ADS11: Already There

Yining Gao

Before taking her MA Architecture at the Royal College of Art, Yining graduated from the University of Nottingham, Ningbo, China with the exchange experience to UK. After completing the bachelor’s degree, she has been working on a wide range of architectural projects including residential units, landscape design, interior design, renovations and mix-use complex. She developed her interests especially on small-scale innovative projects and residential renovation from her working experience. 

Other than that, she has a strong passion on traditional cultures and heritage protection. She’s always trying to find a place for the ‘old’ elements in the new eras. The two major projects she developed at RCA try the different ways of approaching the British culture: one is about building within the historical context and finding the balance and distance between old and new; the other one explores the new life stages for heritage buildings under risk of being eliminated. In the future, Yining will try to enhance her abilities obtained at RCA to explore more possibilities in architecture and other fields.



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Degree Details

School of Architecture

Lasting Glow: Architecture as a Living Organism

Due to rapid development and globalization, many countries are facing urban decay and city shrinkage. The new distribution of economic structures has led to agglomerations of activities in some regions, whereas others are experiencing decline. This phenomenon has lead to population migration, which in turn causesabandoned or unoccupied land and buildings. As a solution, governments propose regeneration. However, demolition and rebuild has become the main and almost sole option that developers and contractors are willing to undertake since it is much easier to achieve benefits and realize value in a short time. Old buildings are considered outdated and a hinderanceto the development.

Eliel Saarinen conveys in his book ‘The City: Its Growth, Its Decay, Its Future’ that the city should grow like an organic living body and that the meaningless demolition of buildings is only an escape from mistakes and reality. Buildings can be described as the cells of the city and the existence of buildings will be the real expression of the era and the spirit of its people’s life. While the timeline is constantly moving forward, architecture will need to be properly refurbished according to changes as a carrier of inheritance rather thanresorting tosenseless demolition. The Aylesbury Estate, which has been described as notorious due to various problems, is a case in point, and currently undergoing demolition. This project approaches the Aylesbury Estate in a more gentle and sensitive way, by building up a profile for the estate and trying to understand the architecture in a more humane way. 

With the concept of ‘Architecture as Living Organism’, the project tends to put architecture in a proactive rolerather than a passive one. Different spaces are regarded as different organs and the architecture is regarded as a creature that can ‘grow’.

On the site of the Taplow Building, the designproject proposeda methodology for architectureto living alongside time,which can be applied acrossthe whole estate. The project delivers the design from inner to outer. This butterfly-effect design strategy is exactly the opposite of the traditional planned regeneration method. Started from theredesign of thesmallspace in a tiny hometo meet the different groups of residents’ needs, the changes also subtly affects the space and appearance of the entire block which finalized up with a complete rebirth of the life on site. The scheme allows the estate to continue to live,to be adopted into a new era with‘a lasting glow’.

Public Comments on Aylesbury

Aylesbury Estate Archives

Public Service Masterplan — The masterplan is developed based on the documents from Southwark Local History Library. It can be seen that there used to be several clusters of public services primarily designed for the residents but most of them have disappeared due to the shortage of funds or lack of maintenance and users.

Aylesbury Estate is a large housing estate located in Walworth, South East London. The scheme intended to accommodate London’s poorest families as part of a comprehensive ‘slum clearance’ policy by the Borough of Southwark. However, due to various problems after putting into use since 1977, the estate has been criticized by the social media and the residents and negative news continually appeared on newspapers complaining about the that.

This project tends to develop a design strategy for the estate start from its original vision – providing homes for people (redesign the housing units), together with an attempt to deal with the social problems on estate (which turns out as the public space reconfiguration).

The site research is tried to be delivered in a very gentle and sensitive way by building up a profile for the Aylesbury Estate. To respect the residents and estate itself, I tried to make a profile for the estate and regard it as a human being.

There are three sectors of the profile:

1. News Archive & Documents: Newsletter archive consists of the social review and comments about the area from newspaper, magazines, journals and online sources since the Aylesbury Estate was built till now. These clippings can form a time line which indicates how people looking at the estate and can show the problems in a most honest way. But these information are not completely believable since the public opinion are always changing. Documents are referring to the booklets, maps, guidelines from the council as well as from the local organization. These documents are more about introducing the design/concept, scheme and estate’s condition in different time periods.

2. Residents Survey: Interviews are necessary due to the chosen topic and with the purpose of understanding the history of residents’ life, their needs and demands, their view towards the situation/problems and their understanding to the development and future possibilities. Questionnaire is a direct way of starting the communication which can pave the way for the further interview.

3. Photo archive: the archive is established through site visits, photos are divided into four categories:

- Profile Collection: capture the beauty of the estate like making portray of human beings, the overall personality can be somehow understood through this collection;

- Materiality Collection: materiality will be recorded in this category no matter it’s the estate’s original ones or newly added ones;

- Intervention Collection: record some small but interesting issues happening in the estate which might not be seen a second time but can provide with some little inspirations for future design;

- Issue Collection: contain the problems found that need to be solved and fixed.


Mixed Media
Resident Experience
Social Media

Units Before & After — There are the section diagrams before and after of a typical existing unit which vertically consists of 3 flats (in different color). Before renovation, the limited interior space of the flats are divided into small rooms and the floor-to-ceiling height is quite low. To enhance the living room space which is the main gathering space for a family, a space transfer is made by moving away one flat in the middle to provide much more breathable living space and more reasonable maintenance room for the flats below and above.

The first step of the design starts on the low blocks. As proposed by the council, the scheme would like to remain about 50% of affordable housing for the existing residents. But instead of other usual regeneration modes, a strategy of ‘pepper-potting’ is chosen which will mix the refurbished affordable housing with the newly designed flats. In this way, the profit made by the new units can somehow support the refurbishment of the old units around it.

Which is very interesting is that the units refurbishment also changes the exterior façade of the block, the back side of the block looks like only have 3-level while the front remains 4. This is somehow like a butterfly effect – the exterior changes alongside with the units which allows the facades to be much more diversed.


Digital Drawings

Design Overview — Three clusters of public space designed on lower levels at Taplow Block; Public Service Bubbles (Roofed Gardens, Service Center, Common Room) in residential levels; Roof garden on top of Taplow Block; Redesigned low block units; Lifted ground level at the corner of first row of low blocks.

Public Cluster 1 - Mix Age Caring Center — For mix-age caring center, the existing nursery was kept but the roof is opened and connected to the 1st level space. Staff rooms are designed, the shop units are turned into large elderly activity room in which they could have daily meetings or activities like readings and entertainment. The activity can be extended to the accessing deck when in necessary. The ground floor is designed to be covered with a large pitch wooden roof which will create a totally different atmosphere to meet the different needs of the space. This multifunctional room can be daily used as teenager’s space but can also be turned into movie or workshop space to welcome to neighbors. The mix- age activity space is located at the center and is connected to the other rooms by doors or stairs. All the spaces will be run by the staff in the center.

Public Cluster 2 - Taplow Art Center — In the art center, the existing art studio at the front are remained but new flats are designed above for the artists for their daily life. They can welcome their guest from the deck. At the back of the studio, there’s a shared co-working space behind the private studios, in which artistes can share some facilities. Co-working space can also be seen as the second floor of the ground floor gallery space since they are connected directly by a staircase. Large open passage around the gallery are left for people to passing through the building.

Public Cluster 3 - Student Co-housing — The student co-housing flats is more like a test to design for creating a closed garden-like living community together with the two low blocks around. In this cluster, residents’ living space all start from the ground floor which aims to enrich the diversity of community life. The ramp is remained as a key element of the estate but will be later turned into landscape use.

Taplow Units Book — Heritage Type – the refurbishment on existing flats, the focus is mainly on moving away unnecessary walls and maintenance. Neo Type – newly designed for sale to the new residents. The living rooms space are all double-height and floor to ceiling windows are designed. Student Type – including studios, co-housing type which they will share the living rooms, and co-working type in which students has their own living space while sharing a common working space.

Taplow Block Section — Taplow Block long section with all flats typologies and public spaces.

Perspectives — View at the front of Taplow block / the perspective of refurbished living room / the perspective of the passage between north church and nursery

The design strategies developed are applied to the 14-level Taplow Block which will be in a much more complicated context. The regeneration consists of two parts: redesign of the units and the reconfiguration of the public space.

In this huge residential block, the lower floors used to be filled with lots of public spaces but later is massed up due to improper use. Some of the shop units turned in to art studios. At the corner there’s an extra 3-level clinic attached to the block.

Similar like Northchurch, the residential part of the block comes from the constant repetition of a typical. This two-level unit repeated horizontally and vertically and formed the L4-13 residential levels. The units redesign here is based on ‘residential plot’ which is a typical unit. Different typologies are mixed together to achieve the goal of mixing the existing residents and new residents. Newly designed ‘public bubbles’ are inserted into the residential area to provide more convenient services for the clients.

Three big clusters of public space are designed: Mix-age Caring Center, Taplow Art Center and Students Co-housing Cluster. These spaces are aiming at rebrand the neighborhood while keeping the existing nursery and art studios and make full use of the abandoned rooms. This scheme also tries to invite the visitors into the estate by providing regular events and workshops.


Digital Drawings
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