The Void Hypothesis: Controlled Experiments to Quantify the Ineffable Qualities of EmptinessMiraj Ahmed and Martin Jameson
‘An American technology firm is building a town the size of Bristol in the desert in New Mexico but nobody will live there.’ – Daily Telegraph
Intermediate 13 will continue its exploration of void – this time in relation to the design of empty buildings as experimental space. We are interested in the eternal qualities of architecture: contemplation of the philosophical, experiential and socio-political attributes of space. Our focus will be directed toward the phenomenological potential of absence/presence as a commentary on the nature of space and the city. The site will be the Isle of Dogs.
West India Docks on the Isle of Dogs in London’s East End was once the world’s busiest commercial port. The four docks, surrounded by warehouses and a continuous six-metre brick wall, accommodated over 1,000 ships. Following decline in the late twentieth century the Isle of Dogs was designated an enterprise zone free from the constraints of urban planning and taxation. Exploiting these legal loopholes developers Olympia & York created the dense high-rise global financial capital of Canary Wharf. In both instances the void was used as an economic tool counter to the values of urban realm. Canary Wharf is a now a fascinating manifestation of what happens when the principles of civic inclusion and responsibility are made subservient to the exigencies of raising and deploying capital.
This appraisal sets up our main thesis of investigation: to what extent can the potency of the void be employed to release the civic qualities of the contemporary city? If the processes of taking away, clearing, emptying and excluding have such potential, what scope is there to apply them to today’s impoverished Isle of Dogs? Rather than the everyday objectives of urban regeneration, our interest is in the idea of experimentation: the ineffable, the unknown and the improbable. How could the most exquisite outcome be achieved through an engagement with emptiness?
Miraj Ahmed is a practising painter and architect. He has taught at the AA since 2000 and is a Design Fellow at the University of Cambridge and Associate Lecturer at Camberwell College of Art.
Martin Jameson is an associate at Serie Architects. He studied for five years at the AA and received his Diploma with honours. Before studying architecture he was a business consultant advising corporations on strategy and organisational design. He has a BA from Oxford University where he studied Kantian philosophy and political theory, and an MBA from IMD, Switzerland.