Contemporary Commons

In suburbia, the morphology of the housing estate monopolises programme.

The sub-division of land, the layout of streets and the essential relationship of public and private worlds is determined by the dimensional repetition of the semi-d. In between are interspersed the basic infrastructures for survival – the petrol station, the newsagent, the amorphous green space. Such rare interruptions in function are equally a break in the dominant spatial order of the three-bedroom plot. These gaps in the dominant residential programme present an opportunity.


Distanced from the centres and avoiding the pressures of commerce, the former use value of the old city has emigrated with the citizenry to the suburbs. Despite this there remains a missing component to suburban life – the civic space. In the oversized or oddly shaped green spaces are the greatest opportunities for the civic in urban life. Free of fences, closing hours, by-laws or even function these afterthoughts may be the contemporary commons.


For a successful civic space to take root in suburbia, one cannot resort to the simple insertion of urban or rural typologies. Within the confines of the suburban daily routine there is space for an architecture. The answer lies within the rhythms of commuting, school terms and the occasional birthday party. Equally, it is essential to acknowledge the unique size and shape of the green patch in juxtaposition to the constraints of the housing plot. This break from residential form and function allows for a public scale of intervention. In other words , the possibility to give inhabitants the spaces for living that their private homes could never fulfil. Within these limits there is an opportunity, not to force a change in people’s lives but to make sublime how we already live.

The Market School

This thesis deals with the tension created between an abandoned existing structure, the memory of a market building and the grain of an existing context. Structure becomes the dominant theme informing the creation of flexible and adaptable learning spaces which respond to both the scale of the person and scale of the city.

School design is a subject in the field of architecture, which should come naturally given that the majority of us spend two decades of our lives in types of institutional buildings. School buildings essentially act as facilitators for learning spaces which, when successful, engage with their surrounding landscape. Many designers like Herman Hertzberger understood their potential, identifying schools as ‘frameworks’ where pupils could develop freely. Hans Scharoun also saw them as a platform for gradual integration into the community without repressing pupils individuality (Blundell Jones, 1997). As places of learning, school buildings should be as inspirational as the inhabitants that use them.

Be it a house, market or school, what is crucial in any design is its negotiation on a number of scales. From the macro or city/landscape scale, to the micro or detail/material scale. This could be called a ‘dialogue’ and happens on multiple levels relating to city, building, material and inhabitants. This ‘dialogue’ is particularly relevant in the design of a school as inhabitants engage with and adapt to the building; as mentioned previously, it is a facilitator for learning.