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Summer School Unit 1: Babylon




Architectural Association

Together with Elena Palacios Carral, Unscene Architecture co-founders Madeleine Kessler and Manijeh Verghese taught a unit for the 2014 AA Summer School in London. Babylon, once a nickname for London, is a vertical and fictional city. In the same way that Gotham City exists as the fictional counterpart of Manhattan, the aim of the unit was to create Babylon, the evil and amplified version of London. The complexity of a city reimagined vertically, as seen in the Tower of Babel, was the inspiration for a new reading of London through its unbuilt skyscrapers. Through appropriating, manipulating and inserting a series of previously-unrealised, tall, towering structures, we altered the perception of the city’s skyline and its associated narrative, irrevocably.

From Mies van der Rohe’s duplication of the Seagram Building as a skyscraper in Mansion House, to the would-be giant tower of consumerism atop Selfridges, to a stacked column made from the original kit of parts used to construct the Crystal Palace, to the colossal pyramids planned for Trafalgar Square and Primrose Hill, each tower was a battle of ego and engineering expressed in (un)built form. Unforeseen events, impossible structures and political shifts prevented these behemoths from being built yet how would their existence have altered the city as we know it today?

Together we scaled the biblical heights of Babel, channelled the vertiginous charcoal gradients of Hugh Ferris and uncovered the layers of corruption manifested within J.G. Ballard’s High-Rise, using collaged layers of London to create the steep cliffs and craggy skyline of Babylon - a place of wicked machinations, a world built of paper, where reality and fiction collide. As Ballard said, “I believe in the power of the imagination to remake the world.” We began by remaking London.

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