Liam Ross MA MArch ARB

Architect & Lecturer in Architectural Design, Theory and Professional Studies


Architecture & Environmental Impact 2: Erosion & Sedimenation

ESALA | MArch Architecture Studio |  2013/14

The Venetian lagoon is the result of dynamic processes of erosion and sedimentation; the deposition of alpine sediment from its tributary rivers, and their tidal erosion to form an island belt. Lagoons are shifting and temporary features, tending either to silt up into alluvial fans, or be engulfed by the seas. In the Sixteenth century, Nicolo Zen’s hydrological engineering diverted the lagoons tributary rivers, due to the threat of over-sedimentation. Today, the lagoon faces a threat from the opposite direction; global sea-levels are rising as a result of climate change, the base of the lagoon is subsiding as a result of water extraction from local aquifers, and tidal surges are inundating the lagoon with increased frequency and severity. As such, the physical preservation of the city of Venice is deemed a matter of ‘national importance’.

Project MoSE (Module Sperimentalle Electromagnectico ) is the proposed solution; a series of hydraulic gates, currently under construction, that will block the mouth of the lagoon at times of high water. These barriers, however, poses a problem for the Lagoon. The Italian Ministry of the Environment, the WWF, the Mayor of Venice, and a range of environmental lobbying groups oppose MoSE, arguing that it will damage the fragile ecology of the Lagoon, and its associated economies, upon which the Venetian way of life depends. The Venice Problem – a 30 year deadlock between the erection of physical barriers against the tides, and legislative barriers against these barriers – provides an example of the reflexive nature of contemporary modernity; Humanity has developed a technological capacity that allows it to modify the environment to its own ends; but this capacity brings with it its own risks. A relevant design challenge today – raised by practices of Environmental Impact Assessment – is to consider how we limit our modification of the environment, through an understanding of buildings ecological effect. EROSION & Sedimentation explores this reflexive capacity of architecture. It takes the MoSE project, and its Environmental Impact Assessment, as a site for infrastructural, agricultural and architectural interventions that aim to sustain and invigorate the delicate balances between lagoon economies, ecologies and hydrologies.

Student Project: Alice Hibberd, Siobhan O’Boyle, Robert Sedgewick 2013



Architecture & Environmental Impact 1: Zoological Urbanism

ESALA | MArch Architecture Studio |  2012/13

A sign on the  wall reads “NO ANIMALS PERMITTED IN HARBOUR AREA”.  It’s unclear who the sign is written for.  Animals don’t read.  Or to be more precise; it’s only Human animals that read and write, and it is precisely on account of this capacity (Homo’s ‘sapience’), that they exclude themselves from the category Animal.  The wall that the sign is fixed to, and the gate within it, are similarly limited in their legibility.  Airborne species fly or are blown above them.  Aquatic species swim or drift around them.  Sub-terranean animals burrow beneath.  Small terrestrial animals walk on through.  To suggest that these species are breaking or transgressing any rule would be futile; the gate/wall arrangement is only significant in relation to certain forms of life; Humans, and other medium-sized domesticated terrestrial mammals.  That is, like the sign, the built environment of Man does not constitute a ‘signifying mark’ within the environment of all animals, who exist in a state of ignorance and innocence with respect to its purpose.  Architecture is a ‘niche’ concern; most forms of life remain indifferent towards it.

Nonetheless, some aspects of the environment of Man do intersect with some aspects of the environment of other species, and we are familiar with the concern that, as Man modifies that environment to his own convenience, he inconveniences those other species that have grown to depend upon it.  With this in mind, Man’s ability to design and construct his own world is increasingly subject to forms of reflexive limitation; legislative and regulatory codes, standards and rules, designed to protect the environment of all animals.  But as we have seen, legislation without knowledge is limited in its effect; there is a necessary asymmetry to any attempt to legislate over the relation between Humans and other animals.  Regulation can only legislate over human activity, so as to make space for and protect the/our ignorance of the animal.

This studio invites students to explore the relationship between architecture and animal life.  It does so through a study of the legislative apparatus through which the design of the built environment is limited as a means to protect animal habitats.  The context for this exploration is Leith Docks, a site which is both rich in animal life, and whose current development plans are subject to detailed regulation regarding habitat preservation.  Through the studio, student will be asked to develop urban proposals and architectural designs that are understood as interventions into the legal apparatus, and animal environment of Leith Docks.

Student Project: Marietta Galazka 2013



Invitation & Escape

ESALA | MA Architecture |  2012

We come to know our environment tacitly.  We have to see things before we can say them;  conception proceeds from, but is continuous with, the rich mute flux of experience [Gibson, 1979].  As educators and parents we try to spare our students and children some of the effort; we pass down concepts through depiction and description, codifying what we have seen through words and pictures.  In order to learn, though, the next generation must decode this information, translate the explicit back to the tacit, assume it in silence, make it dumb again.  Building codes and standards are one way that knowledge about the built environment is collected, stored and transmitted.  Building regulations represent generations of accrued experience, trials and errors to be spared us.  However, while such technical literature is an effective means of legislation, it is tricky to teach.  Leading students forward toward such pre-determined ends traps them in the abstraction of the explicit (and the design studio always favors the rich, the mute and the fluctuating).  Is it possible, though, to work back through such explicit codes, to (re)discover and assume their tacit content?  This paper documents and presents a studio design-research project, conducted at the University of Edinburgh, which aspires to both tacit and explicit knowledge production.  Run in association with an interdisciplinary teaching and research programme – Integrating Technical and Sociological Aspects of Fire Safety Engineering – the studio asks students to study the implications of a number of specified fire-safety regulations (further details attached).  Its ambition, though, is not simply to teach technical competencies, nor to ensure compliance.  The project draws on concepts from ecological psychology to explore the ‘invitation character’  of the built environment; the tacit means through which the environment tells us what its good for.  The project suggests that Regulatory limits – which seek to maximize the benefits and minimize the potential risks of the environment – codify and inscribe an ‘invitation character’ into building.  It asks students to work with and through regulation, then, in order to (re)discover something inviting embedded in them, engages them as designers in the production of (new) tacit understandings.

Student Project: Xuhong Zheng 2012



Compliant Architecture

Architecture, University of Edinburgh | MA Architecture |  2007-2009

This 10 week architectural design studio, run as part of the MA Architectural Design programme at the University of Edinburgh, 2008-09, asked participating students to analyze of a single clause of the Scottish Building Standards.  Each students project began with a brief verbal and diagrammatic description of the regulation, coming to understand the hazard it represents, and seeks to limit; trips and slips on stairs and ramps, falls from height while cleaning windows, or lack of access to daylight.  Their projects continued by identifying an architectural potential in the limitation of these risks; that a regulated stair acts as an index of the familiarity of its users, that a window choreographs and represents the everyday act of its cleaning, that a window negotiates and represents a relation between programme and context.  Each project concludes through the design of a mixed-use building in the centre of Edinburgh that enjoys playing-out the implications of the regulation in a range of circumstances.

Student Project: Alistair Blake 2009


Landscapes of Risk

University of Edinburgh (Design, Architecture, Landscape, Geography) | Innovative Learning Week Workshop |  2013

The last thing Isi Metzstein, architect of St Peter’s Seminary, Kilmahew, said about his ruined masterpiece was simple: ‘Don’t underestimate the difficulty of making that place safe.’ Landscapes of Risk addresses the challenge of providing safe access to St Peter’s Seminary and its landscape, and in doing so to think creatively about risk. Engaging staff and students from Design, Architecture, Landscape Architecture and Geography, the project aims to develop legal frameworks and design proposals that contribute to NVA’s proposals for an accessible ‘creative landscape’ at Kilmahew.



In Place / Any Place

ESALA | MA Architecture |  2009-2012

Buildings come between us and our environment, they put us into place.  That is, architecture both responds to and frames the nature of the things and activities it places, and to the qualities of the locations its takes place in.  Furthemore, architecture always represents these things and activities, its sites and situations, by indexing  them – by pointing to and taking measure of them.  IN PLACE / ANY PLACE is a 2nd year architectural design studio that introduces students to a concern for location.  Continuing from a study of architectures indebtedness to its mode of construction, it asks students to explore the ways in which architecture is indebted to things beyond itself.  In Place / Any Place develops student’s skills in design inquiry, and is structured through an empirical design methodology; each design exercise will begin with a measured survey of a specified thing, activity or site.  Design projects ask students to make architectural proposals that enjoy the communicative potential of architecture to point to and take measure of the place it takes and the things and activities it places.

Student Project: Nathan Ozga 2009



Architectural Theory

Architecture, University of Edinburgh | MA  Architecture |  2011-13

Lecture Contribution: Biopolitics

This lecture considers the ways in which biology has been taken as either the model or object of politics, as a means to introduce students to the concept of ‘biopolitics’; the “threshold of modernity… beyond which the life of the species is wagered on its own political strategies”.  It offers three differing accounts of the biopolitics of modern architecture, drawing connections between the writing of three political philosophers, three architectural theorists, and three built projects: Sven Olov Wallenstein’s history of the hospital as a laboratory for modern architecture, thought in relation to Foucault’s concept of bio-politics; Pier Vittorio Aureli’s account of Archizoom’s ‘No Stop City’, understood in relation to Marx’s ‘General Theory of Capital’; and Catherine Ingrahams recourse to the philosophy of Giorgio Agamben, in her reflection on the changing place of the animal in the history of the built environment.


Professional Studies

Architecture, University of Edinburgh | MA  Architecture |  2008-Present

The MA (Hons) Architecture Placement: Working Learning is an honours level course that introduces students to a concern for architecture as a professional practice. The course addresses a range of topics – the architect/client relationship, the role of professional bodies, legislative framework and modes of procurement – in order offer students a framework of professional knowledge, preparing them for future employment. A series of lectures offered at the start of the course examines what it is to be a professional architect; how has a definition of the role of the architect emerged , what transformations has it undergone, and what are the social and technical driver behind these changes? The series will attempt to situate changes in modes of professional accreditation, the sequencing of work, regulatory requirements, building contracts, and forms of appointment, within their historical context. A series of workshops are offered later in semester 1 aim at developing core competencies that will be required by students seeking employment; the ability to develop a CV, a professional portfolio, interview skills, working with on-line research databases, and recording professional experience. During semester 2, students are on Placement; the Architecture Placement: Working Learning course, then, is also an opportunity or workplace learning. Knowledge gained through the lecture series, and while on placement, is then tested through a series of distance-learning assignment. These assignments are intended to structure work-based learning during the Placement period, offering students opportunity to analyse and reflect upon their work experience.

Student Project: Patrycja Stal 2011


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September 14, 2012 at 10:47 am

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