The Centre for All Senses
Barney was a student of the Nissen Richards teaching unit at London Metropolitan University, where the brief was to re-think Cedric Price's Fun Palace for today.
The lockdowns brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted both the fantastic potential, but also the major shortcomings, of technology to connect us to each other and the world around us. Its impact was critical for limiting the damage of isolation and facilitating communication, however, as we move out of the pandemic, we must not blindly stumble into a future where the complex and subtle virtues of the real lived experience are forgotten, replaced by a diluted and surreptitiously controlled virtual realm. This project explores how an architectural intervention can solidify a local sense of community for the long-term, responding to the intrinsic characteristics that make us human, and celebrating our visceral and wondrous humanity.
The project is situated in Folkestone, a town on England's South Coast. Located on a wasteland and abandoned railway line that cuts divisively through the East of the town, the site represents a fantastic opportunity to knit together two communities and enhance the area's prospects. It doesn't come without challenges, however, which include severely restricted access and an active railway line along its Northern edge. Folkestone is in a state of flux; it is moving away from its rich industrial past and seeking to reinvent itself as a hub for creativity. Whilst a number of small creative institutions exist, there is no anchor for the town's bold new vision, in the same way that Margate has the Turner Contemporary and Bexhill-on-Sea the De La Warr Pavilion. The Centre for All Senses is the landmark that Folkestone craves, a sustainable long term vote of confidence in the town and its people that can act as a bridge between its past and future, energising and sharpening its ambition whilst celebrating what has come before.
The project is a long-life, loose-fit architectural and landscaping proposal that will act as an engine for the cultural life of Folkestone for decades to come. Home to a diverse range of adaptable spaces, from a theatre to a studio to galleries and a co-working space, the project invites the population of Folkestone and those from further afield to celebrate and immerse themselves in the beautifully rich and complex sensory dance that is the human experience. Smells drift from wild planting and the cafe kitchen, audible clues to invisible activities tip-toe around corners and over obstacles, and smooth, warm, tactile timber handles and balustrades reach out to visitors, exciting the sense of touch. Echoing the essence of the abandoned railway line that runs through the scheme, movement and progress underpins the project's existence. It entices visitors to engage and explore, both physically and mentally, with freedom and a joyful child-like sense of intrigue.
As governments and multi-national companies increasingly implore society to embrace the virtual realm, it is worth remembering how little humanity has actually changed in millennia, and what truly makes us happy and fulfilled. Amongst the deluge of COVID-19 induced technological adoption, the creation of oases that inspire visceral and enriching multi-sensory experience are not just useful, but vital, to retaining our humanity.