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Architecture (MA)

Sean Mansfield

Sean is a designer currently based in London. His work addresses human systems of production and control through playful and performative design.

At the RCA, he has explored the form of food and its abstraction through industrial practices, media, and time; the construct of pets and their place within the family; the entanglement of living things in systems of food production, arguing for the need of a sharing economy through dissolving property boundaries in agriculture; and the influence of the enclosures on the ongoing housing crisis. 

Before the RCA, Sean graduated from the University of Bath and has worked with a number of architecture and design practices.

Sign reading 'Public Property, Get In" on a pebbledash wall.

There is no housing crisis without capitalism. There is no capitalism without the enclosure of land and, in the UK, we have a particular type of capitalism rooted in these enclosures. Society is still to some extent feudal: landlords collect rent, through leases or rents, from tenants on land technically only outright owned by the monarch. Climbing this medieval system is difficult and, unless fortunate enough to have financial help from parents, my generation is unlikely to set foot on that ladder.

I am part of generation rent. The generation born between 1980 and 2000 that has been priced out of the housing market—unable to buy and paying a high proportion of earnings on rent. Number of households renting has more than doubled since 2001.

The housing crisis is widely debated in the UK and frequents political party manifesto pledges. Yet nothing ever seems to be done.


It is a crisis that demands a temporary and deployable architecture: spaces that can be put up and taken down by anyone, not just specialist construction workers; spaces that attract democratic and communal activity; spaces that prevent the exploitation of space for individual gain; spaces that are conspicuous and highlight the problem that has caused them to emerge. 

seven ceefax screens with headlines reflecting the speculated housing market crash

Houses are not seen as homes but as investments. Not only by speculators but also by homeowners; your home is not only your castle but your pension, inheritance and financial security. However, in June, Nationwide stated that house prices are falling at the highest annual rate since the fallout of the financial crisis in 2009—warning that more rises in mortgage rates are to come. Half a million home owners in the UK are already in negative equity. 16% of homeowners between the ages 16 and 34 will be trapped in negative equity in 2023 if house prices drop by 7.9%, as predicted by Lloyds Banking Group Plc.

While Thatcher's Right to Buy was the last nail in the coffin for the dream of nationalised housing, the current housing crisis and projected crash offers an opportunity for reform. This project does not present a solution to the housing crisis, nor is it a provision of social housing. But, it questions individual interests in land to highlight the damage inflicted by enclosures and private ownership.

four posters reading collary, festage, protessary and dwellage - the four new rights of common

Historically, common land formed a sort of ‘medieval welfare state.’ The public could secure their basic needs from the commons and the rights of common. If these rights of common were to be restored, members of the public now would not make use of these rights nor is there much common land that is suitable for these activities. Therefore, can the creation of new commons, that are not open fields or agricultural land, make way for new forms of inhabitation?

Rave is a form of resistance against the status quo and societal norms and offers a way to appropriate private space for common good. It emphasises unity, community, and the celebration of self-expression. The illegal acid house rave movement of the late 80s and early 90s challenged the ideologies of the time. The individualism in Thatcher’s Britain was undermined by the shared experience of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of young people.

Deemed a “nuisance” by the police, the raves were rarely explicitly illegal. That was until the Criminal Justice and Public Orders Act in 1994 which clarified the definitions of a rave and provided the legal framework to prosecute organisers and partygoers. By re-establishing the rights infringed by this bill, four new rights of common can be created: the right to gather together; the right to demonstrate and protest; the right to party and the right to live in.

view of a pink and pale blue striped fabric draped over the inside of a kitchen, three thumbnails of other listing photos
view of an inflated volume of blue and green stripes between terraced housing, plan view showing camera projection
external view of an inflated volume with blue and purple stripes inside a community centre
view inside an inflated volume with red and yellow stripes inside a living room, yoga mats, exercise ball and homework
view of gold and white inflatable structure nestled inside a caged football pitch in between terraced housing, blue door
view inside and outside an inflated volume of red and white stripes inside a shopping colonnade, circle of folding chairs
view of an inflated volume of blue and white stripes inside a shop front, sign reading "health centre", chairs pushed to glass
view of a circular inflated volume of yellow and green stripes on a derelict site, held down with straps
view of an inflated volume of yellow and cream stripes on top of the Milton Keynes council building, held down with straps
view of an inflated structure of green and white stripes on the Milton Keynes station square, plinth and tower block

Venue hosts are asked to move furniture to the sides of the room, remove any loose objects and spread the word. The material covers furniture, appliances and personal items, both protecting them and erasing the original use of the room to allow new, common activity to inhabit the space. The fabric of the inflatable forms to its context: it squeezes through doors, wraps around sofas, casts the pattern of a kitchen unit or the profile of a chair. It is brightly coloured and made to form a striped pattern reminiscent of “warning” graphics, announcing the fact that it is open to the public and warning against the fragility of private ownership. 

There are two main types of structure for the inflatables: single-skin and double skin—while there are four varieties on form: inflation wrap, spill cushion, tethered cushion and form pillows. Each area will have a number of these small spaces that together form a network of new commons, suitable for supporting basic the needs of modern society: somewhere to keep warm, somewhere safe to socialise. Spaces that challenge the binary definition of public and private space.

scans of the new occupation flyer showing manifesto, timetable, defaulting flowchart and map of venues

New Occupation is a scheme run by the government to prevent the collapse of the housing market. Through bailing out homeowners who default on their mortgages, rather than bailing out banks and privatising any gains from that investment, the gains as well as the losses are public: in exchange for bailing out houses, volumes of a property are made available for public use based on the amount that property is in arrears. A new commons is created.

Anyone is free to use the new common space, as long as they follow the New Occupation charter which you can find on the front of your flyer. The programmes of the spaces are defined by the needs of the communities around them with each space programmed to host different activities throughout the day to prevent one group or individual from taking advantage of the common space. 

Milton Keynes has the highest proportion of first time buyers in the UK—it will be the first to see widespread defaults on mortgages. By searching Rightmove, for houses on sale over the last few months, venues for these new commons have been found. Here, 10 sites across the city are being promoted.


Manufactured off-site, inflatable spaces are deployed quickly. They are lightweight so can be delivered to site by car or van and carried into position by one or two people. They are inflated with a fan plugged into a normal socket that sits as part of a raised access floor system.