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Skin Castles

Samuir Rahman

University Of Greenwich, London, UK.

The themes for the Skincastles originate from a conceptual surrealist series of drawings depicting an architectural manifestation of physical weakness. The images highlight the ever-worsening decomposition of the human form as the world we inhabit becomes increasingly autonomous, leaving less for our bodies to do. A similar weakness is explored within the field of architecture, exemplified through the Brutalist estate, Robin Hood Gardens. Similar to the ‘future-man’, Robin Hood Gardens is crumbling, obsolete and in dire need of preservation.


The primary principle is to immortalise the fabric of Robin Hood Gardens. This will be done as a concrete cast of the skin of the existing building and the surrounding landscape, inspired by the works of Rachel Whiteread. These casts will form the new skin for the Skincastles. The project is being funded by the admirers and campaigners who wished to save Robin Hood Gardens from demolition. Hence, the preservation of the skin is the ultimate priority and will be undertaken at all costs. The casting of the Skins will take priority over even the living conditions, as the primary focus of the Skincastles is not to serve as housing nor architecture, but to pay homage to Robin Hood Gardens, and manifest this respect into a built form for the supporters of the building. This principle will be atop the hierarchy of design features.

Could you give our readers a brief insight into the concepts and reasonings behind your Skincastles project?


The Skincastles project was a product of exploring themes of obsolescence and preservation in architecture. The concept was conceived through a personal interest in Robin Hood Gardens and furthermore, theoretical explorations of the immortalisation of architectural design. Essentially, the idea challenged the notion that if architecture is to be recognised as art, it must also then become obsolete to allow for a new artistic movement. The Skincastles propose a compromise on this premise, by literally 'freezing a building in time' to allow for future generations to experience a pivotal moment in architectural and residential design.


The Skincastles Project is a complex project which depicts an architectural manifestation of physical weakness, why persuaded you to explore this topic?


The starting point for the project was an extraction from the book, 'Waldo' by Robert Heinlein. The book depicts an autonomous world where a physically impaired boy genius develops a mechanical contraption to replace human limbs, and can perform everyday tasks without the need to exert any physical effort. Such a technology leaves the human race to slowly decompose due to their dormant limbs and sedentary lifestyle. Whilst the book describes a fictional, exaggerated version of events, many studies have shown that humans of today are slowly becoming weaker due to a lack of manual labour and the increasingly technological world. The idea transitioned into an architectural expression of this very weakness, building on theories that architecture is an abstract reflection of the human form.  

The project looks at the preservation of Robin Hood Gardens, the popular residential estate in Poplar London. Why did you choose this particular housing estate?


Robin Hood Gardens became the subject of the project due to two reasons. Firstly, in exploring weakness in humans, I began to think of buildings which expressed a similar weakness in architecture. Robin Hood Gardens came to mind as a scheme which failed its inhabitants due to the architectural elements it employed. Some have criticised the original architects, Peter and Alison Smithson, as simply wanting to embody their personal artistic ideals into a development which would've benefitted a more functional approach. Secondly, Robin Hood Gardens is [now was] a scheme which I personally admire, having grown up in Tower Hamlets and also having had a long time school friend who still resides in the Eastern Block. Hence, the building was familiar to me before any architectural training or awareness that the estate held any artistic significance.  


The primary principle of the project is to immortalise the fabric of Robin Hood Gardens, how do you feel the Skincastles project achieves this and what particular methodologies did you introduce to ensure this preservation?


The project takes a literal approach to this preservation, this way it accepts the functional failures of the estate, yet preserves the artistic and architectural success of the scheme. The works of artist, Rachel Whiteread, were significant in inspiring the methodology which would be used to preserve the fabric of the buildings. Whiteread's casting methods were employed on smaller projects, with the largest being a Victorian terraced house. The Skincastles would take this approach to a much larger scale by casting and conserving the entire Robin Hood Gardens estate. 

In your description of the project you explain how Rachel Whiteread inspired elements of the works, how did Whiteread’s work influence the project?


Perhaps the most influential piece from Whiteread to the Skincastles, was her project, 'House'. The methods used in 'House' were carefully examined and were adapted to suit the scale of Robin Hood Gardens. This included the preparation of the building and site, the spraying of concrete and the organisation and construction of the panels. Whiteread described her work as 'frozen in time' and was a key premise which was carried throughout the Skincastles project.  


What do you feel you have learnt by undertaking this project?


The project brought me an insight into both the theoretical and practical areas of preservation and obsolescence in architecture and construction. Furthermore, as the project was undertaken for my fourth year studies, it followed a route of modules of which included theory, technology and design. Thus, the Skincastles was informative of how theory, technology and design all inform one another in practice. 

Your drawings have a very unique style and appearance, how did you acquire such a distinctive drawing style?  


I throughly enjoy drawing. Composing and developing images is perhaps my favourite aspect of being an architecture student. The style has been developed from my undergraduate studies, inspired by several artists such as Moebius, Killian Eng, Chris Ware, Geoff Darrow and several others. To ensure the representational style was more project specific, I took an approach which would reflect elements of the Skincastles in a subtle way. The lack of colour is intended to compliment the Brutalist use of concrete, whilst subtle textures have been used to represent materiality. The hybrid approach of hand drawing and computer work somewhat resonates the theme of the project, which brings together the use of both new and old techniques in construction and architecture.  

You present your drawings as a Quadriptych, what influenced you to portray your project in this antiquated style?


The quadriptych is a good way of expressing the progression in the project. The final drawings are not of a completely finished product as this is not the essence of the project. Rather, it highlights the journey which has been undertaken to save Robin Hood Gardens. Each panel describes a different stage of the casting process, in addition to how the admirers and campaigners who wanted the building to be listed can come and watch the theatrical preservation of the building. The quadriptych approach aims to work as both separate drawings whilst contributing to make up the whole image, reflective of a single dwelling within a large estate such as Robin Hood Gardens. 

Could you provide our readers with an insight into your drawing process, do you use a particular software to produce your drawings?


I used Cinema 4D, Procreate, Photoshop and Vectorworks. 


If you could offer one piece of advice to our architecture student followers what would it be?


A black Americano has the most caffeine with the least calories. Stay awake and thin!


Finally, where can people find out more about you and your project?


I try to post work on my Instagram: @sam_iur

I also have a site which is in the works:

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