Its All About the Big Benjamins

Here's part of the brief I've written for a three week summer school at the Architectural Association. I think I might have gone off on one ...

London is home to Greenwich Mean Time. GMT is an idea. It sets a benchmark - through its singularity, it enables regularised connections between geographically distant places. But time isn't just one idea. In a place like London there are many ideas of what time might be, what it means and how it works. There are nightshifts, dayshifts: There are school timetables, there are office hours, there are licensing laws, there are parades. On the Northern Line, one minute might take one minute twenty two seconds. In the City, there are some who work to other time zones. Imagine the diversity of simultaneous times, spaces and speeds at one moment. Time, rather than being singular and regular in its nature both stretches like warm chewing gum and shatters like glass. Designing in space is all very well, but it's a 4 dimensional world.

First Week:

Architecture is primarily concerned with three dimensions, but actually plays out in four.
Initial research will examine the different kinds of timescales that co-exist within London. It will attempt to engage with the social and political aspect of time within an urban context: How does time affect the way we use the city? What kinds of relationships exist between the diverse timetables and speeds of activities within London? From the trader on the Nikkei exchange to a hospitals complex organisation of meals, consultants rounds, visiting times and so on. From an event as everyday as rush hour to yearly occurrences like the Trouping of the Colour. From the London Marathon to the production line of a factory. These programs and timetables cycle in invisible patterns. We want to try and draw some of these patterns - to draw maps about time.

Lead by Demos (

Second Week:

You will be asked to look at that icon of London-ness, Big Ben. You'll be asked to think about what it means - what it tells us (apart from the time). We will be using Big Ben to help us think about time.

We'll think about why Big Ben had to be like that, but also think about parallel versions: An Islamic Big Ben, a quantum Big Ben, a FTSE Big Ben : other kinds of Big Bens that recognize different cultures and include other kinds of information.

Remember that the way we understand time had to be invented. Think about why it needed to be invented, and how it works. We will think about different kinds of time: the time it takes for continents to drift apart, the time it takes for a sprinter to break the tape, the time it takes for a traffic light to turn from red to green. And other kinds of clock: Dalis melting clocks, clocks in cartoons that sprout legs and run away, novelty clocks and Rolexes. We'll think about Cuckoo Clocks, about how a pagan fertility symbol turned into a mechanized piece of giftware. We might think of a clock that is reluctant to face the future and nostalgically wishes it could run backwards. We'll also think about the sound of the bells, the beep beep of an alarm, the tune hammered out of a mechanical xylophone. What are all these things trying to tell us? Can they really be attempts to distract us from the tick tock of our own mortality?

When we say think, we really mean make. We'll make literally thousands of New Big Bens. Bigger Bens, Better Bens, Bastard Bens. We'll squash it and stretch it. We'll mutate it like monsters from a horror film: two heads, one eye, half one thing and three quarters another.

Posted by sam at July 12, 2005 11:42 PM


superb brief, vague, repetitive, stimulating.
Just how I like 'em. Comforting, like watching Foyles War round me nan's.

Posted by: Andy on August 6, 2005 4:33 PM

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