a writing and architecture workshop
The wall was approximately 12 ft long and 10 ft high. A modest sized wall in a modest sized room that contained evidence of a modest time spent in it. The wall itself was the support for seven shelves dripping with items that created a sense of place for the room’s occupants.
There was no possibility of entering the space on the other side of the wall with the shelves. Occasional muted conversation would drift through the single thickness of bricks but these gave nothing more than an indication of more than one person’s presence. The other room was seldom occupied and from the security of the protective winged armchair a silence next door allowed entry to the space through the bricks. The neighbours’ absence erased all speculation on the identity or appearance of them, instead the room became an unoccupied, unused part of the home for the man seated in the armchair.
The room on the other side of the wall was soon to be called the ‘OTHER’ room, and became a depository for all experiences and artefacts that were not contained on the seven shelves. From the armchair could be seen a space that alternated between large and cool in summer and small and cosy in winter. Velvet was not velvetine.
Bottles of cider on the shelf became Pernod in a cabinet. In the Other room the telephone rang more frequently and friends pressed the door bell. The carpet did not allow shoes to be worn and made slippers redundant.
The armchair created a room where a contained identity was unimportant; all use of the room was through indulgence rather than necessity. The beauty of the Other room did not require a description by the occupant to others when the room was empty.
By the side of a plain 10 ft x 12 ft wall sat a busy beautiful person, who, through the wall, heard a space that did not merit description and saw a retreat that would possibly allow the occupant to make use of many hours sitting.
Will Alsop, “The Other Room” pp 486 Architectural Design 7-8 1977
Before being known for brightly coloured buildings and poor financial decision making, a young Will Alsop produced a short but interesting exercise in describing architecture through the written word. Entitled The Other Room, the piece was tucked away as part of a larger article on the architecture of Cedric Price, also by Alsop and published in Architectural Design in 1977. The main feature is itself worthy of a browse as the essay is constructed around six words which allow for an overlap between a discussion of Price’s work and Alsop’s current architectural concerns.
(It is worth noting that the building in question – Price’s Inter-Action Centre in Kentish Town – was a project Alsop worked on while in Price’s office).
The Other Room is described under Alsop’s fifth word of the essay, Fictions. As Alsop himself explains,
“The Other Room project is one of a series of short stories that attempts to create fictions around set-pieces of architectural vocabulary – the story replace the perspective drawing. This device allows the reader (client) to imagine (create) the ambience of the space. In this particular instance the wall is given qualities that are impossible to create in conventional visual terms (how does one draw a conversation?)”
I can’t help but feel that Alsop sells himself, and this technique, rather short here. To view the role of the text as a replacement for a drawing in order to express an atmosphere to a client denies language from fulfilling its wider potential in architecture. While a text may certainly have the ability to describe what a drawing can not, in doing so there is the possibility to imagine more than an “ambience”. There is the possibility to imagine an entirely different spatial and programmatic organisation that the act of drawing could never inspire.
One of the intentions of this workshop is to explore this opportunity for writing in architecture.