This month sees the launch of Flood House, an architectural design project that will be located at a number of sites around the Thames Estuary, including the pier at Southend-on-Sea. Conceived by designer Matthew Butcher, Flood House is a prototype structure that is both a practical and poetic investigation into the living conditions of a seasonally flooded landscape. Over a period of four weeks, the structure, which is a projected dwelling for a floating habitat, as well as as a laboratory for monitoring local environmental conditions, will be moored at various sites around the estuary, an area that is increasingly vulnerable to the risk of flooding. Butcher drew on many different structures around the estuary for inspiration for his design, including fishing sheds and boats, World War II pillboxes and bunkers, and the Maunsell naval sea forts.
The structure, which measures 5.5 metres by 7.5 metres, is fabricated in ply and weatherboard and will float on three steel pontoons. It will be towed from site to site by a single tugboat. Says Butcher:
“By presenting an architecture that is towed from one location to another and where occupation is effected by the rise and fall of the tides, the project seeks to question the way built structures relate to the environment. Architecture is usually considered to be a stable, fixed entity where internal temperature and conditions of comfort are heavily controlled.
Flood House seeks to challenge these notions, suggesting instead a nomadic architecture that forms a responsive relationship to its surrounding environmental conditions. Only this way can we start to address climate change and the dramatic shifts in sea levels that this century will bring.”
Butcher has worked with independent curator Jes Fernie and Focal Point Gallery in Southend-on-Sea to develop a programme of commissions and events made in response to the project. Flood House and this programme of commissions form part of Radical Essex, a project which aims to re-examine the history of Essex in relation to radicalism in thought, lifestyle, politics and architecture.
The commissions include an artwork by the acclaimed artist Ruth Ewan. ‘All Distinctions Levelled’ is a weathervane that will be attached to Flood House with the word ‘Level’ written on it. The title of the work is taken from a speech by the 14th-century priest and political activist John Ball, and refers to the concept of social equality as well as the rise and fall of the tides. Other commissions include a short story about a notional inhabitant of Flood House by writer Joanna Quinn and a series of photographs by Frank Watson. Says Fernie:
“The commissioning programme aims to position Flood House as a reciprocal, live entity that emits material, engages directly with audiences and builds on people’s curiosity. We’re really excited by the ways in which artists and writers have responded to Flood House as an architectural entity, a concept and a provocation.”