Silver Serjeant Award

The ceremony hall as experienced by Helgoland citizens  during key  societal events.
The ceremony hall as experienced by Helgoland citizens during key societal events.

The Company
Kent School of Architecture
Tutors: Adam Cole, George Thomson

Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness inspired James Bussey’s project The Company, set on the remote German island of Helgoland and presented in the format of a graphic novel.

He imagines the impact of a revolutionary exiled to the island in 1848 and the subse­quent growth and decline of an authoritarian society there over the next 150 years – in response to actual historical events.

The architecture is experienced from the perspective of the fictional character of Elisa Hecker as she grows up, starts work and participates in the key ceremonies of society. The architecture reflects the autocratic nature of the regime, with the looming main building conceived as a mini-city where all important civic and religious events occur.

‘Those in charge of the island are seen as an oppressive entity and the architecture is the identity of that oppression,’ says Bussey. ‘It is intimidating and serves as the symbol of power and control that the authorities have over the inhabitants.’

Citadel of Helgoland, with projecting ceremony hall at the top.
Citadel of Helgoland, with projecting ceremony hall at the top.

As well as responding to the context of the island and the wider history of Germany, the narrative draws on literary and cinematic influences and explores themes of power and control in architecture, isolation, politics, religion and social class.

Bussey chose the graphic novel format to better communicate the multiple layers of the project. ‘I wanted to break down the barriers of architectural drawing and, by presenting it in the familiar form of a story, hopefully make it more accessible to the public. Plans, sections and axonometric drawings serve two purposes: the first purpose is to communicate the architecture of the building, the second purpose is tell the next stage of the plot.’