Serjeant Award for Excellence in Drawing
Chapter 1: The Nightmare
Dunkirk saw the evacuation of 340,000 British troops in three weeks in 1941, the last pocket of unoccupied territory as the Nazis advanced. I tried to imagine the previous occupants of these spaces, French officers amidst chestnut horses burning fires at night, British footsoldiers waiting for boats to bring them home, or Germans parachuting in from the sky or arriving in a panzer tank. Hours spent looking out to sea from a bunker, a vast expanse of landscape regulated by a crosshair target on the horizon, revealing the next chapter of your life.
The site evokes a multiplicity of occupants, signs written in a cacophony of languages and architectures, violent but beautiful, impersonal yet intimate: not unlike the program for a hotel – absence follows bustling presence follows absence again.
War is replaced by play, but not forgotten.
The deserted hotel is a place to erase the past and create alternative futures, the replication of a game but with different rules. New sounds intrude upon the silence, a progressive shift from one reality to the other.
Chapter 2: The Dream
30 shiny metal aircraft are recycled to construct the deserted hotel, salvaged from Arizona. The hotel is a stage onto which the lure of the desert is projected, extending boundaries of event, communication, operation and visibility. Necessity gives way to luxury. The hotel speaks the language of machines, visible yet invisible.
The hotel is a baroque tapestry of fictions in search of an author.
As time passes, the occupants move on and are replaced by new occupants. Year upon year, the list of guests who stay at the hotel will get longer, one day the register will be lost, and with it the memory of the original occupants.
‘As an exploration of the disjunction between expected form and expected use, we began a series of projects opposing specific programs with particular, often conflicting spaces. Programmatic context versus typology, typology versus spatial experience, spatial experience versus procedure, and so on, provided a dialectical framework for research. We consciously suggested programs that were impossible on the sites that were to house them: a stadium in Soho…a ballroom in a churchyard.’
Bernard Tschumi, ‘Architecture and Disjunction’
The Desert(ed) Hotel is composed of ‘programmatic sequences that suggest secret maps and impossible fictions, rambling collections of events all strung along a collection of spaces’ (Tschumi): diving into the fuselage of an airplane, a mechanised tea party, walking home along the dunes, sleeping on an airplane wing.
‘The events unfold frame after frame, room after room, episode after episode’ (Tschumi).
We asked students to design a hotel on the site of a series of concrete bunkers tilting in the sand dunes outside Dunkirk, built during World War 2. Flanked by a ruined 18th Century french military barracks, it’s a contested territory occupied by Belgian, French, German and British armies over time.
The paths of movement inscribed in the project are derived from military manoeuvres which took place on the site during world war 2. Where the visitor arrives at the hotel, he takes the same path as the German tanks took when they commandeered the fortress. The rooms are positioned where the parachutists landed, randomly blown across the dunes by winds. The pathways to the rooms retrace the movement of the antiaircraft guns. On the gun emplacements, guests dine and gaze at the horizon between sea and sky, mimicking the viewpoints of the gunners targeting this same vista. Barbeques replace the exploding shells.
‘If the reading of architecture was to include the events that took place in it, it would be necessary to devise modes of notating such activities…movements and notations derived from choreography, were elaborated for architectural purposes…Architecture ceases to be a backdrop for action, becoming the action itself…Architecture becomes the discourse of events as much as the discourse of spaces’ Tschumi, ibid.
Ms Reenie (Karin) Elliott
Ms James Curtis