The Diggers Festival of Peace

 The Diggers Festival of Peace

Adrian Yankee Siu @ The Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL [MArch Architecture (Unit 13, Distinction)]


Formerly inhabited in Runnymede, an eco-activist community called “The Diggers” crafted an o -grid woodland village to provoke a land reform. By highlighting this disused land in London, they advocated an ecologically sustainable living model with cultivation and dwellings built with local materials, establishing a sense of cult around mother nature. In 2015, these squatters were eventually evicted from their self-constructed homeland, after a lawsuit over the land ownership against property developers.


A new speculative settlement is proposed to relocate these eco-activists in London, where they collectively realise this alternative Arcadia. This provides an opportunity to imagine the utopian visions that squatting communities attempted to create over the years.

The experimental masterplan in Ben eet extends the legacies of the Diggers and establishes a living ecosystem governed by the changes in nature, such as sun movements and seasonal transitions, which echoes with the ecologically sustainable lifestyle of the activists. Through this annual pilgrimage of nature, “Festival of Peace” is hosted to celebrate their reform, as well as to promote social autonomy and equality to the outsiders and newcomers…



What prompted the project?

Derived from the research thesis, the project explored the squatting phenomenon in London and how subsequent communities highlighted abandoned spaces within the public realm. These individuals often establish their own visions of living away from the conventional society, constructing self-built dwellings, ecosystems and social model within nature. Participants also held annual pilgrimage to the environment, where such formation of an off-grid settlement is often regarded as a cult. The speculative design manifesto opts to relocate the evicted communities and serves as a reference for them to build an independent Arcadia.

What is your take on the current relationship between architecture and nature in cities as London? To what extent are we designing with the environment in mind?

While the phenomenon of urbanisation sees people migrating from rural to urban areas, our urban planning should work backwards to further integrate with nature. Parks and greeneries undoubtedly provide a scattered presence of nature within cities. Nonetheless, such co-existence should be manifested across various scales, where we are capable to intelligently make use of natural materials with advanced construction methods. In contemporary context, environmental standards should no longer be merits, but mandatory and fundamental. With such initiation in our built environment, I believe the eventual goal is to assimilate urban into rural, cities into nature.


How pivotal was the mapping of the calendar as a means to understand the environment  for the design? How predictable are the softwares used?

By mapping local environmental changes throughout the year, the design is formulated by  integrating factors such as temperature, rainfall and precedent floods. For example, flooding season with high rainfall is avoided to dedicate the marshland as a temporary festival ground. This dictates certain construction methods to be applied, namely the foundations of permanent dwellings and festival structures. The prediction is deduced by the average trend of past statistics, and corresponds to specific seasons.


How does this kind of data sit in relation to analogue tools as the sun instrument? 

Architectural programs were configured according to the movement of the sun, governing the time of local activities. The sun instrument was therefore developed to study the relative proximities among programs within the masterplan, in relation to variable positions of casted shadows. Alternatively, the device could also be used to seek for orientation on site.

What defined the language of representation of the project? 

The surreal colour palette keeps the project at a speculative level, without compromising the intention of having an open-ended model for squatting communities. The architectural tectonics were based on the ease of acquiring local materials such as sycamore timber, where construction could be applicable to previous precedents of self-built dwellings by the squatters.


What role do people play within these?

As a blueprint for squatters to establish self-sustainable settlements, both productivity and inhabitation are mutually considered in the design. The off-grid Arcadia is comprised of numerous infrastructural systems such as water network, sound transmission and permaculture workshops. This suggests the essential components sustaining the inhabitation, which include construction, cultivation and extraction of resources.

When framing the views, what were the most important aspects you wanted to convey?

The views are general moments within the film, spaces of the designated routine. Again, the extraction of these visual perceptions depicts the architectural responses to various seasons of the year.

What dictated the use of the drawing as primary means through which you articulate the project?

Combined with the written design manifesto in the thesis, the drawings served as a ‘handbook’ to provide architectural guidelines for squatters to build their own settlement.


Did you ever think of challenging different mediums as that of animation?

The film was portrayed as a welcoming tour for new comers of the settlement, narrating daily routines and changes. It was also used as a tool in the design process to explore the spatial transitions over specific times and seasons. Ultimately, the drawings are a primitive set of guidelines, where physical modelling provides supporting experimentation and the film manifests such imagination.

What software and tools did you use when developing the project? 

I primarily used Rhino for drafting and articulating tectonics. Simultaneously, Unreal Engine also contributed as a spatial exploration tool in the design process, where iterations of the film were rendered by its cinematic components. Physical modelling also played a vital role in the refinement of architectural details, testing the ease of construction at a manageable scale.


What would you say is the architects most important tool?

Architects possess unique skillsets to transform ideas into tangible entities, which ultimately shape the environment we live in. With emerging technologies aiding us in the process of design and fabrication, it is delusional that concepts could be realised effortlessly. Yet, these technologies of our own often introduce more constraints and lower efficiencies. I recognise the importance of constantly criticising the fundamental necessity of design and effective architecture, especially facing the looming autonomous age. After all, the output of our creations should not be compromised by specific tools, but by questioning the effectiveness of accessible resources.



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