This has been an incredible journey, an exercise of building resilience and learning how to compromise, an opportunity to make a change in the life of a small community while allowing it to shape us and our vision.
I would firstly like to thank the RIBA Boyd Auger committee for believing in the nature of my proposal and in the sensitive subject it has aimed to tackle. It was your patience and flexibility that allowed me to challenge this topic beyond the initial boundaries it was supposed to live within and refocus my entire research direction. As a final year Architecture student, this unexpected opportunity has played a significant role in building my confidence not only as a future professional, but most importantly as an individual striving to make a difference within the current social and architectural climate.
I would also like to thank the construction team and all volunteers involved, for sharing their expertise and advice, for the immense amount of invested hard work, dedication and energy that brought the design to its final stage.
Finally, I would like to thank my friends and family for the many gestures of kindness and words of encouragement, for believing in my decisions and offering me their unconditional support.
Noses spalyed against the glass, pads of fingers pressing on each side, the children have been temporarily exiled from the interior of the container and are now spying on me and Laurentiu putting the finishing touches – the floors are swept, the curtains are up and we are ready to welcome his brothers and sisters inside their new home. Ten pairs of beaming eyes are bouncing against every surface and fabric, taking it all in. A child’s eyes. That day, I rocked on the edge of them.
Although we initially took into consideration other materials for the roofing strategy – including corrugated sheet metal and bituminous sheeting, we quickly agreed on polycarbonate due to its great strength, rigidity and lightweight properties. Following a visit to a local depot, we decide to place the order for four 3500 x 2000 mm clear polycarbonate panels. The 10 mm thickness allows enough flexibility for the material to be bent and fixed to the curvature of the metal frame, while incurring low maintenance and installation costs.
With the roof structure nearly complete, we shift our focus on addressing the interior of the container. During the past few weeks, the project has gained unexpected notoriety within the area and locals have offered to donate unwanted pieces of furniture. Following a quick trip to the town nearby, we triumphantly return on site with a wardrobe, a bed, one nightstand and a dining table. As we unload each item, Aurelia and Mihai take over the assemblage process and spend the rest of the day shifting, lifting and organizing the new acquisitions within the 15 sqm of area.
The wheel has been finally mounted and fixed onto the base plate manufactured in Mihai’s atelier. As we hoist it into position, it seems to pull together the whole aesthetic concept of the design, framing the views towards the vegetable and grain crops stretching across the horizon.
As the evening approaches, the moon graces the late summer sky with its wisps of white light. The celestial wheel seems brighter than ever and we all gaze into the black fill, fascinated by its unusual scale. The crisp air folds around our tired bodies and for the first time in almost a month we hear sharp drops of rain hitting the dusty soil. Although the on site works have evolved within the timeline we have initially aimed for, we cannot help but wonder how the change in seasons and climate might influence our progress during the upcoming days.
The picture below was taken using a Canon EOS Rebel T3i with a 400mm lens and a 1.4x telecompressor.
The final days of summer are here and the flocks of birds are roaming across the cloudless sky. As she quietly observes the seemingly random patterns of flight, I can read a muted sort of longing in Aurelia’s eyes; somehow, I cannot shake the feeling she understands something I clearly don’t. ‘I chirikleski kul chi perel duvar pe yek than’, she murmurs. ‘…the droppings of the flying bird never fall twice on the same spot’ she continues, noticing my puzzled look. We both burst into laughter, although the message of hope for a better tomorrow is clearly sieving through.
For the rest of the day we continue the work on the roof structure, fixing the curved braces that will later support the polycarbonate sheets.
As the additional construction elements are delivered on site, the team embarks on the assemblage process for the first floor frame, roof support and staircase access. The design is aimed to allow the family to expand the living space across a new level, with the additional load to be distributed along the structural frame of the existing container. Steel connector pieces allow for the decking, staircase, balcony and handrail elements to be easily dismantled and reassembled, in line with the construction flexibility standards we aimed towards during the concept development phase.
As the day comes to an end, the shipyard beauty is almost unrecognizable, its hard-edged frame softened by the newly added textures and volumes. Stamping across the wooden deck and staircase steps, carefully scouting every corner of the structure with their tireless, glimmering eyes, the children roll onto the floor, bursting into a peal of laughter. For some reason, I fell we passed the most important test yet…
As steady progress is made on site – mainly consisting in the re-assembling of the wooden decking, external stair and first-level balcony – we decide to revise and agree on the technical design, construction and on-site fitting of ‘the wheel’. Perhaps one of the most controversial aspects within the overall design strategy, ‘the wheel’ acts as an anchorage point for the first level structure and roof, while making a direct reference to the Roma aesthetic leitmotifs. Cornel grabs his pen and quickly starts sketching over the pack of drawings I spread across his desk. After a few attempts at finding the right balance between span ratios, section types and cost, the silence is broken : ‘It will be painstaking, but not impossible!’.
The wheel-shaped, sixteen-spoked chakra, was adopted as the international Romani symbol at the first Romani conference in 1971 held in London (1), celebrating a link back to the Roma’s Indian ancestry (2). Reminiscent of the wheels of the Vardo, or Wagon, which has served as the home for wandering Romany families, the sixteen-spoked chakra stands for movement and creation, resilience to ever-changing surroundings and spiritual liberation.
With all metal components procured, work begins on bending the wheel frame and shaping the spokes.
(1) Grthmlondon.org.uk,. ‘Romani Nationalism, The Roma Flag And Roma National Anthem | Gypsy Roma Traveller History Month’. n.p., 2015. Web. 06 Apr. 2014.
(2) Gypsy Press,. ‘Gypsy History And Folklore – Gypsy Press’. n.p., 2015. Web. 06 Apr. 2014.
The main pillar of Roma morality is an abstract and symbolic distinction between what is sometimes termed as “pure” or “impure”or ritually “unclean” (mahrime).
• For instance. the shelter programme is constantly shifting vertically in accrodance to the Roma belief that the act of everyday living and particularly ‘sleeping’ should be performed “under the sky”.(2)
• Other spatial norms include the location of the restrooms at a significant distance from the living area since they are considered physical symbols of human impurity.(3)
• In contrast to the clean, highly ordered and decorated interiors, activities such as cooking, eating, resting, washing and partying are to be usually performed at the periphery of the built space which is rarely formalized. (4)
• Many traditional Roma families in western and northern Europe prefer to live in caravans because they allow them to avoid a situation in which a sexually active woman might walk above the heads of men (simply by walking through a higher level of the same house or building). (5)
• Since non-Gypsies do not observe any of these rules, they are often considered “shameless” or “dishonourable”, and close contact with them, especially the sharing of food, is avoided.(6)
(1) ORTA, L. (2010). Mapping the invisible: Eu-Roma Gypsies. London, Black Dog Pub. (2) Ibid. (3) Ibid.
(4)MATRAS, Y. (2002). Romani a linguistic introduction. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press. (5) Ibid. (6) Ibid.