The Elephant Cage

Over 23th - 25th November 2016, the Portsmouth Elephant Cage brought together seventeen competitively selected young Dutch and British experts in Architecture, Landscape and Engineering to work jointly on a design research collaboration with Masters students from Portsmouth School of Architecture MUD Studio 5. In three teams, over three days, they prepared three designs in answer to a comprehensive briefing, for the Portsmouth Southsea frontage, that responded to climate change induced rises in sea levels and the coastal defences being proposed there; exploring propositions for local and global application. The teams were supported by seven expert design mentors from across the three faculties.

A broad selection of relevant papers were contributed by the internationally eminent mentors: Nick Clarke (Director Ramboll, Engineers); Martin Knuijt (Director OKRA, Landscape Architects); Matthijs Bouw (Director One Architecture); Sophie Thompson (Director LDA, Landscape Architects), Julia Barfield (Director Marks Barfield Architects); together with papers from Walter Menteth (Project Compass CIC & Portsmouth School of Architecture),Indira van t'Klooster (Architectuur Lokaal) and Zane Gunton (Eastern Solent Coastal Partnership). Frank de Graaf and Alexander Lee (Royal Haskoning DHV, Engineers) provided additional mentoring.

Photo: Merlin Fulcher

The Portsmouth Elephant Cage concluded with a public presentation and discussion of three schemes that were developed over the programme. This along with a display showing the impacts of the current proposals was hosted in The Portsmouth School of Architecture, at which the public and a number of key stakeholders were present. Many opportunities for enhancing the strategy and vision for Portsmouth's frontage were highlighted by a breadth of new, stimulating and innovative design ideas from the three teams. The teams ideas were entitled 'Awake, Asleep and Dreaming', 'Dancing Islands' and 'The New Common'.

From the discussions that ensued it is anticipated that opportunity will be taken to explore these ideas further. It is also hoped that the Portsmouth Southsea Coastal Defence Scheme being led by the Eastern Solent Coastal Partnership (ESCP) might be enhanced, informed and implemented, mindfully of the design opportunities that have become apparent. So that a vision can be delivered which further improves value.

The design scope and programme enhanced knowledge transfer, developed cross professional expertise and collaborative working practices. It also developed expertise and solutions having wider application for improving city resilience and sustainability globally.

Photo: Merlin Fulcher

The Portsmouth Elephant Cage design research, along with video recordings will be edited into a documentary record for release in due course and to be accompanied by an exhibition that is being scheduled to travel around Portsmouth.

A return session for all participants is planned in the Netherlands in March 2017. The Portsmouth Elephant Cage was funded by Stimulerings Fonds Creative Industrie and Project Compass. It was organised by Project Compass (Director Walter Menteth) in collaboration with Architectuur Lokaal (Cilly Jansen and Indira van 't Klooster) and hosted by The Portsmouth School of Architecture (Francis Graves).

An Elephant Cage is a type of design charrette developed by Architectuur Lokaal It encourages alternative collaborative analysis and solutions of key emergent and strategic issues requiring spatial design resolutions. It is a flexible format for collaborative practice, with a competitive selection stage, which puts 'big beasts together with mentors'; and was inspired by a Geert Bekaert review in 1965 of Architects Casson Conder and Partners' Elephant House, Regent's Park Zoo, London. Elephant Cages have previously been held in the Netherlands, Germany, Spain and Turkey.

Project CompassArchitectuur LokaalUniversity of Portsmouth School of Architecture