Master´s Thesis 2020 Material Turn

Julia Minea Grünbaum




Current aerial view of site in Upton Park, London.

“Money is stored as architecture, and cities become dense accumulations of capital that in turn produce interests, power and opportunities.” (Mollard, 2019, p. 3) The top 100 cities of property investments, stand, 30% of the world’s GDP and 76 % of the world’s property investments, yet only for 10% of the world’s population (Sassen, 2016 par.3).

Liquid architecture, as in architecture that can easily be converted into money at the market price, has peaked with the emergence of investment properties; as a new form of general- purpose money, used for storing capital. The price of a building is more often not determined by its usability, rather by the fact of how it once finished can be transformed to other types of value. The architectural decisions made are dictated by the aim of creating a sellable product. As the current economic framework is set – nothing can be designed without being valued according to it (Smith and Harper 2019 pp. 8-9).

The accumulation of capital in architecture is reflected in how urban fabric is created. Money is invested in both real-estate and urban land, some left empty and used for storing capital whereas others for tearing down existing structures and urban tissue, building exclusive, newer and taller. Empty real-estate not only in high-end neighborhoods is an increasing trend ranging from metropolises such as London and New York trickling down to smaller cities, such as Helsinki.
According to Sassen 22 000 properties had been left empty for a period longer than 6 months, in London, England, February 2016 (Sassen, 2016 par.2).

This thesis investigates how an alternative way of architectural design could be performed by reintroducing idleness into our built environment.
Idleness is approached by theoretical studies and different design studies that use carving as a method to create a network of public voids. The subject is addressed both spatially and through the eyes of the idler. Spaces at pause, idle. Voids, resisting the urge of being reconstructed into efficient and productive architecture.
This thesis focuses on a block in Upton Park, London, England with the preconceived notion that some of it will become empty investment properties.

Keywords :
Speculative, Accessibility, Transformative

Aerial view of site once finished in 2022
Axonometric view of site with interventions


Carving is used both as a definitive method to regain and preserve the diminishing amount of vacant spaces in London and as a way to promote idleness in the built environment. The vacant spaces occur as investment properties lay fallow, thus the act of carving transforms these private spaces into heterogeneous public spaces for pause.


The act of adding the carved masses back onto the buildings is to be seen as a backdrop for the project itself and as a comment for a more heterogeneous built environment.


Carving has been used as an iterative and a creative way to approach the subject of idle. First most by trying to understand the meaning of idle through literature studies and reflection, whilst in parallel making design studies.

Original abstract casting.

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