RIBA Beyond Borders – London, UK

2017 – Competition

Every year RIBA invite design submissions for their summer, site-specific architectural installations, 'Architecture Open' - this years theme was ‘Beyond Borders’. Entrants get to display their work across the UK, at RIBA’s architecture centres in both London and Liverpool.

Our concept was to invite people to think about our relationship with the planet, the built environment and our ingrained notions of locality in a different way. By looking at a well-known region such as Europe through its geological composition, as opposed to disciplines centred in the study of humanity, familiar references like countries, ethnic regions or areas of political influence can be supplanted for others like terranes, fragments, cratons or arcs. The 1:5 Million International Geological Map of Europe and Adjacent Regions is one of the most evocative depictions of these tectonic constructs developed in collaboration with scientists from around the world. It is not only a beautiful graphic piece of work, but also a refreshing way of looking at this part of the world where not even the familiar coastlines are immediately recognisable, particularly the areas that form Great Britain. By going beyond accepted ideas of place and our constant need to delineate it, we hope to instil in visitors a renewed curiosity about the essential nature of materials that have modelled the Earth, and ultimately reflect upon the often futile human efforts to assert control and establish artificial boundaries. 

We proposed to make an exhibit of rock samples from the regions illustrated in the 1:5 Million map. These samples would have been sourced in the form of aggregate from as many areas as feasible within the time frame, to be cast as concrete cylinders of varying diameters emulating geological core samples. The choice of concrete as a medium to encapsulate the samples was made based on its aesthetic and tactile qualities as well as its robustness. It is also a material that has become intrinsic to the built environment and can be understood through its seemingly endless potential to spark creative thinking. With the edges cut at an angle to reveal their internal composition, the diameters of the cylinders would correlate to age and type, ranging from larger and older metamorphic rocks, through to medium sized igneous, and finally smaller sedimentary ones. We intended to establish a detailed methodology of labelling and categorisation with the assistance of a geologist. 

Our proposed exhibit was to be built as an engaging installation made of a series of ascending plinths that can be traversed, perambulated, touched and generally experienced spatially. A large-scale reproduction of the map would have been installed on the back of the largest plinth, as something to be appreciated in its own right, with smaller paper reproductions available as hand-outs to encourage interaction and appeal to a wide range of audiences.

Due to the impervious nature of the materials, the exhibit could be installed internally or externally, we envisaged it on the terrace at RIBA London or within one of the main exhibition spaces at RIBA Liverpool. The plinths would have been assembled on a base as a modular system of timber components, with the cylinders cast separately in short lengths using standard PVC pipes as formwork. This would enable a collaborative approach to the building process, where members of RIBA Young People’s Forum could have participated in the erection of the plinth, the casting of the concrete and the cataloguing and labelling of the samples.