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Architecture (MA)

Tom Childs

Tom is an interdisciplinary designer with an interest in spatial politics, advocacy and humanitarian design.

His research-based practice explores how design can impact the experiences of displaced populations as we move towards a future of rising displacement due to climate change. Following on from previous research into rehousing efforts after the 2011 Earthquake and Tsunami in Japan and the role of architecture in refugee reception in Greece since 2015, this thesis project looked to explore the anatomy of the UK's own border system.

Having worked on residential projects at a variety of scales for Stolon Studio and BPTW before attending the RCA, Tom looks forward to taking on new opportunities and challenges in the future. Other past projects include 'The Lifebench' for LFA 2021.

A Model showcasing proposed extensions to an existing hotel used to house asylum seekers in Southwark

This project explores the spaces that arise at the intersection of trans-national borders and the role of design in affecting the lived experiences of displaced populations.

In the case of the UK border, a substantial and well funded system of border security and management exists. The Sunak-Braverman administration’s policy on refugees and asylum seekers focuses on minimising the number of arrivals, and the number of safe and legal routes into the UK. This strategy circumvents the UN mandated repsonsibility to safely house those seeking protection whilst their claims are processed. Those that make the journey to the UK shores ecounter systems of asylum accomodation and dispersed border administration hat have been designed to minimise costs, increase precarity and to demonstrate a performative cruelty towards refugees, deterring arrivals and satisfying the wishes of a racist, xenophobic portion of the electorate.

Within this politically crafted materiality of neglect, this project searches for a space for designers to re-orient a system which is both unsustainable and inhumane. Targeted at policy makers and UK citizens alike, it calls for a realignment of goals and mindsets and seeks to find what power design might have to transcend these.

Visualisation of a new proposed market street offering civic generosity
View of new shared kitchen space
Visualisation of a proposed rooftop extension to an existing asylum hotel
greenhouse mode

Project Description

Informed by an understanding of the shortcomings of temporary accommodation for asylum seekers - the final proposal for this thesis was an extension of Driscoll House, a hotel currently housing asylum seekers in Southwark into the neighbouring site, Paragon Gardens.

This proposal is imagined as realistic in scope and materiality but is entirely utopian in programme, given the absence of funding and political will to improve conditions for asylum seekers. The project therefore embraces the position of the architect as a salesperson for a political agenda, mirroring the role of those designers currently working on large scale infrastructure projects in Saudi Arabia. Rendering the attractive qualities of a possible future architecture of displacement visible and tangible to an ambivalent audience might begin to steer politics towards more sustainable outcomes in the future.

These spotless renderings of a perfect outcome for asylum accommodation in the future serve more as an organising tool for detention and border abolitionists to rally around than as a practical proposition. They remain empty and uninhabited in acknowledgement of their improbability in the current political climate

model pic
A view of the double height kitchen space placed in the centre of the existing structure
View of the proposed market street from raised walkway platform
View of rooftop breakout space attached to new greenhouse extension
View of a gallery space for use by residents in the new proposed extension
Exploded Axonometric of Proposal
model of proposed extensions in section
short sections
long sections
Meanwhile Gardens
stills from film

The thesis project was informed by an investigation into Meanwhile Gardens at the start of the year. This community run space in North Kensington has existed for over 50 years since a group led by the artist Jamie McCullough appealed for the council to allow them to use a disused piece of land at the foot of Trellick Tower.

The film above showcases the forms of activity which have woven the site into the local community over the years.