A Measured Approach
The supply of goods to large numbers of consumers results in large, standardised buildings. The typically introverted designs of these buildings reject context and difference in favour of efficiency and standardisation. Secondly, the prioritisation of vehicles over pedestrians often results in second rate public space. Big box retail (BBR) is the epitome of an architecture driven by efficiency, often resulting in a disconnect between architecture and place. This disconnect is amplified in ‘environments of natural beauty’ where the deployed typology results in an inert architecture that withdraws from, rather than engages with, its surrounding environment. What strategies can be utilised in the development of a site-specific BBR, which engages architecture and place avoiding isolation on the town’s periphery? And, how can this car-centric architecture be modified to contribute to the public realm, enhancing rather than detracting from the surrounding context? This inquiry is tested through design-led research: firstly the thesis explores the development of a design proposal for Wanaka (idyllically sited on the southern shore of Lake Wanaka with the Southern Alps forming the horizon). A critical reflection on this site-specific design enables a broader discursive discussion about architectural figure. The first chapter presents a design for central Wanaka. The iterative design process, producing and then critiquing form models (physical and computer), enables the project to comment on the BBR typology. The second chapter discusses the project through the lens of architectural figure, situating the project within the discipline and enabling a broader discussion of the qualities of the project. The third chapter discusses the idea of ‘tightness’. The idea of ‘tightness’ emerges from the design/critical-reflection, enabling a discussion of ‘tight’ vs. ‘loose’ architecture and positioning the design within the discipline. The notion of a tight relationship between form and programme, discussed through a critical reflection on the final design, enables a further discussion and conclusion. This discussion develops from Leon Battista Alberti’s idea of Beauty. Emerging from the design discussion, Ron Witte’s notion of ‘good figure’ and Patrik Schumacher’s concept of ‘Elegance’ enable a development of these ideas. The outcome is an architectural ‘tightness’. ‘Tightness’ offers one potential way that architecture can contribute in the creation of urban spaces through an engagement with the surrounding environment.