Thesis from the past
For architects, their profession entails a lifetime of learning, pursuing evolving or changing skills and concerns. Each commission brings new matters to be researched and mastered. Students may look forward to their thesis and dissertation as marking the terminal climax to their studies. But once architects, they may look back on them as mere punctuation points or launchpads on a path of further learning. They are also reminders of the changing concerns of architecture and architectural education, giving useful perspective on their past and continuing development.
Considering the longevity of buildings, approaches to architectural design vary with surprising volatility. So, as with architecture generally, it is usually easy to guess the decade of student theses. Their changing approaches reflect and give insight into changes in society and technology, or in architectural fashions of form and theory. So, the theses and dissertations of architects of current renown give valuable perspective on their early interests and inspirations and reveal how, and how much, these may have changed and matured.
They also give insights into the precedents from which our present emerged, raising questions as to how pertinent our current concerns may prove? Will the quest for sustainability, for instance, lead to the pursuit of longer-term values and greater completeness and stability in design concerns so they date on a slower cycle?
Dubbed the ‘Cimatron’, Farrell’s final year thesis (from 1961) at the University of Newcastle looked to enhance the beachfront experience at Blackpool, by providing a large dome structure found at the end of a pier stretching out from nearby the Blackpool Tower.
In his thesis, Farrell described how the Blackpool Tower, was, at the time of its erection, a triumph of engineering, but that something more modern was now demanded. He even argued that the use of the Blackpool Tower as publicity symbol for the town itself was ‘misleading and outdated in its appeal’. Furthermore, the base of the tower was becoming overcrowded, the site being too cramped to contain a zoo, aquarium, gardens, ballrooms and general-purpose event spaces.
The proposed solution, a domed Climatron, freed up space around the tower by incorporating hotels, swimming facilities, a yacht harbour, aquarium, shopping arcades, a surf centre, ice and roller-skating rinks, angling facilities — all offshore. In the middle of the domed complex would be a large volume capable of being used as a ballroom, banqueting, conference, or exhibition hall. Suspended terraces encircle this space with views over the sea and back onto Blackpool and its tower — now an enhanced view given its more visible base. Indeed, Blackpool’s famous illuminations could be more of a spectacle from such a viewpoint, while the Climatron itself would be open to ‘great illuminations possibilities’.
Farrell, like other architects of his generation, took inspiration from Buckminster Fuller, with the Climatron embodying many of his ideas regarding artificial climates, the project essentially being a ‘building within a building where weather has been eliminated as a problem limiting architectural design’.
‘The idea is for enclosed entertainment where one entrance ticket is bought, this then gives free access to all other parts of the entertainment world already existing in the present tower building.’ Farrell likened this to the Tivoli gardens in Denmark and the Skansen open-air museum and zoo in Sweden.
The Cimatron would be built using only six points for foundations in the sand, with steel and glass being the primary materials. ‘The structure should be in steel as a statement of advanced structural forms, comparing and contrasting the use of the same material in the Blackpool Tower. Just as that was a tour de force in metal and steelwork, it was intended that this should also be the product of a more advanced technology, suggesting the advances this town has made in the world of entertainment, so the badge of the city should no longer be a building typical of a past era’.
Sir Terry Farrell’s archive has been generously donated to Newcastle University Library and is currently being catalogued. Once catalogued it will be made fully available to the public.