Copyright 2020 © The Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL
'The Imitation Custom House' proposes a building in the River Thames adjacent to the existing 19th-century Custom House and speculates on an architectural methodology in which the Thames is the medium of construction. The project proposes an architecture whose construction is rooted in the ‘poetic’, whereby histories of the site are reinterpreted in the construction process. In the distant past, the Pool of London was animated by the tides which brought ships bearing exotic commodities; for the Imitation Custom House, the tides facilitate its production. Concrete is employed as a material for its dependence upon water.
The project asks how concrete might be used to deal with time in three ways: casting with and against an existing building, using temporary formwork as permanent architecture, and casting with concrete using the tides of the River Thames.
The notion of the ‘copy’ is challenged, and it is argued that more value might be afforded to a ‘copy’ that to its ‘original’ due to the process of its own production. The Imitation Custom House proposes that architecture might be concerned with the process of construction rather than with the resultant building.
The architecture employs the rise and fall of the tides as an agent for casting concrete. As the water drops, the concrete cures, and permanently casts the water's surface.
In the gallery, the space is rich with both architecture and art. Carpets of old timber formwork are trimmed with brass, affording them the same value as the paintings in their frames.
The construction of the Imitation Custom House leaves stains on its Neoclassical older sister, just as historic commodities once stained the water of the Thames.
“Time past and time present
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past”
Extract from T.S. Eliot's Four Quartets (1941)