Designing Architecture as a Performing-Ground (2014)
  • Naomi Gibson | Copenhagen

  • Naomi-Gibson-lateral-reading-performance Turning the debate Lateral performance Thrust Lateral reading front covers Reading combination
  • Designing Architecture as a Performing-Ground (2014)
  • Naomi Gibson | Copenhagen
  • I am engrossed. I can hear everything and see everything. I take the performance in, fully formed. I am aware that there are others around me, watching too, seeing what I see. But my relationship is only with the stage, and what it wants to tell me.

    This work takes the form of an experiment, exploring and testing the role of metaphor as a design research method – specifically as a tool for rethinking and resolving site-specific design problems. For the ‘Performing-Ground’, ethical conflicts surrounding its design arise from the programme: a microcosmic public space for recognising and enacting the diverse identities of residents in Nørrebro, Copenhagen. Within the programme, ‘performance’ is a way of transforming and negotiating social tensions. This document asks how the metaphor of ‘Performing-Ground’ can be used to overcome theoretical tensions in design.

    The experiment ‘designing architecture as a Performing-Ground’ derives its method from Jane Rendell’s concept of site-writing. The writing of architectonic text constructs the Performing-Ground, its interpretative use and resolution the performance of ‘site-reading’. The writing is based on the social and spatial structure of theatrical performance: issues of ethics and programme are reinterpreted as a play, perceived through the lens of stage typology. Two voices are used, one declarative, stating and one experiential, perceiving. Through using the Performing-Ground, the architect/reader can determine a sensitive and appropriate design approach. This encompasses considering how architecture communicates ideas of memory and social identity; how architecture can be inclusive, rather than alienating; how the Performing-Ground will exist permanently, transiently and perceptively – what will exist in the external world, and what will exist in the beholder’s cognitive world.

    Through undertaking this experiment, this work will consider how metaphor can open up new ways of thinking, establishing its further potential as a design research method.


    As an architect, and now MPhil/PhD candidate in architectural design at the Bartlett School of Architecture, my work is concerned with the use of speech as a social and creative design tool within the practice of architecture and process of designing buildings. I am interested in the poetics and multiple meanings of words as ideas for buildings are described, the gestures and performance complementing this speech within the social exchange of design conversations, and how these descriptions and interactions change over the course of a project. My PhD is supervised by Prof. Sophia Psarra and Prof. Jane Rendell. 

    The work ‘Designing Architecture as a Performing-Ground’ was completed as the thesis for Architecture Masters (MArch) at the Bartlett School of Architecture in spring 2014, and was supervised by Jane Rendell. Now as a PhD student, I am undertaking the Critical Spatial Practice: Site-Writing module – an opportunity I did not have as an MArch student – deepening my knowledge of the theory and techniques I was introduced to several years ago.

    Between 2014-2018, I worked as an architect for Walters & Cohen Architects, a London-based practice specialising in education sector projects, where I was project architect for schools in London and the South East, developing masterplans, building proposals and working with school management, teachers and students to understand their needs and aspirations for their new facilities. 

    Since September 2018 I have taught first year design studio as part of the architecture BA course at Oxford Brookes University.


    Designing Architecture as a Performing-Ground was influenced both by the notion of writing as an object within site-writing, and the relationship between this textual object and the reader/writer generating new ways of knowing. Within the work, the text manifests as a set of complementary and contrasting ‘voices’. The design of the page itself permits for spatial relationships within the text to be visualised and experienced by the reader. 

    The practice of site-writing is also expanded within the work. Combined with the structure of aleatory performance, site-writing is used to act as a generative design tool for architects to reflect upon and overcome ethical design quandaries. 

    Performance, Design method, Metaphor, Architect, Aleatory


    Book: Italo Calvino, The Castle of Crossed Destinies, (London: Vintage, 1998)

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