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This year Studio 5 investigated the question of civic architecture by proposing town halls in new towns and market towns outside London. We started the year by compiling a book of precedents entitled 'Civic Pride' to elaborate the architectural qualities of the 'People's Palace,' important civic or cultural buildings that have a special presence and generosity.
These projects are not just meeting places for culture, some house important state functions such as civic administration and local democracy. Each example has been studied with three pieces of work, a detailed and edited ground plan to show the continuity of external public space to interior foyer, an internal elevation to show the materiality, detail and atmosphere of these communal spaces and a study model to analyse and distill the civic character of the façade. Many of these examples come from a particular moment in post-war Europe of high investment in public building. While buildings such as Hans Asplund's richly detailed Eslöv civic centre in Sweden capture this kind of 'Champagne socialism' or 'People's Palace' in their luxurious materiality, other examples are more stripped down and raw, such as the re-used concrete structure of Kortrijk Town Hall in Flanders by NoA Architects.
We travelled throughout Switzerland to visit important public buildings to understand the strong connection between civic architecture and a localised democracy. We also visited buildings and met young architects chosen to take part in the 'Young Swiss Public' exhibition running concurrently with the architecture show on the ground floor of Central House.
We are under no illusion that investment in public building is in crisis in the United Kingdom. The New Towns of Harlow and Hemel Hempstead provided a clear illustration of this crisis of Civic Pride. Harlow's original town hall by Frederick Gibberd was demolished and replaced in 2003 with a large retail park with council facilities incorporated within. The loss of agency of local government is further demonstrated by current plans to demolish the civic quarter of Hemel Hempstead along Geoffrey Jellicoe's grade 2 listed water gardens to make way for new retail parks. Our intervention in these situations is timely and speculative, there may be other and more appropriate ways to reaffirm spaces for local democracy than the commercial.
The market towns of Horsham and smaller towns of Uckfield and Amersham presented different conditions, one where local authority buildings had outgrown original town hall premises to take up mostly administrative positions outside of the town centres leaving a void for new and more public town halls to fill. The aim of the year's work was to re-consider what a new civic architecture could offer, in its placement within the town and territory, its relationship to public space and the carefully detailed exterior and interior that a public building should possess. Facade studies investigate the character of this civic architecture in the same way as our precedent studies, a detailed exercise in designing a main stair with furniture designer Simon Jones led into more comprehensive studies of civic interiors, living rooms for the town where people of all backgrounds can come together.