© Freya Cobbin
6 July 2017
Freya Cobbin has been selected as the inaugural Rogelio Salmona Fellow. We caught up with her to see what she is most excited about for the months to come.
Following the success of the Lina Bo Bardi Fellowship in Brazil, the British Council has initiated the Rogelio Salmona Fellowship, an annual programme aiming to foster links between the UK and Colombia through residencies for British practitioners. The Fellowship gives the opportunity for UK-based architects, designers and artists to travel to Colombia to explore the work of Rogelio Salmona (1927-2007), one of Latin America's most influential modern architects. Freya Cobbin will be spending 6 weeks in Colombia to explore his work further.
Tell us a bit about yourself; your background and areas of interest.
I am a London-based architect with a strong interest in education and social anthropology, working at Feilden Fowles. My travels have always provided me with abundant inspiration and thus I have always embraced opportunities to study, live and work in different places. In the past I have undertaken several research positions for the development sector and I continue to work as a project facilitator for the Richard Feilden Foundation – a small charity focused on improving educational infrastructure in East Africa.
My approach to life has been very pluralistic! I grew up in both Australia and the UK. I enjoy community engagement, and have been a student mentor for many years; as well as a workshop tutor and organiser of the International Festival of Art and Construction in Spain.
In previous research I have drawn influence from psychogeographic theory developed by the Situationist International, in particular their approach to peripatetic urban exploration; and Atelier Bow-Wow’s concept of ‘Behaviorology’ - the relationship between humans, their context and resulting behavioural trends.
What are you working on at the moment?
In the studio I am working on replacement teaching and learning facilities, and city farm for a Further Education College in South East London. With the Foundation we are putting together a masterplan for a support centre and offices for a local street children charity in Burundi; and a new kitchen and refectory for a vocational secondary school in Rwanda.
Why are you interested in the work of Rogelio Salmona and why did you apply for the Fellowship?
I love the way Salmona uses thresholds. Many of his spaces have an interesting interface between inside/outside, public/private. He works with these thresholds at many scales. The use of courtyard spaces, gardens, balconies and terraces create buffer zones between other parts of the building or the exterior; and his masterful brickwork details provide thresholds with perforated walls for shading, ventilation and treatment of light. In this sense the architecture very easily adapts to its context. Rogelio Salmona once said, “To make architecture is to remember to re-create. It is to continue in time what others have, in turn, re-created.” On this note, now I am interested to study his work from a more social perspective – moreover to see how local people have re-created and adapted his work for their present-day use.
I applied for the Fellowship as I greatly admired Salmona’s work after visiting Bogota some years ago, and I considered this opportunity to revisit and get to know more of his work through the lens of a research proposal to be a wonderful privilege. Much of Salmona’s seminal work has been published, and yet is still not well-known outside of select circles. It sits within the somewhat closed and esoteric discourse of the architectural discipline, thus I hope to be able to diversify knowledge of his work via a less academic methodology. I think access to his archives will provide an interesting parallel for the research in understanding Salmona’s personal ideology and aspirations for his work, alongside a study of the contemporary reality of his built portfolio.
What are you hoping to research and to discover or explore? Are you taking a particular approach?
In my own research I like to capture the ordinary, collective activity and everyday life that the built environment harvests, showing how spaces are appropriated and re-created through such actions. Therefore my methodology will be largely empirical where I hope to observe users, as well as interact with them, and of course become a user myself.
My proposal for the Fellowship will focus on the modern-day legacy of Salmona’s built work, particularly his public commissions, with a steer on how users occupy, interact, and thus re-create the architecture. Through doing so I hope to illustrate a multifarious, contemporary understanding of his buildings and public spaces described by the many voices of society who use them in the present. Visual communication is a key tool in my practice, and a passion for cartography may lead to a series of maps or graphic chronicles that divulge social narratives, to communicate the findings to a wider audience.
What are your expectations of the residency & what are you most looking forward to?
The local people are very welcoming and friendly so I am particularly excited to return to Colombia again, but this time with some Spanish language skills! I had a fantastic time there previously but now I feel better equipped to interact with local people and enjoy a greater sense of connection. I am thrilled to be able to visit Choco as well which will be new for me and present a very different context to Bogota.
Personally I don’t think architects do enough post occupancy evaluation or return to their projects to gain real feedback on their impact, whether positive or not. In most cases, building users generate activities and ways of occupying spaces that architects and designers may never have conceived during their design process. By understanding how occupancy is continually evolving, particularly with technology and new ways of living provides interesting insights for how we design now, and will hopefully have a positive impact on my own practice in thinking about design from a user perspective.