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SOM Foundation UK Award

Port of London Authority (The Rise and Fall of the Icon)

Part 2 Project 2010
James Wignall
Royal College of Art | UK
“When the earth was last four degrees warmer, there was no ice at either pole.”
Mark Lynas, Six Degrees

Both the intergovernmental panel of climate change and the Met Office Hadley Centre predict a possible temperature rise of four degrees in the next millennium. A four degree world will result in the
re-organisation of the planet.

Humanity must begin to ask how such environmental change, rather than being seen as a threat, is in fact a generator to reconfigure our cities and create new altered urban models.


The Romans chose their position along the edge of the Thames where it was narrow enough to cross, but vitally deep enough for the largest sea going ships of the time; London thrived and became the centre of trade for the entire Roman Empire.

Since then the Thames has changed and Victoria’s Embankment was able to control and alter nature’s course. As man put pressure on nature, nature began to fight back and eventually overpowered Victoria’s imposition.

The depth of the River Thames is now similar to that of the Panama Canal allowing the largest ships on the planet back into the centre of London. Through the rising water the state infrastructures are washed out of London’s urban fabric and float above the old city. Centres that people have always traditionally travelled to now have this remarkable ability to move themselves. Wherever infrastructure is needed it can now go.

The Fallen Icon. Inverted-Skyline

Man’s obsession with the grandest, tallest, most indulgent creations have led to icons of absurdity, energy doomed products of a wasteful era. These icons shall fall within a future, energy conscious society; a metaphor for a new type of architecture, a new type of city.

The fallen icons, former vertical typologies have become linear. London’s skyline is now read from Google Earth. The fallen skyline is able to bridge the water and connect the moving infrastructures to London’s dry urban fabric. The starchitects’ skyscrapers have become habitable bridges which, not only allow London to survive in the flooded world, but in fact thrive under the new conditions.

James Wignall

James Wignall's thesis is a critique of the architectural preoccupations of the last century. The endless towers as icons of power and progress have been tipped over in an environmentally driven argument that takes them logically to their next incarnation.
Here the flat surfaces suggest endless growth as they adapt to the rising water and the shifting cityscape. By turning the environmental challange into a very real and local condition James makes the rising of the Thames into an urban and architectural generator. His thesis is intelligently locked into an historical trajectory of architectural ambitions, from the Tower of Babel to the Mile High Tower of Frank Lloyd Wright, and with this project he investigates what happens after 'the end of the icon'.
James examines current ecological, economic and political realities through the medium of architecture itself. By zooming out to the scale of Google Earth, the ongoing horizontal growth of this new 'aquatic waterline' replaces the old iconic skyline.
This was a very powerful conclusion to his work as a student over the last two years. From the small scale tectonic to the urban scale political critique, in each case James has interrogated his subject with rigour and carried his research to a completely convincing and coherent conclusion.
Charlotte Skene Catling, Marc Frohn

Fernando Rihl
Charlotte Skene Cataling
Marc Frohn
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