OSA Review: DSDHA, OxArch Reconstruction Lecture

DSDHA’s architectural approach is to acknowledge the value of a site as is, find extra or hidden value within the site, and work with the client to achieve their goals even if that is through unconventional means. They have a great consideration of the end user, and what they need, which is necessary to really activate a site. They are also a practice that is very concerned with architectural, in-practice research.

The lecture focused on the practice’s research looking at photography as a design tool. There are many ways in which DSDHA have approached photography, beginning with photography through time. By analysing how the public create viewpoints in their own photography uploaded onto social media, they can deduce the points in space that are important to them, analysing the site through key views and key vantage points. By overlaying historical photography, it is easy to see which structures are transient, and which are enduring and therefore important. DSDHA have also used machine learning to overlay instagram photos tagged with a specific location. The image that begins to appear shows through opacity which areas people place importance onto.

These methods came to the fore when DSDHA were asked to rejuvenate the public space of the Economist Building, after the Economist moved to smaller premises. The Economist Building is one of the Smithson’s highly acclaimed Brutalist buildings, and as such posed a potential PR problem for DSDHA - they knew that they had to handle the building sensitively. The building was Listed, which can tend to freeze a building in time, however the Smithsons themselves had made many minor alterations to the building after its completion based on how people used the building post-occupancy. These changes were recorded and analysed through their own photography. Analysis of this photography, as well as the frequency that different elements were photographed by the Smithsons, allowed DSDHA to pick out fixed and transient elements of the building, and therefore choose which elements they could change to improve the building. Therefore, they re-photographed key views that the Smithsons themselves took, marked the negative changes, and took steps to redress them by decluttering the street and improving the visual porosity. At the end of the project, the Smithsons’ original photographer - interestingly the first to photograph life and weather around the buildings he depicted - was invited back to rephotograph the site.

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