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Philip Christou "Poetic Transformations of Topography"

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This is the seventh and final seminar in the first season of our series entitled The Living Memory of Cities.

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Join us for The Living Memory of Cities, a seminar series convened in collaboration with Eric Parry Architects and the Centre for Urban and Built Ecologies (CUBE), London Metropolitan University. The series concludes with Philip Christou's presentation entitled "Poetic Transformations of Topography".

Kenneth Frampton writing in 1986 about the work of Alvaro Siza:

... he makes us aware ... that building is, to a large degree, contingent; that any construction is both topographically and temporally pre-determined and all that we can do is modify the fabric of the moment as it lies suspended between one historical instant and another.

In the past, the qualities of place in towns, cities and landscapes evolved in a seemingly natural way as a result of local traditions, craftsmanship and a close connection to regional and local climate and topography. These places are easily understandable to us for their beauty and sense of belonging. These qualities are very difficult to design on a drawing board. They are the result of a responsive adaptive and slow-moving building process. Our time has very different conditions and expectations of living to those of a vernacular village. However, I think there are ways that we as architects can think and work that have a strong sense of time, with a knowledge and responsiveness to the inherent and potential beauty of a local context.

In this lecture, I will attempt to retrace the path that has been taken by architects in several contemporary architectural projects that can be described as topographical. These projects are demonstrations of ways of designing that are responsive to the collective memory of the site. They have a sense of time that is found in the place, and can be projected into the future. I would suggest that the proliferation of undifferentiated and seemingly uncontrollable urban sprawl that we are experiencing in most regions of the world can be understood to be caused by a loss of a sense of time and memory of place, a topographical amnesia.

A site is valued for what it is and for what it can or wanted to be – two things which are perhaps opposite but never unrelated.

Álvaro Siza, Quaderns D’Arquitectura i Urbanisme, issue 159, Oct, Nov, Dec. 1983, p. 76-77.

Philip Christou is Professor Emeritus at London Metropolitan University where he taught architectural design with Florian Beigel from 1985 to 2017. He lives in London and has worked with Florian Beigel Architects (FBA) and the Architecture Research Unit (ARU. Est. 1974) since 1985. He was born in Alberta in Western Canada, studied Art History at McGill University, Montreal, and Fine Art at the University of Lethbridge and the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design in Halifax, Canada, before studying architecture at the Architectural Association in London.

He currently lectures and teaches in numerous schools of architecture internationally. The work of FBA and ARU is widely disseminated; notable publications by Beigel & Christou include Translations (Christoph Merian Verlag, 2015), and Architecture as City, Saemangeum Island City, (Springer 2010). A comprehensive catalogue of design sketches and drawings of FBA and ARU projects spanning over 30 years is currently in preparation (Architecture Foundation).

Coming Soon

Planning for the second series of The Living Memory of Cities seminars starting in October 2021 is underway. We look forward to announcing another fantastic lineup of speakers very soon. Follow our twitter and eventbrite in the links above if you'd like to stay updated.

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