The Annual International Berkeley Undergraduate Prize for Architectural Design Excellence
Berkeley Prize 2024

[ID:1892] A Center for Self Development

United Kingdom

Negativity. What is it?

A force? A spirit? An atmosphere?

It cannot survive without positivity.

It feeds upon it like a leech.

So wherever you find negativity,

You will also find positivity hidden away.


As I leave my ninth floor flat I feel the chill hit me, it is a cold winter’s evening in February. Two pairs of trousers and five layers of shirts cover my legs and torso. Around my neck I wear and orange scarf and atop my head I sport a black cap of woolen texture. All of last night I had been curled up with my two duvets wrapped around me, occasionally waking to close a gap that had opened between them and the mattress on which I lay. Through such gaps a cold draft would race in to suck the warmth from a small surface area of my back, which would make my whole body shiver. The cold is frightening. It reminds me of my fragility, the proximity of a death that seems to yearn to feed upon me.

Traveling down with the elevator I feel the cold increase in fervor, the wind howls through the gaps between walls and up through the concrete shaft, chains rattle and the metal box in which I stand creaks and squeaks as if it is about to disintegrate. Spittle and beer ornament the floor of this elevator so it is very important to look down at where you are placing your feet. Some of the other tenants don’t mind walking in other peoples spit but I do.

The door of the elevator opens and a disgusting smell affronts my nostrils, we have reached the fifth floor, and this is where an old drunk man gets on. His rough skin is bright red as if his blood is 80% proof. He wears trousers with all sorts of stains upon them, dating back decades I guess, the old suit jacket he always wears bears similar marks along with dandruff and cigarette burns, his hair is very thin and greasy, I wonder, does he ever wash? Does he even ever take his clothes off? He grunts some kind of greeting but the smell is so strong that I do not want to open my mouth so I just gesture an awkward nod and a brief uncomfortable smile.

Outside I am greeted with all sorts of grotesque, painful and aggressive noises. Women, men, children, families, couples, workers and pensioners shouting and swearing abuse at each other as a form of daily communication. Small motorcycles harnessed by kids between seven and sixteen years old charge around the streets in a random fashion making a racket that echoes around the whole estate. As I walk to the local shop I notice a small gang of youths throwing bottles and stones at residents cars as their drivers come home from work or shopping. This is not unusual. I regularly see them smashing the windows of cars at rest, just for the fun of it. Keeping my head down low I avoid this gang because last week, they beat up a friend of mine. Some of the kids have children, others are courting, it is not unusual to see grandmothers of forty years old in this area. In Salford this community of disadvantaged people are known as the ‘Scallies’.

Amongst the Scallies it is generally expected that you will not attend school very often, you will be a reluctant student and that you will drop out at, at least fifteen with practically no qualifications. It is expected that you should be fascinated by sport, competition and luxurious lifestyles. The unthinkable notion of working on your own self-development in education, arts or other higher level human pursuits, would be regarded as ‘gay’ or ‘posh’. It is therefore a kind of crime, a kind of scar on your reputation, a serious block to your acceptance as a Scally if you show a passion for things that may develop you and take you to higher levels of consciousness. Bullying is endemic as anyone who tries to do anything positive is ridiculed and humiliated, this sadistic negativity spirals around the area like a jaded snake poisoning any piece of optimism, any drive or enthusiasm for something new that dares to reach for the sky.

Questions and Answers.

Deep within this dysfunctional cultural setting my Center for Self Development must stand. A center that has the positive drive to inject creativity and optimism, into an area of habitual self -destruction, inhabited by deranged human spirits caught in a quagmire, rotting in the detritus of their own negative spin.

It could be proposed to construct a dream village for my community, to knock down all the current housing stock and replace it with flamboyant apartments, complete with all the luxuries of modern life. The ensuing spell of euphoria would not change the spirits of the people; it would not make them creatively productive and would not change their belief that life can only be improved by degrees of material luxury, not through improving oneself. There are schools here, there are libraries, people can study, and they can learn, they can change but they choose not to. It is the culture.

What if we could captivate these people and put them through a subtle hypnosis during which we wash the dirt from them and sweeten them with the light of curiosity? What if the people could not move through town without noticing an intensely attractive beacon of optimism? Could it be possible to construct something so powerfully positive that all negativity would be banished, would run in fear, would crawl under the pavement or burn away in a puff of smoke?

I would like to build something that would encourage all those incapacitated by their cynical apathy to reach up and fight for those dreams and aspirations that they have suppressed deep inside. To inspire those people who have had all the bright eyed optimism and love squeezed out of them to again find the same energy and enthusiasm to create and build as that of a five year old.

There are precedents to the kind of construction I have mentioned (spiritual and religious buildings, hospitals, community centers), designed to inspire, to enchant, to nurture and replenish the mind, body and soul. But my building must do all this and encourage each individual to be creative, to find imaginative solutions to their problems and to give them the energy to achieve their personal goals.

Creativity reveals the positive and can build despite the negative.

A Center for Self Development.

Peering out of my window I see the new comer to our corner of town. The spot where she stands was once a gathering place for the idle youth, a place for the conducting and planning of delinquent behavior. She is not rude, she does not make noise, she is not deformed or intrusive, yet for anyone living here she is conspicuous in her silence, drawing our attention and feeding us with inspiration at each moment of the day, whatever the weather and whatever our mood.

She is not a woman she is a building. I refer to her as ‘she’ because for me she is a living being, a mother always present to give guidance, comfort and care. Her eyes are always closed as if in permanent meditation, permanent bliss, constantly focusing on emitting her positive aura to her surroundings. She is an intrusion appearing to be from another world, how is it possible that this beautiful creature could have been born here? There is nothing peaceful, meditative or creative about this neighborhood. Well at least there was not until she arrived.

Her unusual form is organized, clean and precise. There are no windows for the kids to smash; the walls are painted a special dark paint that glistens in the sunlight. This building cannot be vandalized easily. When graffiti is sprayed upon her surface it is easily covered up again with the dark paint. The center exerts an aura of indestructibility simultaneously with a tender humanity. She stands tall and firm, whatever weather batters her she seems to calmly whisper ‘I cannot be broken’, and continues to emit her warm healing energy.

From up on the ninth floor of a nearby housing block the glazed roof of the center can be seen, through which sunlight pours and fills her womb-like belly, the interior space where communal activities take place. At night she emits a subtle glow as if the light from the daytime is stored inside her, like a mother caring for a sick child she reminds us of her permanent and immovable presence.

If the decayed and neglected buildings surrounding her have hearts, I am sure that she is the object of intense jealousy. The jaded and warped minds of her neighbors cannot bear to stand by her, she makes them feel so ugly. Some may want to destroy her others may be crying out for some cosmetic surgery.

Because she is so enigmatic with her windowless face, her silent but conspicuous presence, her curious yet perfectly designed form, she has the effect of forcing intrigue upon her admirers, making us wonder - just what is inside? Just how does it feel to be inside her? The people entering and leaving her always seem to be so happy, excited to be entering and filled with light upon leaving… those that pass her by seem to be so sad and lost.

Walking around her smooth walls protected by a shallow moat of clear illuminated water I get a sense of the sacred, something so precious it must be hidden and protected by a veil. The entrance to her is in the quietest point of her circumference, away from the noisy traffic and facing away from the housing estates from which the noise of domestic arguments, verbal abuse and the cacophonous sounds of the socially out-caste emanates.

The door of the center is camouflaged against the dark exterior walls. The joins that usually define an entrance are barely noticeable. The only indication that you are standing outside the entrance is the fact that there is a small bridge over the moat.

Upon entering, a tunnel surrounds me, it is illuminated by stars in the ceiling that filter sunlight from above creating a shower of heavenly rays, at night other stars made of LEDs powered by solar energy absorbed in the day time, would guide the visitor forward to the interior of the center. I feel that I am being taken from one world and entering another.

At the end of the tunnel is a translucent door that makes use of tinted recycled glass, it opens in an unpretentious way and I find myself observing a bright room, lit mainly by the sky or by glowing holes in the interior walls that are fed light via channels connected to natural or artificial light sources, the building has veins filled with light. Upon leaving the center I feel reborn.

Design Notes.

The central atrium of the building is the main space for communal gatherings, exhibitions, performances, lectures, martial arts clubs, workshops and meetings. But adjoining spaces are smaller and allow for more specific or intimate occasions such as vocational training (particularly information technology), therapeutic sessions, counseling, practise rooms and artist studios. The spaces are designed to be flexible, so they can change their function as times and needs progress. Each space is acoustically sealed to guarantee maximum privacy.

Although the building would be designed by someone disconnected to the area, the use of local materials, scrap, ideas and skills would be essential as both a pragmatic and poetic gesture proclaiming that local resources can be used to build something magical.

The disadvantaged young people of Salford lack inspiration and opportunity. The old people are neglected, scared and do not have the chance to pass on their wisdom and experience to the next generation. People of working age often have mental health problems, are unemployed or are working hard to leave as soon as possible. This center would be designed to change all of this.

The Construction Team.

I would like to work with the San Francisco based organization Public Architecture in achieving the construction of this project. In their manifesto and work ethic they demonstrate their innate suitability for a project that requires imagination and bold initiative.

“Rather than waiting for commissions… we take a leadership role, we seek needs and desires that are palpable but poorly defined… in circumstances where both client and financing must be imagined in new ways… we’re a motivator” (

Although Public Architecture has not worked in the UK before, their goals, work ethic and experience are ideally suited to the task. It is advantageous that the team does not come from my country, as they will be able to see things from an outside point of view; this community has a lot of stigma attached to it that may thwart attempts by local organizations to help. Public Architecture also has a track record of innovation which will be an invaluable resource that is not available locally.

The Center for Self Development is a building that functions as a healer for a community, it is also fabricated and designed in ways that symbolize its ethos and role. Public Architecture has the design and managerial experience that is ideal for this project; their 21st Century Community Learning Center constructed for the Technology Access Foundation (TAF) was designed to house an organization that assists disadvantaged communities gain the critical thinking and technological skills vital for 21st century living. The structural design of the TAF building project also takes inspiration from ‘Scrap House’ another Public Architecture project that uses discarded materials found in scrap yards and dumps to construct an inner city dwelling. The TAF project was designed to be a beacon, reflecting innovation in both environmental and community sustainability, if this intention sounds familiar it is because this is almost exactly what I propose to build in Salford.

My knowledge of the region would define my role in the process from the outset, to completion and even beyond, facilitating communication between Public Architecture and the local community and organizational infrastructure. My experience in composing and performing a wide variety of musical styles, working with theater and dance, organizing events and educational projects for disadvantaged young people in East London would make me a keen participant in the design, management and construction process.

For many years it has been a personal ambition of mine to develop integrated creative projects that cross artistic, scientific, cultural and educational boundaries; projects that could assist in the regeneration and motivation of disadvantaged, depressed or apathetic people. Since my childhood, in a personal quest for deeper understanding of human problems, I have explored architecture, music, art, literature, culture, philosophy and performance; for the purpose of creating an inspirational impact on communities in need. For this reason working and learning with an organization with a proven track record of success, with an altruistic agenda of continual growth and development, from an area of the world that is thriving in innovation and positive imagination, would be a dream come true.

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