Mike Bell tutored by Kenny Kenugasa-Tsui and Justin C.K. Lau from Oxford Brookes University has been selected as finalist of the RIBA Bronze Medal award. His project ‘The fantasy world of Montparnasse tower hybridised garden office and living’ was selected from submissions from over 240 invited School of Architecture from 50 countries.
Michael’s response on the Unit’s brief was extraordinary. He strived for a digital design methodology that was driven by the spatial, poetic and scientific investigations of botany; an ‘organic’ computational design process that is constantly fluctuating to engage with human input of personalities and designer’s emotions. The desires to flourish, manifest, festive,tribute, honour, and celebrate; created a fertile condition for lifting spirits and constructing optimism in architecture.
His interests in manipulating the growth of willow trees started very early on in the year, and were ambitiously studied in a very physical way with a real miniature Japanese ‘Bonzai’ tree, which he loved and took the uttermost care of. Tutorials attendance always involved the Bonsai, plant-parts, digital 3D scans, computer parametric growth simulations, freehand sketches, hybrid digital-physical model studies and Michael’s beautiful drawings.
The project probably reflects a complex mix of unconscious reasons behind Michael’s motivation: his home context of English picturesque gardening and landscapes, adapted in the Louis XIV geometrical Parisian urban context, infused with Japanese Bonsai crafts and postparametric digital gardening. Michael was setting himself in a conundrum. In questioning the puzzle, the experiments were confidently manipulated and considered towards an ideal, with no little wit.
The ‘digitally romantic’ project is creative and dream-like, yet it is nonetheless grounded with an ecological concern. The proposal is a zero carbon, self-sustainable ecology via cross programming of private offices and residential spaces, public gardens with agricultural farms. The sculptural technological elements would collect rainwater for re-use, provide solar control, natural ventilation,and waste is managed for producing fertilizers in the vertical farms.
The technological fantasy created a unique architectural expression. Like a tree, Michael’s proposal is a semi-living building that is endlessly growing, adapting and blossoming.
Kenny Kenugasa-Tsui / Justin C.K. Lau
Oxford Brookes University
‘The fantasy world of Montparnasse tower hybridised garden office and living’
This project explores the symbiotic relationships of gardens and offices through the narrative of a mysterious expedition into the filmic spaces as experienced by a girl named Ophelia. Sited in the brutalistic Montparnasse Office Tower in Paris (commonly described as one of the ugliest office towers in Europe), Ophelia explores a hidden fantasy world of living willow trees concealed within the void spaces of the office tower.
Ophelia’s exploration is driven by the prophecies from her dreams that foretold fragments of curious spaces depicting a world inhabited with spirited trees and wonderful architectural forms. She was lead on into a mystical journey to eventually discover portals and entry points hidden within the office interior that allowed her to mediate into the fantasy world.
In the fantasy world, Ophelia discovered a range of surreal environments, including ornamental grottos, Indian bridges grown naturally by willow trees, hovering sky gardens, melodious trumpets that collected wind and rain, beautiful lighting sculptures, and a gigantic breathing plant stem.
Ophelia documented the surreal environments she discovers in her sketchbook and constructed a CAD/CAM model to help analyse and understand her dreamworld. Gradually she decoded the architect’s drawings excavated from the fantasy world and they revealed the actual designs for a highly technological tower that is rooted with ecological concerns for Paris! The gardens are installed into the tower to minimise the urban heat island effect, the circulation structures are made of real willow trees, the trumpet forms are rain water harvesting devices. Her experiences were no longer a dream.
Finally, as the building develops and grows over time, the proposed life force thrives and more and more of the existing building is transformed. The use of space within the tower changes dramatically; areas towards the top of the tower become residential harnessing a strong use of cross programming whilst the central area becomes a community driven ecological habitat. In her final drawing, Ophelia speculates on the tower some years into the future. More consumed than ever and with it’s inhabitants powered on biophilia the tower is explodes with luscious vegetation and continues its growth.