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Proposal for ecological justice wins RIBA Bronze Medal

Words:
Pamela Buxton

Ben Foulkes wins RIBA Bronze Medal for Seeding Swanscombe Marshes, an ecological riposte to plans to develop a huge theme park in north Kent

The courthouse in its habitable phase for people, when it will be a venue for ecological discussions. Over time it will biodegrade, and in doing so enhance the ecology by providing habitats and enriching the marshland landscape.
The courthouse in its habitable phase for people, when it will be a venue for ecological discussions. Over time it will biodegrade, and in doing so enhance the ecology by providing habitats and enriching the marshland landscape.

Ben Foulkes
Seeding Swanscombe Marshes: A Regenerative and Resistant Courthouse
Bartlett School of Architecture (UCL)
Tutors: Chee-Kit Lai, Douglas Miller

 

Ben Foulkes’ interest in landscapes, especially those with some element of contention regarding authority and agency, drove his President’s Medal-winning project for an environmentally regenerative and resistant courthouse.

His chosen site on Swanscombe Marshes in north Kent is the subject of plans for a huge new theme park, The London Resort. Foulkes envisaged a ‘courthouse’ that would assist the campaign to save the peninsula site by actively enriching the habitat through its regenerative architecture, and in doing so provide a more compelling argument against the development.

‘The courthouse was almost an allegorical idea, which I proposed would in some way correlate with ecological justice,’ he says.

He envisages three distinct stages of occupancy for the building. First, its foundations are laid to form a platform for protestors against the theme park.

Channels are excavated to draw ­water from the Thames into the surrounding marshes to aid regeneration. Displaced soil and clay are used to create cob cornerstones for the building’s construction.

Then, as the timber-structured enclosure takes shape, the courthouse serves as a forum for wider ecological activity and debate beyond the immediate site. During this phase of human habitation, the building gradually begins to ‘seed’ itself into the landscape and start regenerating it. In doing so, it becomes intrinsic to the marshes and too ecologically valuable to remove. The building envelope is designed to be deliberately compromised, questioning ideas of comfort. Birds are encouraged to nest in the thatched roof, while timber lattice walls provide a habitat for ­invertebrates and plant life, and nutrients are returned to the soil.

Finally, rather than being compelled to support human habitation, the building ‘dismantles itself’ over time as it biodegrades. The floor will flood to create inter-tidal and estuarine habitats as sea levels rise, eventually degrading the walls. During this process, the courthouse’s legacy will increase by continuing to cultivate new habitats and supporting further ecological regeneration of the surrounding landscape it has saved. 

Ben Foulkes proposes a biodegradable courthouse that will actively regenerate the surrounding landscape of Swanscombe Marshes, and in doing so help defend it from development.
Ben Foulkes proposes a biodegradable courthouse that will actively regenerate the surrounding landscape of Swanscombe Marshes, and in doing so help defend it from development.

BRONZE COMMENDATIONS

Rachel Caul
Reclaiming the Ruin
University of Cambridge
Tutors: Rod Heyes, Prisca Thielmann

Conor Lawless
The Workers’ Enclave
London Metropolitan University
Tutors: Andrew Budd, Jillian Jones, Kieran Wardle

Oliver Skelton
Making Do
University of Nottingham
Tutors: Elena Balzarini, Bob Braun, Ros Diamond

 

SERJEANT AWARD FOR EXCELLENCE IN DRAWING AT PART I

Desislava Cholakova
Cathedral of Trade
London South Bank University
Tutors: Olivier Jauniaux, Antonios Lalos, Angela Vanezi

 

AWARD FOR SUSTAINABLE DESIGN AT PART I

Gergana Negovanska
The Last Straw: A Case for Reuse. Ratho Community Centre
Edinburgh School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture
Tutors: Moa Carlsson, Simone Ferracina

  • Facade detail showing the timber lattice and cob walls. These are designed with nesting spaces and thatch inserts.
    Facade detail showing the timber lattice and cob walls. These are designed with nesting spaces and thatch inserts.
  • Facade detail showing the timber lattice and cob walls. These are designed with nesting spaces and thatch inserts.
    Facade detail showing the timber lattice and cob walls. These are designed with nesting spaces and thatch inserts.
  • The courthouse roof and walls are envisaged as habitats for birds and invertebrates while the floor will flood to create intertidal and estuarine habitats.
    The courthouse roof and walls are envisaged as habitats for birds and invertebrates while the floor will flood to create intertidal and estuarine habitats.
  • Cob construction
    Cob construction
  • Timber frame and lattice
    Timber frame and lattice
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BRONZE MEDAL JUDGES

Chair: Tracy Meller
Partner at Rogers Stirk Harbour & Partners; honorary professor of architecture at the University of Nottingham
Ben Cowd
Co-founding partner of Saraben Studio; subject head (postgraduate) architecture at the Leicester School of Architecture, De Montfort University
Angela Dapper
Principal architect at Grimshaw
David Howarth
Co-founder of DRDH Architects
Rossana Hu
Founding partner at Neri & Hu, China
David Ogunmuyiwa
Mayor’s Design Advocate at Greater London Authority, and founder/partner at Architecture Doing Place

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