Tuesday, 11 September 2012

First Assignment


Edinburgh School of Architecture & Landscape Architecture
Master of Architecture
Modular Pathway
Year 2 (2012-13)
Course Code: ARJA11003
Credit Points: 40
Year 2, Semester 1, Weeks 1-2
Course Organisers: Adrian Hawker + Victoria Clare Bernie

a City on a bend in a River

In this fluid atmosphere I lived, as it were, swimming and felt my rough 
edges gradually smoothed and myself dissolved, absorbed into it.
But to find myself again, all I had to do was go down to the old dry river.
Italo Calvino, Dry River

Move 1 : Watercourse


There are two concerns that drive this first move. The first relates to themes and narrative structure, a desire to tease out and articulate a set of personal points of reference to which we can repeatedly return as the work of the module progresses. The second lies with representation and the and the ways in which the myriad tools of representation can beat once analytical and propositional, descriptive and inventive.


Rivers form boundaries, defences, borders, their crossing points honoured as treasured prizes. Rivers
erase and obscure. A tracker following a prey will often loose the trail of scent, track or trace at the water’s edge. Rivers wash away the ash of the campfire and the grey waters of our towns and cities. They bathe us, cool us, irrigate and drain our fields, replenish our reservoirs and cisterns.

Our  settlements, villages,  towns and cities thread along the course of  rivers and in turn they become
extensions of the watercourse, knots along its route. Storm drains become tributaries. We carve out
diversions – lades, sluices, rills, locks and canals – drawing the waters into the city to service it. In turn, the waterways smuggle a landscape into the city – overgrown banks, sanctuaries of fauna and flora, driftwood and silt. Following the storm, the waters cloud to the hue of the earth beyond. Rivers will always follow the line of least resistance, no matter how convoluted, and in doing so they can disturb the rational order of the city. The  northern extremity  of Edinburgh’s New Town becomes beautifully maddened by circuses, crescents and gardens as it negotiates the informal machinations of the Water of Leith.

We build on rivers  – embankments, mills, bridge-buildings, cranes, flood barriers and ports. Or, like the Tyburn, we entomb them in culverts beneath the city floor. But whatever we do, rivers are not really lost, they remain in street names or the current that cleanses the ornamental lake in the park. The majority of reports of supernatural activities in London cluster around the hidden Tyburn route. Its whines and gurgles creep through the walls of the capital, mocking its inhabitants.

Rivers have an association with spirituality and myth. They are transformative as the place of baptism or the route to an afterlife. Demons, vampires and witches can not cross running water. In the flowing waters andin the shadow of bridges  hide  water spirits, trolls and river hags, water-wyrms,  knuckers,  necks, the grindylow, the Salmon of Knowledge, Jenny Greenteeth and Peg Powler.

In Greek mythology the Potamoi were the gods of the rivers and streams of the earth, sons of the great
river Okeanidis that encircled the earth, and the source of all fresh water. Their sisters were the Okeanides, goddesses of streams, clouds and rain - and their daughters were the Naiades, nymphs of fresh-water springs. There were said to be five rivers of Hades: Acheron, the river of woe; Cocytus, the river of lamentation; Lethe, the river of forgetfulness; Phlegethon, the river  of fire; and the Styx, the river of unbreakable oath.

From the source to the mouth, the river deposits a private language into our  measured  cartographic
vocabulary: abrasion, alluvial, attrition, bank, basin, bed, billow, boil, braiding, brackish, current, confluence, delta, deposition, discharge, dredge, eddy, effluent, embankment, erosion, estuary, fall, feed, ford, gorge, irrigate, lock, meander, marsh, mouth, mudflats, ox-bow, pillow, plunge, pool, purl, rapid, rill, riparian, run, saline, shed, silt, spit, spur, surge, undercut, undertow, watershed, water-table and weir.

A City on a bend in the River seeks to engage with the language of the river and the fabric of the city. In this equivalence, where neither is foregrounded, there is a desire to operate in the landscape, to acknowledge the city as a consequence of topography, climate, geology and,
most particularly, the river itself.

Move1: Watercourse, 

is an investigation through drawing, a project to describe and inscribe, to follow  – with a  ‘pencil’  - the
multifarious and interrelated forces that act upon and flow out of the passage of a chosen river. These forces are at times physical:pressure, flow, gravity, depth and resistance, at times cultural:
political, economic, mnemonic and, occasionally,  personal. The act of ‘choosing’ a river  makes this a personal project, a statement of intent for subsequent work.

On Drawing

In this studio, drawing is a verb. A process of enquiry that it is at once investigative, descriptive, inventive and speculative. It is always crafted but rarely complete. It is part of the continuum of your thinking, of your practice and as such it founds and feeds the work that you produce. The drawings that you make will be persuasive. They will develop the work, communicate the work and, only when appropriate, offer the work to another audience. In this way we seek to detach your drawing practice from the conventions of: sketch, underlay, presentation – a disturbingly closed sequence. In this studio, drawing is a rhetorical device – an ongoing, crafted and critical conversation with yourself and others. A good drawing is one that is constantly ‘drawing out’ unexpected themes, ideas and directions to test them through a process of drawing. In the Beaux Arts tradition there was a kind of drawing that was referred to as a devis, a sort of ‘device’ or tool that one would use as part of an investigation rather than as a means of purely communicating the results of an inquiry. In your work, drawing will be a tool, a device, a devis.


You are asked to choose a river or stream with which you are familiar – a watercourse from your home,
your childhood and/or your memory. You are then asked to produce an extraordinary, narrative, performative and highly crafted drawing of this watercourse.

By Extraordinary, we mean unusual, surprising, and not in an established manner (although it may
draw references from similarly extraordinary drawings).

By Narrative, we mean within its set of representational codes it has a set of structured meanings.
These meanings may only be fully understood by you as the author of the drawing but they should be rigorously ordered and arranged such that their narrative structure fundamentally underpins the drawing.
By Performative, we mean that the while the drawing is tightly scaled, measured and proportioned
to researched, empirical fact (not necessarily geographically true) – it should be seen as open to mis-readings, re-interpretations. It should be able to be used as a tool to suggest new possible ways of working with a river. To this end, upon completion, the drawing will no longer refer directly to the watercourse with which you started but will have become something ‘other’, and new. Like
Calvino’s Invisible Cities, they will need to be renamed.

By Crafted, we emphasise that these are not sketches or diagrams. Their nature, however is open to interpretation and, as always, should be clearly argued for. Whilst primarily two-dimensional, they may involve, or smuggle in, three-dimensional material. They may be multiple or layered. They may include text but not as an attached essay or explanation  – instead think of text as a calibration or inventive form of key or legend.

Gather as much as you can relating to your selected watercourse and, if possible walk as much of it as you able, developing your own notes. If walking is not possible (or practical) use the tools of the map and the satellite image to zoom in as close as possible and 'travel' its length again, - taking notes and notating its 'script'

Drawing Dimensions

In  Córdoba, before the painful generalities of metrification, measurement was a local affair.  In the
measurement of land, the Vara  [rod] measured 0.836 of a metre. The  palmo ("palm") measured the
distance between the tip of the thumb and the tip of the pinky finger with all fingers splayed. Its
standardized value is 20.873 cm. Half of a palmo in Castile was called the coto, described as six fingers
and defined as 10.4365 cm. We would ask you to use these dimensions in the construction of your
drawing and in doing so to make the first translation from your watercourse [home] to the city of Córdoba and the Guadalquivir River.

Wed 12th Sept:
2 pm - 4pm Introduction and selection of
Watercourse. Geddes Room

Wed 19th Sept:
10am - 6pm Tutorials Studio 1

Wed 26th Sept:
10am - 6pm Reviews : Crit Room 2

Sat 29th Sept – Fri 5th October
Bring digital copy of an image of your
Watercourse drawing to Córdoba.

The Watercourse drawing will continue to be worked on until the end of
the semester in parallel with other ongoing studio work.

Readings and References

The Alluvial Valley of the Lower Mississippi River Cartographic survey,
Harold Fisk, 1944
Can be viewed and downloaded at: http://www.radicalcartography.net/?fisk

Temple Island, a study by Michael Webb
Architectural Association, Mega V, 1987
Archive can be viewed from: http://archigram.westminster.ac.uk/project.php?id=236

The Agency of Mapping, Speculation, Critique and Invention , James Corner.
Essay in book Mappings, edited by Denis Cosgrove.
Reaktion Books, 1999.
Download essay from: http://peterahall.com/mapping/corner-agency_of_mapping.pdf              
Invisible Cities, Italo Calvino
Published by Vintage Classics, 1997

Dry River, Italo Calvino,
Published in Numbers in the Dark: and other stories
Published by Vintage Books, 1993
Download from: http://www.ruanyifeng.com/calvino/2008/11/dry_river_en.html

Chamber Works, Daniel Libeskind
Architectural Meditations on the themes of Heraclitutus,
Can be viewed: http://daniel-libeskind.com/projects/chamber-works


This Move forms part of the Studio G course for this Module. Assessment of this work will take place at the end of the first semester and Studio G will be examined as a single body of work. This assessment is based on how the work of the studio has met the criteria outlined in its three Learning Outcomes. These outcomes will be incorporated into each of the briefing documents issued.

Learning Outcomes
On completion of this studio, the student is expected to demonstrate:

LO1 – The ability to develop and act on a productive conceptual framework both individually and in
teams for an architectural project or proposition, based on a critical analysis of relevant issues.

LO2 – The ability to develop an architectural, spatial and material language that is carefully
considered at an experiential level and that is in clear dialogue with conceptual and contextual
LO3 – A critical understanding of, and the development of skills in using, differing forms of
representation (eg. verbal, drawing, modelling, photography, film, computer and workshop
techniques), to explain a design project.

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