the world back to the problem of 'Elemental Housing'." (http://www.elementalchile.cl/)
We used the competition to launch straight into a design charette, examining our own personal living experiences and values.

Location Two - Action in the Zones of Change

Zone 6: Woolwich - Thamesmead - Belvedere - Erith, where we are making proposals for this Third Chapter in relation to the planned expansion of London eastwards, exploring ways in which housing are seen as the grain of a city, and look at how it can be reestablished as an integral part of city life, the role of local and civic institutions to make coherent places at the scale of a dwelling, street, neighbourhood and city.

Collectively we are attempting to develop an urban and building catalogue of generic components to be negotiated and adjust to specific locations and existing material/ social/ cultural/ economic/ environmental/ topographical context.

We are looking for the development of a pilot project that can serve as a model for (utopian) development and help to launch an international ideas competition for the largest planned urban redevelopment are in Europe.


The Moving Project

The Unit worked on a wide range of scales, from the construction of material assamblages and details to large scale thinking at the level of the district. Consistency and individuality of thinking is encouraged across this range.

The Unit worked on a live project: UEL's planned consolidation on the Dockland's Campus and the decommissioning of the Barking Campus. The Unit, through this project, continued its investigation of urban landscapes, exploring the potential for shared ground between the different constituents of local community.

We instigated active processes involving both the UEL community and the wider constituency in both locations to gather information and understanding of how the move can profit not only UEL but also the neighbouring districts. We had access to information from UEL senior management, Local Authorities (Newham, Barking & Dagenham) and the GLA. Recommended lateral thinking was perpetual tested against the reality of the site, physically as well as institutionally.

We began the year with a series of sectional site walks mapping and making obervational drawings and models at different scales. Through this process, each student found initial clients both from within the University and outside asking the question what do they most desire to happen in their physical environment.

The Unit continues to be concerned with how things are made and we experimented with materials and methods of fabrications throughout the year. We visited and made use of the new Manufactured Aggregates Research Centre at the Barking Campus, which makes light weight aggregaes from domestic waste.


Schools and Communities

The Unit moves loosely and freely across a wide range of scales, from the construction of material assemblages and details to large scale thinking at the level of the district. Consistency and individuality of thinking is encouraged across this range.

Unit 2 continued its investigation of urban landscapes, exploring the potential for interplay between the different constituents of local community. We worked in two locations, and in two different cultures using programmes of primary school grounds and buildings, understood both landscape and in their relationship to the locality and the city.

As well as considering each primary school's engagement with wider functional, social and urban agendas, the Unit continued to focus on physical and material issues such as ground conditions and the appropriateness of construction scale.

Location One - Custom House/Newham

Calverton Primary School, in the Custom House district of Newham, is situated at the junction between diverse conditions - housing estates, each repetitive but different from each other in character and aspiration; city farm and fallow un-programmed tract; defensive cul-de-sac planning and major transport infrastructure. Can this school - situated at the edge of the city, and sandwiched between dense housing and the flat horizon of water, airport, motorway and railway - profit from or weld together such differences?

Changing educational policies and an increasing intake of pupils have already forced a number of additions and adaptations on this school since it was built in the early Eighties. Originally without any architectural aspiration, these necessities have decreased the light, air, comfort and space inside and worsened the school's already ill-resolved relationships to its grounds and neighbourhood. Despite this, Calverton Primary's community is succeeding in raising its children's achievements and expectations, making it one of the most improved schools of recent years. We looked at how this emerging confidence can be reflected in the school's physical identity through strategies for restructuring its building, grounds and dialogue with the neighbourhood.

Early workshops with the children of Calverton provided insights and design tactics which the students sustained throughout their work. Ranging from combinatorial games of materials and forms, through exercises in near and far, to locating issues and imaginative possibilities close to children's hearts, these tactics yielded a diversity of novel and previously unforeseen outcomes. Medium scale proposals for the community were combined with strategies for redeveloping the school itself. Through sensitive to existing fabric, these projects were bold in their expression and ambition and sought to give a focus and identity to the school and the area.

Location Two - Pikine/Dakar, Senegal

Senegal's capital, Dakar, is located on the Cap Vert peninsula, the western-most point of Africa. A former French colonial city, Dakar has been the capital of an independent Senegal since 1960.

Pikine a suburb 13 km to the east of Dakar, was created in 1952 to reduce the congestion of central Dakar following large scale migration to the capital from rural Senegal. Initially an area of spontaneous settlement, it is currently undergoing massive transformation through complex negotiations of ownership rights and the implementation of transport and services infrastructure. The district's inhabitants are constantly engaged in creating more dignified and less precarious living conditions. While many facilities are lacking, there is yet a growing sense of optimism.

The students in the Unit chose to ground their work firmly in the social and economic means and aspirations of both areas.

The proposals for Senegal sought to profit from the strong community spirit existing in spite of, or perhaps of, the hard living conditions there. Some students developed strategies of safeguard ground for public use while others developed spaces to be shared between communities and schools. All the proposals were concerned with developing innovative building technologies using local materials, producing buildings which provided clean water and were also responsive to the annual flooding.

Out of the highly constrained and complex economic, material and climatic demands of this situation came a range of highly disciplined and apparently simple projects.

to be continued ....