Whilst studying architecture I did some weird things. I dressed up as a clown. I interviewed, photographed and filmed a food vendor in Camden Market. I posed as a waiter trying to serve wine and pasta with an inverted periscope attached to my face. I trespassed through a hospital (actually I did a hell of a lot of trespassing as an architectural student). Carrying chairs into a forest and to the top of a hill. The list goes on. 

One day, in my second year, I found myself down in Hastings, a beach town east of Brighton. I forget why, but I purchased fish guts from a fishermen to encourage the (intimidatingly large) seagulls in the area, then I chased them away. I live on an island and thought I had a good grasp on seagull behaviour and mentality, but the seagulls in Hastings are terrifying. There are hundreds of them everywhere, they are huge, and they eat anything and everything.

seagull image 5I don’t like seagulls. No, I’m not scared of them. I just think they’re great big bastards (I’d also recently watching Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds which may have had some influence). So whatever the project, or design brief was for our trip to Hastings, I reckon I used the location as a chance for revenge. Seagulls love to swoop down on unsuspecting beach-goers and grab their chips and ice creams, so I thought I’d set a trap involving bread crumbs and fish guts, before chasing them away.

seagulls2I set down seagull treats at one metre intervals from a bench in Hastings. After waiting for enough seagulls to show interest, I would then jump up and chase them away. It was cathartic, even if I did get a lot of strange looks from the locals (and a few cheers from the onlooking fishermen and fishmongers). I had some course mates photograph and film the event, without really knowing what I would do with it.



I filmed all of this from two angles, one camera on the bench and one from the side. I took freeze frames and drew over stills that I then imported into Photoshop to play around with.




I ended up turning this sequence of events into a ‘flipbook’, where I first set down the seagull snacks, then waited for the seagulls to arrive before springing up and chasing them away.

I look back at a lot of the weird stuff I did at university and struggle to remember exactly what it was all for at the time. There were always reasons, often loosely connected and stretching. I don’t study architecture now or have any desire to work in the field, and I will always question whether those years were worth it, whether I would make different choices if I could, and what those choices would have been. But I don’t think I’ll ever be able to say “it was dull”.

This will be my last post on the Guy’s Hospital project. One last look before I finally put it all to bed. From Unexpected Findings to sneaking around forbidden areas to taking in the whole London Bridge surrounding site to building upon those ideas to make the hospital a better place to be – hell, even speculating on a strange dystopian future for the hospital. I’ve spent far more time going back and sharing this project than I expected.

Experimenting with facades and external spaces with 3D modelling in Vectorworks

Experimenting with facades and external spaces with 3D modelling in Vectorworks

Alongside all the portfolio work, the drawings, the photography and the models created for the final submission I also produced a 120 page A5 booklet, filled with drawings and thoughts I’d scribbled down and diagrams and photographs I’d found during the six month project. I thought I’d share a (very) small sample of my thought processes, my inspirations, and various bits and pieces. A lot of which I’d completely forgotten about.

Technical sections going into more detail on how these proposals would actually be built

Technical sections going into more detail on how these proposals would actually be built

The hospital was a fascinating place and I really don’t think I could have picked a better site. It had a bit of everything. A little unorthodox at first but once you started to think outside the box the opportunities were there. In all honesty I didn’t do the site justice; the ideas were in place, and over time they’ve held up, but it all could have been executed with more finesse and detail. It’s easy to say that now. But at the time I just wanted the course to be over – I was working impossibly hard knowing that I was only ever going to scrape through the year.

I managed to obtain old photographs and diagrams of when the tower was originally constructed

I managed to obtain old photographs and diagrams of when the tower was originally constructed

Comparing areas within the hospital; then and now.

Comparing areas within the hospital; then and now.

Throughout the years I kept my eyes open for projects that inspired me, and for aspects which I could bring into my own work

Throughout the years I kept my eyes open for projects that inspired me, and for aspects which I could bring into my own work

I was miserable throughout most of this project and sick of the sight of this bloody hospital. The pressure of deadlines, the humiliation of bad feedback in front of your peers, being torn apart before the eyes of a watching room, days without sleep, caffeine overdoses. I’ve enjoyed revisiting the project without those pressures, and realising how lucky I was, to visit and spend time in these places, to work with some amazing people, receive feedback and support from some fantastic tutors. I’m rambling, but yeah – as much as I suffered during my time as an architecture student, I’m glad to have experienced it all.

© Nicholas J. Parr, 2015

model 2

There have been several posts now on my exploration and findings within Guy’s Hospital and the surrounding area. The theories, programs and ideas that I created on the basis of that initial research has been discussed somewhat, but in terms of final drawings and solutions to the problems I identified the project has been lacking. In this post I want to give a glimpse into some of the work and ideas I put forward to make the hospital a better place.

Epiphytic architecture

The idea of creating and almost growing self contained programs of space that hang off the pre-existing structure of Guy’s Hospital was a strong and favourite one, right from the start. I remember describing them to my tutor during a crit as parasitic, in the way they cling to the structure and rely on it for support. I was soon shot down for this phrase, and rightly so. A parasite is something that takes from a larger organism but doesn’t give anything back – it works at the detriment of the host creature. The word that I was suggested to use was ‘epiphyte’, a term typically used to describe a plant that grows harmlessly on another plant, and thus I began to use the term ‘epiphytic architecture’ when describing these additional spaces. I wanted them, if anything, to grow and exist to the benefit, not detriment, of the hospital.

Working models demonstrating the existing structure of the tower, encouraging new and additional spaces to grow upon it. Spaces such as hostels (for family members of patients to stay close to their loved ones), a diverse, multi floor waiting room model 3(the smaller waiting rooms are merged into one flowing space that spans multiple floors and comes out of the main tower to give freedom and reduce anxiety while waiting) and walkways which come out of and back into the hospital, providing fresh air, an escape of the oppressive walls of the hospital as well as fantastic views of London.

The models were very conceptual, and gave me a flexibility to constantly change them, whether that be in shape, material, position, on the tower. I kept asking questions, and in this way the models helped me a lot. For example, I used ripped up pieces of masking tape to simulate hanging vines and green walls. Thin pieces of MDF held in place by copper rods, to represent moveable facades. Flexible walkways of card that wrap around the main structure of the tower, which itself I replicated using a tall wooden plinth.

model 2 pics sheet

The Hub; a place to wait in comfort and peace. Forget you are in a hospital.

hub development 2

Through my site visits and studying of existing plans and sections from the architects behind the recent recladding project Penoyre & Prasad, I noticed that the 18th and 19th floor were different – they had a kind of double space between each floor, very high ceilings, and this was due to the lift access points. I wanted to take advantage of this expanded space above the heads of patients. It was to become The Hub, an expansive open space halfway up Guy’s Tower, which offered spectacular views of the surrounding area, jutting in and out of the existing parameters of the building, with plenty of freedom yet also privacy, and green walls hanging down to give a feeling of being in a floating garden.

waiting room conceptual2

model pics 1.1 sheet

Final Section

The final section, when printed, was over two metres tall. Scaled 1:50, it was a huge task. Parts were left unfinished in order to show the spread of changes across the existing hospital. It was a mixed media piece; most of the section was done in Vectorworks, a CAD software. Some of the instalments were drawn by hand and copied or scanned into place, and it was finished off with atmosphere and occupation. In hindsight it perhaps would have been beneficial to show larger sections of each program. This would have given more detail but lost a sense of wholeness – being a long, all-in-one section keeps the scale of this project at the forefront. The project was met with mixed reviews at the end of the year. The theory and ambition was praised but ultimately there was not enough conviction and finesse in the final drawings and representations.

long section

The London Bridge area is steeped in history. The hospital was the main source of interest for the project but to restrict yourself to looking for ideas and intrigue in just one setting is pointless, and I found the surroundings of the hospital to be just as fascinating as the hospital itself. Taken on the same day as my hospital visit I took in my previous Guy’s Hospital post, here are a few areas around the hospital in London Bridge that captured my imagination.


The murky Thames water beneath London Bridge

To get to London Bridge itself from the hospital is a good ten minute walk. There is plenty of traffic, both vehicular and pedestrian. Across the bridge takes you out of Southwark, and so I would remain on the bridge, observing the Thames, the waterfront and Tower Bridge in the distance.


The area is built up and short distances can take longer due to pedestrians and traffic.

Plenty of pubs and bars around, to my joy.

Plenty of pubs and bars around, to my joy.

One of the oldest stations in the city, London Bridge Station still remains incredibly relevant today; the fourth busiest station in London and the U.K. It acted as the main hub for my visits to the hospital. Being situated in Brighton at the time, it would take about an hour to get here. I would then usually head off after my ‘work’ at the hospital was done, catching the tube further into the city, either to meet friends or get a bite to eat.


The underground station entrance.


Old brick interior of the station, below the Shard.


Exit toward the base of the Shard and Guy’s Hospital across the street.

Over 1000 ft high. 95 storeys. The tallest building in the EU. The Shard, designed by Renzo Piano, the spire like structure can be seen all across London. As tall as Guy’s Tower is (the tallest hospital building in Europe), it is dwarfed by the Shard. As a former architecture student I should probably give my critique on it…it’s alright.


Escalator down from upper level of the station to the ground level. McDonalds and the hospital across the street.


Looking up the facade of the Shard.

King’s College, London, or KCL, is the third oldest university in England. The Guy’s Campus is directly opposite Guy’s Hospital; convenient as the Guy’s Campus focuses on medicine. It is home to the school of medicine and the Dental Institute, which is actually within Guy’s Tower itself. The streets and roads between the hospital and the campus were filled by groups of students, walking to lectures or off to the McDonalds on the corner.


KCL Campus. Taken on a Saturday, so not too many students here.

I believe this is Thomas Guy, the founder of Guy's Hospital.

I believe this is Thomas Guy, the founder of Guy’s Hospital.

Allegedly existing since 1014, the bustling, noisy and colourful Borough Market is one of the largest and oldest food markets in London. The photos below were taken on a Saturday morning, and the number of stalls, vendors and shoppers was overwhelming. Fantastic smells and tastes, it was a carnival atmosphere with a bit of everything on sale.


Thousands, tourists and locals alike, flock to Borough Market every day.


There is plenty of fresh local produce on offer, and some stands offer tasters and samples.


The waiting time for queueing customers wanting the famous steak sandwiches at this stand was over half an hour.


There is enough variety and choice to satisfy anyone’s tastebuds.

So why did I go to the trouble of documenting my exploration when the project was to take place in the hospital itself? Because I had decided what I wanted to do with the hospital. I wanted to create new spaces within, some seen and unseen, some expected and unexpected.

guys hospital collage

Above is a collage I created to illustrate the incorporation of elements from the surrounding area into the hospital. I drew a quick section of one of the towers that make up Guy’s Tower, then began to overlay the image with aspects of the London Bridge area that I wanted to see in the hospital environment.

Cranes were everywhere – London is a growing city, and adding cranes to an already towering skyscraper, bring in spaces to expand the tower, was an ambitious opportunity I couldn’t turn down. When you are given the rare gift of creative freedom you need to dream big.

Ideas such as a speakeasy, an illegal bar hidden deep beneath the hospital where patients can defy the wishes of their doctors to drink and smoke during their stay. Or a performance theatre where the doctors sing or tell jokes in order to gain votes. The more votes you receive, the more patients will want you as their doctor. Or walkways and balconies that came out from within the hospital and wrap around the exterior, spaces of green and light and fresh air to get away from the stuffiness inside.

Ideas that were wacky and strange appealed to me. People suffer and die in hospitals. Without edging towards disrespect and distaste, why not open up the hospital to allow for a lighter, more holistic experience?

A hospital. Boundaries are present everywhere, but in a hospital they hold particular importance. To prevent the spread of bacterial infections, to give patients privacy and respect, to hold documents with personal information, to allow doctors, researchers and students to work in peace.

What stops me from accessing these areas of the hospital? How far can I infiltrate the hospital before a locked door or security forces me to go back? These were the questions that interested me on my first few visits to Guy’s Hospital.

Firstly. Any member of the public is able to get in one of the elevators on the ground floor, ride it to the top and marvel at the views from the 30th floor. Able; as in there are no locked doors, or key-codes, or security guards (not in the lift lobbies anyway)

But. If you are caught up here, as a member of the public, you will be asked to leave.

So these areas were complex. Physically, they were accessible. They were however, restricted areas. For example, the 30th floor was for students of King’s College London only, and there were signs stating this. Up here was their lecture theatre – it would not do for members of the public to bumble in mid-lecture. But there was no one guarding the door demanding ID badges, or retinal scanners, or voice recognition security. Anybody is free to wander in and take a ride to most of the floors. Whether or not they should, is the question.

    final map A0           

A rather simplistic map I drew, to start investigating certain areas of the hospital. I only included a small sample of floors, as including all 30 would have been too long a task. Here, the purpose was to graphically portray space and boundaries within the hospital. Who was using this space? Who could access this space? Who was this space actually intended for? What boundaries were in place to stop one from reaching this space?

And of course, I had to document as much as I could. Below are some photographs that captured my ideas of boundaries, areas that were reachable but not supposed to be seen, and a few shots of elements that just caught my imagination.

As I ascended I noticed more doorways that were blocked off and restricted to me. Some gave little explanation as to why they were off limits.

As I ascended I noticed more doorways that were blocked off and restricted to me. Some gave little explanation as to why they were off limits.

No patients allowed. Welding? An area for builders or site workers only?

No patients allowed. Welding? An area for builders or site workers only?

A Security Notice.

Would a visitor bother going all the way back down to reception to sign in, if they were already on floor 16?


Straight ahead for Floor 18! Unless you are unauthorised.

Locked in. Old supplies?

Locked in. Old supplies?

Raz's leaving do. Wish I could have made it.

Raz’s retirement do. Wish I could have made it.

Staff and Students only.

Staff and Students only. Door would only open by using a key-code lock.

Low ceiling, creepy looking old door. Didn't stay here long.

Low ceiling, creepy looking old door. Didn’t stay here long.

Uh oh

Phew. Good thing I’m not a patient.

I got the feeling that parts of the upper floor were only used by a handful of people.

I got the feeling that parts of the upper floor were only used and experienced by a handful of people.

An old shaft, presumably for fire

An old shaft, presumably for fire safety. Hasn’t been used in a while by the looks of it.

20 seconds in the lift and I found myself up here.

20 seconds in the lift and I found myself up here.


Doors to the lift maintenance for the elevators in Guy’s Tower. 

As high as I could go.

As high as I could go.

Fine by me, as it was starting to get a little too high for my liking.

Fine by me, as it was starting to get a little too high for my liking.

All of the above images were captured on a Saturday afternoon. As such, the dental department on floors 18-27 was closed and were empty, with the exception of one or two cleaners. It was exhilarating and suspenseful to experience the hospital in this semi-awake state. Kinda creepy too.

While investigating Guy’s Hospital in the London Bridge area I came across everything you might expect to find in a hospital. A bustling, noisy entrance area. A reception desk. A variety of people waiting patiently or pacing around, or queuing for coffee, or hugging loved ones. Maps and information boards with the locations of different wards and departments. Long hallways artificially lit with trolley-or-wheelchair bound patients being pushed by porters.

I also discovered other elements to this tower that surprised me. Some were in plain sight; some took a bit of exploring to locate.


This creepy looking thing was just loitering at the back of the main ground floor entrance area of the hospital. It’s an art installation by Tim Hunkin with quite a political theme (from the mouth of its creator, “I left it subtle, but the idea of the insatiable patient and the bottomless pit of NHS funding are there for anyone that likes analysing stuff”). Political stance aside, it’s a visually striking piece of work that fascinated me on my first visit. I drew it, I took videos, I photographed it.


coinbox sequence

For more information on the installation see



In two of the atriums dotted around the hospital, I found pianos. I never quite found out their purpose. At a guess, I would think they are there for the free use of the public, the patients, visitors – any hospital users. On several occasions as I passed by I heard the tones of a piano being played, which when walking down a hospital corridor can be quite a surreal experience. Upon investigation, there were what seemed to me members of the public, sat playing peacefully. Every now and then someone might stop and listen, but generally life just carried on around them. It gave me ideas of grand orchestral performances taking part within the hospital to lift spirits.

A quick collage - a piano in the atrium, greeting patients as they enter with soothing scales.

A quick collage – a piano in the atrium, greeting patients as they enter with soothing scales.


I stopped at a random intersection within the hospital, turned my head to the left and found a dozen display cases and information boards. Upon closer inspection I realised it was a miniature museum, informing of the history of Guy’s and St. Thomas, and the hospital itself. There were old medical instruments on display, as well as former plans and sections of the original hospital building. This might not seem unexpected, as the London Bridge area has a rich history and has undergone a lot of change during the last two, three hundred years. But in a hospital of all places, I thought it was a nice touch and was surprised to see it here.


Notice the hand...

Notice the hand…

There’s nothing inherently strange about a hospital having a basement. What I found unexpected was being able to see this area, and to experience a very different hospital environment. Dingy corridors, quiet and (generally) a bit untidy. Certainly didn’t seem like a typical hospital environment and was actually quite intimidating being down there. I felt like I was going to be asked to leave if anyone spotted me down there. It’s not that it was off limits, and there are some wards down there. But the contrast to the floors above unsettled me somewhat. So it gave me ideas to give more unexpected surprises to unsuspecting, wandering patients…

Admit it, you'd freak if you saw her down here

Admit it, you’d freak if you saw her down here


The last mention for the unexpected discoveries found was a lecture theatre. Now Guy’s Hospital is a teaching hospital, so you would expect there to be medical students to be seen around the hospital, and there are several floors of the tower dedicated to student research, teachings and floor 24 contains a student cafe, lockers and chill rooms. What made this discovery fascinating was that it was on the very top floor, the 30th floor of the hospital. It was also out of bounds to all non-students of Kings College London (ssssh). I found this a great shame – as it meant the vast majority of people using the hospital would never get to see views like the one below, of the London Bridge area. You can see the base of the towering Shard, London Bridge station, the River Thames and Tower Bridge in the distance. It gave me a plethora of ideas to really open up the hospital, to take advantage of these unique and breathtaking conditions.



Situated in the bustling London Bridge area, Guy’s Hospital is an NHS teaching hospital and contains Guy’s Tower, the tallest hospital building in Europe. Despite this the Shard towers over less than one hundred metres away. My third year project was situated in the hospital, and I spent hours within the hospital. Getting a feel for the conditions, the mood, the lightning, the noises, the space.

Floor upon floor of near identical lobbies where patients, doctors and students wait for lifts.

Floor upon floor of near identical lobbies where patients, doctors and students wait for lifts.

Or there are the stairs for the more active, or those wanting a bit of peace.

Or there are the stairs for the more active, or those wanting a bit of peace.

In the centre of the tower there is little natural light. The humming artificial lights emit a sickly glare.

In the centre of the tower there is little natural light. The humming artificial lights emit a sickly glare.

The waiting rooms. Where patients spend the majority  of their time. Inspiring...

The waiting rooms. Where patients spend the majority of their time. Inspiring…

The usual waiting room fare. A table with old magazines and various leaflets.

The usual waiting room fare. A table with old magazines and various leaflets.

The views of London could be used to great effect. Patients might appreciate the views more than a handful of disintegrating papers.

The views of London could be used to great effect. Patients might appreciate the views more than a handful of disintegrating papers.

So you might have guessed I wasn’t hugely impressed with the conditions within the hospital. If you’re in a hospital, chances are you won’t be in a great frame of mind. Be it as a patient, worried about that lump in your throat, or a visitor, hoping your relative pulls through. You could be a student, stressed, overworked and hurrying to the next lecture. A doctor who has to tell his patient the surgery wasn’t successful. Or a cleaner going to mop up the sick from the children’s ward for the second time this morning.

Ok, a very negative and pessimistic view. It won’t always be like this. But I think given this hospital’s unique situation (it’s nearly 500 flipping feet tall) the scope and possibility for creating spaces that push the programme of ‘hospital’ to new heights is an interesting concept. It was the driver behind the whole project last year. I aim to post some pieces of work from this project in particular over the next few months. Some of it still interests me, and should also help to keep the blog active while I’m busy reading and writing.

I was going through a tonne of my old architecture work, deciding what to keep and what can be deleted (most of it…) and I came across some interesting work I did for a project based in and around Guy’s Hospital in the London Bridge area.

Brutalist revamp of Guy's Tower. The tallest hospital building in Europe.

Brutalist revamp of Guy’s Tower. The tallest hospital building in Europe.

The project itself wasn’t brilliant but in the build up I created some conceptual collages. I can’t remember why or for what reason – the actual project was to open up the rigid, internalised layout of the hospital tower to create new spaces and alternative programs. Lifting the stuffy mood of injury, pain and death to take advantage of the superb views of London while giving both patients and visitors reasons to forget about their health concerns. Something like that.

Anyway, the collages I created have very little to do with that description, but they interest me now far more than the rest of the project. It struck me as a sort of dystopian scenario, and having read novels such as Brave New World, 1984, even The Road recently, they sparked some imagination into my mind.

Thinking about it now, I believe I was speculating on the risks of making hospitals into more public spaces, and the idea of altering their use into something that could benefit the whole community. While I wanted to open up the hospital to family and friends of the hospital patients, here I show what could be identified as a worse case scenario. Perhaps the NHS becomes greedy and starts the immoral practice of allowing the paying public entry to the hospital to observe operations or surgeries, unknown to the anaesthetised patients.

The public watch an open surgery session. The patient will wake up with no idea there was an audience present.

The public watch an open surgery session. The patient will wake up with no idea there was an audience present.

Queues span along the streets for the latest London attraction, but this being a hospital, entry becomes similar to military checkpoints where the public are stripped down, decontaminated and any media devices such as phones or laptops confiscated upon entry.

Bored of chain restaurants and gastropubs the citizens of London crowd to see new, morbid attractions.

Bored of chain restaurants and gastropubs the citizens of London crowd to see new, morbid attractions.

Or maybe these ideas were the result of a lack of sleep. Another night / early morning spent staring blankly at my computer screen with caffeine coursing through my veins.

I’ve set up a tumblr.

I wanted another blog which displays more visual images, something I can perhaps take a bit less seriously than this one (yeah because this blog is so serious). With this blog, I like to take care and effort before putting posts up, and this can lead to days and weeks without posts. This tumblr will allow me to post content at a quicker rate. I’m planning to use it for work I’ve done previously, work i’m doing now but mostly anything that inspires me or I find that motivates me.

The nature of tumblr is much more visual with photographs, videos, gifs and art being shared, liked and reblogged. I feel that my wordy, more analytical posts on wordpress and the more artistic, design based posts I will be liking and reblogging on tumblr are best kept separate. There will be times where something I’ve posted on wordpress I will also share on tumblr (and vice versa), if I feel it’s relevant or I’m really happy with it. Or (more likely) if content is starting to dry up on this page, which has happened in the past.

So generally the tumblr will keep a steady stream of more graphical content, separate from this blog.

A conceptual model for a third year architecture project, set in and around Guy's Hospital in London Bridge.

A conceptual model for a third year architecture project, set in and around Guy’s Hospital in London Bridge.

I’ve also started using Pinterest again. The aim is to keep these sites (both tumblr and Pinterest) as active, if not more so, than this blog, pinning and reblogging anything I find remotely interesting or useful to me.

I didn’t really get the point of Pinterest, but I’ve given it another chance and it’s actually pretty useful. You can search for any images and if you like them, you can pin them to keep them saved and available for your friends and followers to view. You can then start building up pinboards where all pinned images share a common theme. For example I’ve got boards for various artwork, digital media, graphic design etc. Simon Stahlenberg is an artist whose work caught my eye a few months back and has wonderfully captured the present day with brushes of alien technology in Corel Painter.

I want to keep posts on this blog meaningful. The odd update every now and then is fine, but I want most of the content here to be detailed and worthwhile. tumblr and Pinterest on the other hand are much quicker ways to show off things you think are pretty cool or that inspire you. There may even be some original content I’ll share here and repost on tumblr. I’ve added links to the sites mentioned in this post in the blogroll menu on the right of this blog.

I didn’t enjoy studying architecture. I think it’s a fantastic profession, a really interesting subject and Brighton is a superb university (especially for design based degrees). But it wasn’t for me; I didn’t have the same passion my course mates had for it, and in terms of my actual ability I was always average at best. If I’m honest I probably rushed into picking a course I thought I might enjoy. I did learn a lot, and parts of it I really did enjoy. Writing the dissertation for example. I achieved my highest mark of the whole three years and achieved a first for my work, so I thought I’d share it on here.

Rem Koolhaas is one of the world’s most renowned architects: an architect, theorist, urbanist, author, filmmaker. He has brought fame, attention and controversy to the profession – there is never a dull moment with Koolhaas. His first major publication, Delirious New York (1978) thrust him into the spotlight, and it was this book that caught my attention and imagination a few years ago. Written in such a bizarre, dream like style, the city of Manhattan was brought to life and the book has been a favourite of mine every since.

This essay focusses on Koolhaas and Delirious New York; how it shaped his architectural standing, what his influences were, how he achieved his success with the book, and how it went on to influence his architectural career. And I would recommend anyone, with or without an interest in architecture, to at least flick through Delirious New York. Visually stunning and playfully written, it is a strangely compelling read.

An attempt to visualise and summarise my topic in poster form.

An attempt to visualise and summarise my topic in poster form.

Please note: these excerpts from the dissertation have simply been copied from the original text, I have not adapted them to necessarily make sense on their own. There may be references to pictures which are not visible here, and footnotes and citations will be missing; rest assured, there are all present in the actual body of work which can be found at the bottom of this post.

The Fabrication of Evidence in Rem Koolhaas’s Delirious New York


In 1978, Rem Koolhaas’s first major publication, Delirious New York, was published, and described in Koolhaas’s own words as “a retroactive manifesto for Manhattan”. But what is a retroactive manifesto? As New York has already been built and shaped by the architects at the beginning of the 20th century, Koolhaas analysed Manhattan knowing its history, how it came to be, and aided by years of research, was able to create the ideology of ‘Manhattanism’: “How to write a manifesto – on a form of urbanism for what remains of the 20th century – in an age disgusted with them? The fatal weakness of manifestos is their inherent lack of evidence. Manhattan’s problem is the opposite: it is a mountain range of evidence without manifesto.”

The aim of this essay is to investigate the fabrication and strategy behind Koolhaas’s analysis of Manhattan, and whether Koolhaas has created his own fiction in order to make a compelling manifesto, researching numerous articles, interviews and critical responses to Delirious New York, as well as the involvement of Koolhaas’s wife Madelon Vriesendorp, and how her paintings were incorporated into the book to enhance the narration provided by Koolhaas.

The Paranoid-Critical Method and Koolhaas

In order to fully understand and appreciate the influence that Dali’s theory had on Koolhaas (as well as Vriesendorp), it would be beneficial to discuss the Paranoid-Critical Method (PCM) in more depth. Developed by Dali in the early 1930s, it was a Surrealist technique where Dali aimed to train his brain to irrationally link objects. This ability, to perceive connections between objects which would not rationally be linked, was described by Andre Breton as “an instrument of primary importance for Surrealism”. Dali, on his theory, wrote, “I believe that the moment is at hand when by a paranoid and active advance of the mind, it will be possible to systematize confusion and thus help to discredit completely the world of reality”

Reminiscenza archaeologic by Salvador Dali (1935).

Reminiscenza archaeologic by Salvador Dali (1935).

Manhattanism and the Culture of Congestion

Koolhaas then gives us a Surrealist take on how the form of the Skyscraper came to be. He studies two structures that took centre stage at the first New York World’s Fair in 1853 (Fig. 9): a version of the Crystal Palace of London, complete with a large dome (the globe), and the Latting Observatory, a 350ft high tower (the needle). “The needle and the globe represent the two extremes of Manhattan’s formal vocabulary and describe the outer limits of its architectural choices.” Here we see Koolhaas using the PCM to link two objects, the needle and the globe, and give them characteristics, a relationship between one another.

Koolhaas describes Ferriss’ The Lure of the City (Fig. 10, 1925) as the “Ferrissian Void…a pitch black architectural womb that gives birth to the consecutive stages of the Skyscraper”, and perhaps gives us an insight as to how Manhattanism was birthed from Ferriss’ painting (Fig. 9) Ferriss’ renderings (particularly the void’s murky vagueness) have inspired Koolhaas to look at them as a incubator for a number of styles of architecture, design and art, and it is here where his manifesto is born, as he concludes “Manhattanism is conceived in Ferriss’ womb.”

Fictional Conclusion / Introduction

Explaining the Appendix of Delirious New York, Koolhaas writes “The fifth block – the Appendix – is a sequence of architectural projects that solidifies Manhattanism into an explicit doctrine and negotiates the transition from Manhattanism’s unconscious architectural production to a conscious phase.” This Fictional Conclusion – or perhaps, more fittingly, Fictional Introduction, as the works contained within were all composed before Koolhaas had written the book – consists of several collaborations between Koolhaas and Elia Zenghelis, often with Vriesendorp and Zoe Zenghelis providing illustrations and paintings. These illustrations and concepts are the very evidence that Koolhaas fabricated in order to begin writing the book.   

The City of the Captive Globe (1972) was one such concept, a method of exploration for Manhattan, created by Koolhaas and Elia Zenghelis, and illustrated by Zoe Zenghelis (Fig. 11). With the grid firmly in mind, a series of blocks surround the Captive Globe, suspended in the centre. These plots have a foundation of granite, from which a “philosophy” is based (“Each science or mania has its own plot…”), and each has “the right to expand indefinitely toward heaven… The collapse of one of the towers can mean two things: failure, giving up, or a visual Eureka, a speculative ejaculation.” These blocks each contain a ‘city-within-a-city’ that Koolhaas has described in Delirious when talking about the grid. And the purpose of the Captive Globe itself? “…all these Institutes together form an enormous incubator of the World itself; they are breeding on the Globe”. Brayer notes “The City of the Captive Globe (1972) illustrated this Manhattanesque culture of congestion. In the middle, the terrestrial globe was in a state of incubation, rising up in time with the development of ideas, with each block forming the pedestal.” This project hints at a return to the ideologies of captivity that were present in Exodus, albeit on a global platform. Koolhaas has used this construct, with its ideas of the grid, the city-within-a-city, using the PCM, to enrich his analysis. He is building his own tools, which are then being used to construct his own manifesto, fabricating evidence.

The Grid, and The Downtown Athletic Club

Koolhaas focuses on The Downtown Athletic Club in the chapter “Definitive Instability”, where the Skyscraper is used as a Constructivist Social Condenser: a machine to generate and intensify desirable forms of human intercourse.” It consists of space for sporting activities on the lower floors, such as squash courts, swimming pools, a gym, even a golf course, and upon ascending there are floors for lounges, roof gardens, dining halls and bedrooms. From reading this chapter, the reader is led to believe this particular Skyscraper is some sort of paradise for bachelors, as Koolhaas writes: “The Downtown Athletic Club is a machine for metropolitan bachelors whose ultimate ‘peak’ condition has lifted them beyond the reach of fertile brides”

Koolhaas narrates stories and scenarios throughout Delirious, and one of the most recognised is the image of the bachelors taking a break between a bout of boxing, relaxed and naked, eating oysters (fig. 15).  Again, Saunders is more than a little sceptical at Koolhaas’s suggestions of the scale and fantasy of the mixed-use skyscrapers, particularly the Downtown Athletic Club:“There is little reason to believe that Manhattan skyscrapers ever were significantly mixed-use, that office pods for the humanly dead transactions of the great grey corporate world were not… these buildings’ overwhelming activities. Rockefeller Centre a richer environment? Certainly. The Downtown Athletic Club, with its fluid building sections and mixed programs, scene of “eating oysters with boxing gloves, naked, on the nth floor” a setting for maximum creative living? Certainly not, unless your idea of such living is a rich man’s hedonism.”

"eating oysters with boxing gloves, naked, on the nth floor...", illustration by Madelon Vriesendorp.

“eating oysters with boxing gloves, naked, on the nth floor…”, illustration by Madelon Vriesendorp.

Koolhaas and Vriesendorp

Koolhaas explains the Paranoic and the Critical roles in the PCM in Delirious, suggesting it “is a sequence of two consecutive but discrete operations.” In an interview towards the end of The World of Madelon Vriesendorp, Shumon Basar muses to Rem Koolhaas: “Delirious New York seems to have been written with the help of Salvador Dali’s paranoid-critical method (PCM). Proofs are important for his method, even if they are wrong or fake. I’ve sometimes thought that in Delirious New York the proofs are missing, and this is where Madelon’s paintings come into play. You described the critical part of PCM as being to fabricate artificial proofs for an idea. In your collaboration, Maddie seems to be the critical part, and you the paranoiac one.”

[To which Koolhaas replies:] “You’re right. Her ability was totally crucial.”

Here we see that Basar has identified the two roles here needed for the PCM to be successful, with Koolhaas as the paranoiac, with his irrational, poetic, fantastical analysis of Manhattan, and Vriesendorp as the ‘critique’, developing these stories, compressing them and fabricating these paintings which give life to Koolhaas’s ideas, allowing the manifesto to be credible and compelling.
Koolhaas and OMA: Post Delirious New York

Looking at the projects Koolhaas and OMA have designed post Delirious, several seem to have been inspired by Manhattan buildings featured within the book (such as the Downtown Athletic Club and the Rockefeller Centre), in that they rarely have one pure function.  For example, the Educatorium in Utrecht (Fig. 23), built in 1995-97. As the name suggests, rather than just a University campus or a series of lecture theatres, there are a range of programmes, including auditoriums, lecture halls, cafeterias and more. The curving, bending floor planes are design to give a single trajectory throughout the building, and these curves allow for moments of playful ‘delirium’.


“Koolhaas has written this hugely influential, engaging book on Manhattan, and deservedly received critical acclaim and praise for it. It thrust him into the spoliglight of architectural critics across the globe. However Delirious should not be remember soley as a Rem Koolhaas work. Vriesendorp, with her Manhattan paintings, anthropomorphised skyscrapers and fictional drawings, gave much more power to Koolhaas’s writing, more so than ever could have been achieved by Koolhaas alone. And alongside Vriesendorp, Elia and Zoe Zenghelis played a huge part in the collaborations leading up to Delirious’s genesis. Exodus, and projects such as The City of the Captive Globe and The Story of the Pool from Delirious’s Fictional Conclusion / Introduction were the building blocks that enabled Koolhaas to construct his argument, his views and his architectural position.”

Madelon Vriesendorp, Flagrant Délit (1975)

Madelon Vriesendorp, Flagrant Délit (1975)

Link to the full essay: The Fabrication of Evidence in Rem Koolhaas’s Delirious New York