Shix Wang is working at Chetwoods on a six-month placement as a Part I Architecture Assistant. As a practice, we are extremely excited for her that she has just won a Women in Property Student Award for the South West region as the highest performing female student in a built environment course at Bath University, and will be going on to compete in the national awards in September.
Shix was judged based on her current achievements, performance in an interview and a first-year coursework project ‘Commune Project:Healing Ground’ which explored her interest in healing architecture, placemaking and shaping of public spaces:
“I wanted to create a space that could help people heal from past experiences or the stresses of daily life, as healing is something which I value a lot in my own life. I was fascinated by the metaphor of how dispirited humans could be revitalised the same way that wilted flowers could be revived and made to bloom again.”
– Shix Wang
We caught up with Shix to find out a bit more about her inspirations and her coursework project.
Why did you choose to study architecture?
I chose architecture primarily because of the considerable human impact that it has. Buildings not only serve the physical needs of people, they also have the power to influence their mental and emotional states. Simply imagine yourself working in a brightly-lit, sunny office, versus working in an artificially-lit basement. We all know that for the latter, it would take more than just a few cups of coffee to get us through the day. As an architect, I would get to design spaces that people inhabit in their day-to-day lives. Knowing that every project I work on is an opportunity for me to enhance someone’s wellbeing gives me a sense of fulfilment.
I also enjoy problem solving (a result of studying Maths and Sciences at A Level) and creating in general, which further reinforced my desire to study architecture.
What have you been working on at Chetwoods and what have you learnt?
I have mainly been working on residential projects, but I’ve also been involved in some civic, commercial and logistics projects.
Working on live projects has made me discover the reality of how projects are handled in practice. There are numerous restrictions to design, including but not limited to: cost, client requirements, planning regulations and differing opinions and interests even within the design team.
This understanding makes me more grateful for the autonomy and freedom that I have over my work at university. In the technical sense, I have gained skills and knowledge that I would not have got from university. For instance, I now have a stronger concept of how technical drawings and feasibility studies are created.
Collaborating with other designers at Chetwoods has exposed me to the varying perspectives that different designers have, each one never less valid than another and often containing salient factors for consideration.
The welcoming atmosphere at Chetwoods also makes it easy to ask people for help whenever I am stuck with a problem. Moving forward in my approach, I hope to inculcate the habit of always looking at a problem from different standpoints in order to reach the best solution. When in doubt, I would also ask for a second opinion from another designer.
What inspired you to pick the subject for your ‘Commune Project: Healing Ground’ coursework project?
For this project, the task was to design a courtyard-type communal housing building within a rectangular brick enclosure in Northumberland. The purpose of it was for residents to escape from their daily lives or particular life traumas, through the pursuit of a group activity which we had to choose for ourselves.
I was inspired by the metaphor of how dispirited humans could be revitalised the same way that wilted flowers could be made to bloom again, so I wanted to create a space that could help people heal through horticultural therapy in the form of gardening.
What inspired the design and how did you arrive at the final concept?
The design was inspired by the book ‘A Pattern Language’ by Christopher Alexander. I took lessons from how he engineered the courtyard organisation and entrance transition sequence. He also inspired me to use thick walls to give the building more personality, and place light in areas which I wanted residents to move towards. Additionally, I looked at ‘Turn End’ by Peter Aldington, which used elements like built-in shelves and alcove seating to create a warm and cosy atmosphere. The structure of my greenhouse was also inspired by Victorian greenhouses.
All these elements resulted in my final building having a monolithic exterior with openings that look like they were carved out, so as to instil a feeling of being protected when one occupies it.
What were they key challenges you faced when developing the design?
As this project marked the first time that I had designed a dwelling, it was difficult trying to create an efficient and comfortable plan layout. For example, my initial design stage involved a lot of model-making that focused a lot on organising the spaces based on views.
However, I soon realised that I had neglected hierarchy of space and circulation. Ensuring that all elements were in balance took numerous trials and iterations.
What are the key architectural elements of the space that contribute towards healing architecture?
The three main elements are taking advantage of the views, supporting the main group activity of gardening and ensuring a cosy interior.
I used views to distinguish between private and communal spaces. The bedrooms face the most isolating view of the sea. The greenhouse and garden have a view to the existing fort on the island, as it is the most social view in the sense that it is a symbol of civilisation. Lastly, the living room and greenhouse both have a view into the garden. These views allow for moments of meditation or pause in the residents’ daily lives.
The amenities that are required for gardening are organised in a structured manner. The greenhouse, outdoor mud room, veranda and garden are all connected in a coherent fashion. This allows residents to reap the full healing benefits of horticultural therapy.
Lastly, the interior of the building is an extremely cosy and pleasant space to be in. For example, as someone enters the building, they are greeted by a small tree which hints at the microclimate within the building. The living room fireplace is also raised and extruded to allow one to be physically closer to the fire. Elements such as built-in shelves, alcove seating and tactile materials (exposed brick and timber) add to the warm atmosphere of the space.
[images copyright Shix Wang. Garden landscaping photographs sourced via Google]
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