CONSTRUCTION OF A FOLLY FOR A FENCE- A PEDESTRIAN DRAWBRIDGE
The ingredients that go into the design of a stile are selected in this schematic process. The domestic messages of the suburban world shout "Modern Conveniences!" while the utilitarian messages of the industrial world say, "Built to last!". Both worlds are traversed everyday by you and I in our relentless quest to find harmony with the city- this place that dictates where we live and where we work based on ancient geography and the decisions of our fore bearers to settle in this basin, plentiful of water to build with. The water that is available for human consumption in The London Basin was the driver for human settlement of London, a city that celebrated its Millenium in 2012. Water for transportation, water for energy, water for washing, water for drinking, bathing, swimming, cleaning, plumbing, and cooling made London a metropolis. Where there is water, there are public footpaths. The movement of people to the water is the most basic form of human work. The pattern of movement of people from their homes to the city to employ themselves is an extension of activity that follows on from having succeeded in finding and consuming water. After the most basic human need of water has been satisfied, then the other needs, food, then shelter, then money and profit from work all follow on from the primary task of finding water.
This footpath folly is a ladder. When a fence that is constructed for the purpose of containing livestock is erected, and a public footpath encounters that fence, a ladder to traverse that fence is erected called a style. The ladder, or style that traverses the fence that separates the city from the subdivision has a flight that touches down in the residential/ suburban side of the fence. This side of the ladder is comprised of materials/ components that are recognizable as domestic in nature. The flight that touches down on the urban side of the fence is comprised of industrial/ urban materials/ components such as step irons, corrugated metal, checker plate stainless steel and welded fabrication such as "off the shelf" wall papering ladder with plastic friction boots, aluminum handles, ergonomic, spring loaded garage door mechanisms and stowaway attic stairs. The union of these two families of building components are what define the footpath folly so that the meeting of the suburban and the urban can be expressed by touching and stepping and relying on the durability of a bridge between the two worlds with reminders that the nature of each world departed from and each world alighted upon are each registered in the make and model of the very rungs of slip-proof tactile surfaces that are made necessary by the very presence of the edge of the city where there is water.
Given the metaphor of the public footpath, and the elements that define it as discussed above, this bridge between the two worlds would become a technically challenging assembly. The suburban flight and the urban flight each a separate "ladder" would have to be united by an enabling mechanism that would be utilitarian in character, but also whimsically acrobatic and eccentric, creating more curiosity from the joining of the two flights than the sum of the three parts put together- that is because the utilitarian mechanism would not only provide the stability and the durability necessary for the passage of people over the five foot high fence, but the movement necessary for the entire assembly to act like a draw bridge that drew down when in use by people and retracted up when not in use by people so that automobile traffic can pass by the draw bridge which alights upon a communal access drive used by residents whose garages line the single track road which doubles as a footpath.
When the drawbridge is up, automobiles are able to pass by, un hindered by the protrusion of the suburban flight into the travel way because the spring loaded utilitarian platform has retracted the obstacle up into the air, far out of the way, and into the sky. When viewed from afar, the retracted drawbridge is un recognizable as a functional infrastructure, like many draw bridges, when drawn- appear to suspend very recognizable hardware aimlessly up in the air. In order to understand the purpose for this marvel, one has to imagine the objects retracted down to the functional position where they can complete some railway or roadway or even some walkway. So it is with this conjoined marriage of two very odd ladders in the air- the suburban components and the urban, together, in the air, over the driveway, on the fence that separates the city from the suburb. What you see is what you get- no sign explaining the artistic meaning, no plaque defining the purpose of this. When you need to cross the fence on the public footpath you simply pull down on the retracted flight and plant the ladder on the ground, step up to the platform using the wallpapering ladder rungs and slip resistant surfaces with red plastic telescoping segments and avail yourself to the view from the top of the fence.
From here, it is possible to see the water in the sluice gate. This concrete viaduct that redirects the River Lea from its normal course, into the reservoir of drinking water for East London- it lurks invisible from ground level and is only discernible from the slightly elevated position there at the top of the fence approximately five feet higher than normal eye level. Once the suburban flight is retracted back up into the air, it locks into position, forming a durable, checker plate metal bench that allows a canopy to unfurl over your head creating a shelter from the rain and a bird hide to conceal you from above. This industrial strength umbrella is constructed of leaves of corrugated metal that, when manually extended out toward the reservoir beyond- form a shelter from the sun or rain that make it possible to alight upon this bench for a period of time that will enable the observation of the birds that are witnessed by so many bird watchers in this area. Many of the bird watchers traverse this fence to access the bird sanctuaries that separate the reservoir from the city. Now, thanks to the style that has been installed at this well travelled public footpath, they will be able to preview the bird life, camouflaged by the industrial umbrella, perched above the fray and reclined upon a flight out of suburbia that doubles as a bird-hide.
Ready to venture down off of this reclusion in the sky? Simply unlock the industrial flight and it descends down into the new territory with the spring loaded ease of a garage door or a garden gate. The cantilevering springs have been tested to a tension that will leave the 150lb industrial flight (which resembles a skeleton of a manhole) unfolding in graceful equilibrium from its stow position in the sky. Then the step irons that adorn the face of the corrugated sheet metal descend down into the urban side of the fence. The industrial umbrella folds neatly into itself and stacks atop the industrial flight. The step irons also have a slip resistant surface, similar to the rungs on the wallpapering ladder from the suburban flight. These step irons however grip your foot with the tactile pattern of rectangular, cast iron bullets that protrude out of the horse shoe-shaped toe holds and provide traction to your foot that is best experienced with shoes on.
These hot dipped galvanized steel castings are not only shaped like a horse shoe, but they also shine with the zinc glimmer of the galvanized, corrugated sheet metal material that the step irons are captured by. This sheet metal is framed rigid by a ladder of aluminum channel and angle that sandwiches the sheet metal with a sinuous flange that exactly profiles the curving surface of the corrugations. This detail transfers the torque of your foot weight from the step iron into the aluminum channel and locks the sinuous flange into the sheet metal with the stability of a masonry detail that the step iron was designed for. The top flange continues through the rectangular opening in the sheet metal and top loads the corrugation cut in plan. This is a very strong edge with which to place the step iron which is through bolted through the top flange of the channel in bolt locations that are coordinated with the undulations of sheet metal under the flange. The stainless hardware that through bolts the step iron to the aluminum channel is chunky enough to blend in with the shiny, tactile surface of the step iron and yet finished looking enough also work with the sheet metal. The common finish being the zinc component of the galvanized sheet metal and the hot dipped step iron unify the finish aesthetically and for durability.
Descend down the step irons and find yourself between the precast concrete fence panels and the shiny galvanized family of components that make up the industrial flight. This space, unlike the suburban side of the draw bridge, has the tough, hardened and industrial feel of the world that characterizes this side of the fence. Exit to the side of the industrial flight and the spring loaded mechanism is ready to stow the industrial flight up into the sky from where it came. Simply lift the assembly with a single hand and it will respond by collapsing upwards until it is locked in position, ready for the next foot traveller to deploy the mechanism. As the industrial flight rejoins the suburban flight in a locked embrace above the fence, they become indistinguishable as before, the apparent collision of two worlds- expressed in terms of the familiar objects and obstacles that we encounter in everyday life. Walk away on the public footpath toward the territory of the city, away from the territory of the suburb, and remember that this transition from one to the other was framed by folly.
Why? The technical studies program at the AA offers students the opportunity to solve for their requirements to achieve a technical understanding by building a fragment of a building, or some derivation of a building design by building a touchstone that mimics the meme of the building in some playful way. This touchstone is one such meme. The project that is the basis of the meme is the Bromley Beekeeper's Institute where the same urban edge, the same materials and the same utilitarian/ urban theme is played off of the suburban and the domestic. The net result of these more targeted technical studies is to integrate the culture of the project design into the technical execution creating continuity of design rather than requiring the student to perform some cut and dried technical requirement that is divorced from the design work. This approach is common at architectural schools where the emphasis is on the technical prowess, on computer aided design and upon drafting symbology is prioritized leaving the student with a fragmented view of design as something that some one upstairs adds to the building with a flick of the wrist. Ultimately, this characterizes the material world in the present culture. Prior generations had a more unified view of technical execution and design such as the craftsmen of the colonial era and the Shakers, who preserved the colonial sensibilities and rejected the expedience of the assembly line and rejected the pretense of design that we saw throughout the 1980s.
The footpath folly also explores the profundity of the style phenom. These "bridges over fences" are best experienced as a simple series of steps over an obstacle rather than the "overblown drawbridge" that the folly celebrates with mischief, guile and conspicuous consumption of cast iron and steel in order to demonstrate good welds, bolted connections and coherence of assembly for technical consideration and a strong sense of the well made object. The folly was also an opportunity to err and to overstep. As an academic project, constructed in the workshop on the premises of the school, it was also that- a clearly orangutanian effort partly a welding lesson and partly a lesson in hand made steel assembly without the use of computers, printers, operating systems, digitizers or other pointing devices. Here, the shop drawings were ink drawn by hand using, in some cases- as built information that preceded the drawings. The utilitarian mechanism was welded with a great deal of help from the teacher's assistant in the shop. The structural calculations that determined the height of the spring load were research and calculated by John Millard and constructed to those specifications, assembled and demonstrated to work. These achievements are not possible on a multiple choice examination where your GPA is you calling card. The freedom that a student of architecture has at the AA School in London is a rare commodity that once enjoyed, is a manner to be accustomed to, and not to be taken away. It is, of course inevitable that such freedom is revoked immediately upon being seated in your cubicle at your first job out of school- what the AA hopes to instill in a student is the power that control of the pencil has over the project. Every opportunity to design rigor into a project is therefore taken, damn the torpedoes.