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How do you design a hotel in a power station?

Words:
Eleanor Young

Justin Bean wins the President's Bronze Medal with a project tackling our fear of technology

Axonometric of the interior of the hotel inside the Faraday cage protecting it from the live electricity of the substation.
Axonometric of the interior of the hotel inside the Faraday cage protecting it from the live electricity of the substation.

Justin Bean
Dreaming of Electric Sheep
University of Bath
Tutors: Frank Lyons; Martin Gledhill


Why would you marry a hotel with an electricity substation? For Justin Bean this hybrid project grew out of an attempt to address the fears of technology that are so prevalent in society. ‘You read that technology will steal our jobs, that technology will replace everything – I disagree and wanted to question what that meant,’ says Bean. On the other hand, our relationship with technology is very simplistic. One of his drawings (far right) shows our very analogue view of technology as an old fashioned phone switchboard; we plug in to satisfy our desires. 

Bean wanted to explore a more symbiotic relationship with technology. Thus the substation. The huge, hidden infrastructures of substations in every town in the country intrigue Bean. The hotel planned intimately around it was chosen as what he admits is a ‘weird typology... It tightens and exaggerates banal everyday activities to the sublime.’ So could these spaces for machines share spaces with humans? Could machine and human assume equal importance? 

 

The Faraday cage would keep Bean’s hotel inhabitants safe

The analogue requests we make from technology, drawn as a telephone switchboard.
The analogue requests we make from technology, drawn as a telephone switchboard.

The project started as a pragmatic piece of spatial planning. The fundamental question was how close could you build? To avoid electrical bridging there could be no touching and nothing could be too close. In fact, Bean turned to the Faraday cage to keep his hotel inhabitants safe. Bars of metal encase the building beneath a skin of insulating brick. The cage is very fine but just visible in the vertical rods running through the windows.

The gathering spaces are where they could fit and some are graced with elements of the substation. Stripped of context they become totems but also build a familiarity with the elements – a way of getting to know the architecture of electricity and to start to understand it. With this extreme pairing, Bean hopes for a new dialogue on how we perceive machines and technology. 

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