Dissertation inspired by a visceral newspaper description of The Gemini Club, a 1980s gay bar, wins Huddersfield University’s Lizzie Osborne a President’s Medal
When Lizzie Osborne found a newspaper reference to a 1980s gay bar in Huddersfield described as a ‘cesspit of filth’, their interest was piqued.
‘I was curious to see what makes somewhere eligible to be given such a visceral description. I wanted to understand the space and figure out how to describe queer history through architectural thought and drawing,’ they said.
The result is the Medal-winning dissertation Cesspits of Filth: Queer Vernaculars in West Yorkshire 1975-1985, presented in a distinctive fanzine-style that conveys a vivid flavour of time and place. This extends right down to sections named after tracks on playlists at The Gemini Club, the venue on the outskirts of Huddersfield town centre that provides the focus of the dissertation.
Kept under police surveillance and repeatedly raided, the club received the backing of London’s Pride event, which made a one-off relocation to Huddersfield in 1981 in support. Gemini closed in 1981, but reopened under new ownership until shutting again in 1983.
Osborne’s dissertation investigates the history of the club in the social context of the time, piecing together the spatial and emotional experience of those who went there through archive research at the Bishopsgate Institute and the West Yorkshire Queer Stories project in particular. This use of first person accounts gave a social and emotional dimension to site analysis that Osborne feels should be more widely used in architecture.
‘A small gay bar on the edge of a ring road in Huddersfield had the emotional weight of a palace for those who used it,’ they said. ‘When you go to your first gay club, the quality of that space and your experience of it never really leaves you.’
The dissertation seeks to challenge the idea of what is thought deserving of study, and what constitutes the vernacular. It argues that such a space can be seen as a distinctive form of vernacular architecture for queer culture in that region at that time.
‘At the centre of the idea of the vernacular is survival and the use of local materials. This is particularly the case with marginalised groups who have had to adapt and move around as they’re displaced,’ they said, pointing to the way that gay venues often appropriate the ‘unwanted voids’ that are left behind by the city. In doing so, such venues are particularly vulnerable to the pressures of gentrification and regeneration.
Rather than attempt to design a new gay club, Osborne decided to ‘test’ the information they had found on the Gemini by creating a series of immersive tactile spaces based on the fabric of the club. This architectural study was informed by both functional planning drawings and Osborne’s research into the user experience, and included objects with camp qualities to them or objects that can be subverted in a camp way.
‘For me, as part of a separate generation of the queer community, I was trying to understand a piece of history that was very much hidden and obscured,’ they concluded.
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Tutors: Ingrid Schroder; Hanna Baumann; Christopher Hamill
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Dissertation Medals Judges
Chair: Dr Harriet Harriss Dean of the Pratt School of Architecture in Brooklyn, New York
Ben Campkin Professor of history and theory of architecture and urbanism at The Bartlett School of Architecture (UCL) and Co-Director of the UCL Urban Laboratory
Samia Henni Assistant professor of history and theory of architecture and urbanism at Cornell University, USA, and director of the Society of Architectural Historians
Mia Roth-Cerina Practising architect and associate professor at the Faculty of Architecture, University of Zagreb
Dorian Wiszniewski Practising architect and a senior academic at the Edinburgh School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture