ADS0: Babel; architecture and landscapes in the face of catastrophe

Mathilda Lewis

Prior to beginning her Ba Mathilda completed an art foundation course at Kingston University specialising in fine art. Mathilda graduated from the University of Sheffield with a Ba in Architecture in 2017. Since graduating she has worked as a part one architectural assistant for dMFK Architects in London and worked on a range of housing, office and interior fit out projects. In 2018 she worked as the production designer for the development and shooting of short film Cherry Bomb alongside friends who specialise in different disciplines. During her first year at the Royal College of Art Mathilda was a part of ADS6 (Tutors: Guan Lee, Clara Craft & Satoshi Isono) where she developed a 1:1 material prototype funded by British Land that explored the use of biodegradable plastics as an alternative to the polythene sheets used on construction sites. This year in ADS0 (Tutors: Steve Salembier & Maria Paez Gonzalez) Mathilda has continued to work at a 1:1 scale through the development of wearable designs in a range of materials whilst also exploring the use of film through digital modelling and object documentation.  


Degree Details

School of Architecture

My thesis project this year was initiated by an investigative research piece carried out in 2019 that looked into how the squatting communities in Vauxhall have shaped the contemporary landscape. The lack of documentation on the occupation led me to carry out first hand research and to make contact with four of the squatters that inhabited the sites of Vauxhall City Farm and Bonnington Square. Interviews with the squatters were enlightening and they all reflected on the idea that this kind of constructive intervention would not be possible nowadays due to increased legislation. My thesis project this year conceives an intervention that takes precedent from the squatting communities of the late 20th century as a form of re-enactment. Establishing an alternative narrative to the developer driven environment that is instead centred on activism and civilian agency.  





This thesis project intends to translate the methods of activist movements to conceive architecture that counters the engulfing developer-driven projects the city and particularly Vauxhall is subject to today. I consider catastrophe as an overturn, in recognition of its etymology, and examine the language of civil uprising to inform my design. Throughout British history anti-capitalist movements have developed diachronically, with the land at the centre as both site and object of contestation. The physical appropriation of space, disruption of daily rhythms, and creative intervention within conventional architecture characterise protest movements.

Public spaces, hidden corners and abandoned plots become sites for activism and rebellion. Composed of a network of individuals that form a collective catalyst. The maintenance of their condition dependent on the transitory nature of inhabitation. Endurance of these temporary movements, beyond the ephemeral gathering of bodies, takes its form in collective memory, the development of ideas, and the objects utilised and performed as tools of resistance.

I focus my intervention in the London district of Vauxhall. A context that has historically been shaped by autonomous movements and transient inhabitation, but recently has become characterised by an acceleration of financially motivated high rise development. The Vauxhall Pleasure gardens of the 18th and 19th centuries in Vauxhall represented an idyllic temporary escape from urban life, continued in essence through the contemporary clubbing scene that now inhabits the railway arches. The squatting communities of the 1970s-1990s have shaped swathes of the district and instigated the curation of invaluable communal amenities and networks that endure to this day. The developments that are currently underway represent the antithesis to the intentions of the squatters in the late 20th century; which centred on community engagement and demonstrated that people have agency over the curation of their environment.

I contemplate an alternative narrative for the future of Vauxhall that counters the new developments and reinstates a sense of autonomy within an increasingly controlled environment. I develop a proposal that intervenes in the inevitable process of erasure to conceive a form of constructive occupation that enacts civilian agency whilst salvaging existing materials. The interventions establish an architecture without authorship that uses collective action and activism to appropriate space.
Critical Practice
Permanent And Impermanent
Politicised Practice
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