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Interior Urbanism

Lisa Breschi

Originally from ‘the green heart of Italy’, I am an interior designer with an interest in people’s stories and everything that touches the human soul. Contact with nature, an attachment to home, the study of social interaction, and mental health are themes in my recent work. My ultimate goal is to build enriching and meaningful experiences.

Having studied Professional Dance and Performance (Central School of Ballet, 2009-2013), I am attuned to the emotional component of space. I am interested in combining materials, colour, light, and sound to become physical poetry that is perceived fleetingly. My aim since studying Interior Design at the Politecnico of Milan (2013-16) has been to strive for harmony. In 2015 my conceptual design Mr. Bridge was published in the independent periodical Il Collirio Effetto Placebo and my thesis project was exhibited at Venice Biennale in June 2016.

After studying with a series of international architects during a post-graduate Diploma in Interior Design at Chelsea College of Art and Design (UAL), I worked between Italy and the UK as a video artist (Video Press, Rome), stage designer (Coreutica Sporting Club, Todi) and junior interior designer (Rodlem Interiors, London). Further experience in Italian furniture (MG12, Milan) and architecture studios (Otto design, Todi) convinced me to continue my higher education at RCA to explore a detail-oriented and experience-focused design approach. During my second year in the Urbanism Platform I collaborated on ‘Reinventing Texture’ by Toshiki Hirano, the Japan Pavilion at London Design Biennale (1-27 June 2021).

My thesis project, Manearium, is a repair cafe and workshop, and explores collective memory in Camden Town, dealing with public space as the physical expression of connection, belonging, heritage and identity.   

The Manearium is a new type of community space for the exchange and repair of disused household artefacts. It proposes a new public use for empty retail units, and creates a quiet, green space set back from a busy high street.

As the philosopher Hannah Arendt writes in The Human Condition (1958), we live in a world of ‘things that are used’, which by their existence establish relations among people. Household objects, that are so often discarded rather than repaired, tell stories story and have the power to connect us even when no longer needed.

The project on Camden High Street draws on the architectural and manufacturing heritage of Camden, offering a space to revive lost crafts and repair skills, to actively involve older generations and to exploit objects as means for sharing memories and knowledge. Instead of being discarded, household objects will be mended and be transferred from one person to another, from one house to another, maintaining local stories while creating social connections through a skills exchange and a new form of local collective memory.

Past, present, and future are linked in the building, using the brick shell of a 1980s office/ retail development, and connecting it with the one remaining pilaster of a 19th century music hall that was once on the site. The memory of the Bedford Theatre is echoed in a ‘ghost façade’ which provides shelter for a new public piazza, providing a quiet space set back from the narrow busy pavement of Camden High Street, and linking to a popular Chinese tea shop. A new grid-like structure for the display and storage of artefacts, is carefully integrated into the existing brick wall, which breaks down as if it were a ruin of the past life of retail. The upper floor of the Manearium hosts a light, airy café and workshop where people can meet to discuss repairs and exchange.

Camden Town Plan and Site Location
The building - 99 Camden High Street
The building - 99 Camden High Street — A generic commercial building from 1985 currently vacant. This featureless red-brick 'box' offers retail spaces on the ground floor and office spaces on the three stories above.
History of the site - Remembering the Bedford Music Hall and Palace of Varieties — First built in the middle of the 19th century and then completely renovated in 1898, the Bedford theatre was a herald of the recreational revolution in Camden Town during the Edwardian era. Despite its relevance for the local community, it was demolished in 1969 and used as a car park for a dozen years before being replaced, in 1985, by two residential units and the red-brick commercial building.
The Bedford Remnants
The Bedford Remnants — 1. The plaque on Arlington Road 2. Part of the original Yorkstone flooring along the alley (Mary Terrace) 3. One of the facade columns on the High Street

The site is located in the south section of Camden High Street, the calmer and more residential side of the neighbourhood. Standing empty, the building offers retail space on the ground floor and office space on the three storeys above. In recent years there has been a high turnover of tenants while on the ground floor, there has been a Job Centre, a Chinese tea shop and medical centre, which still occupies the right portion of the ground floor. A covered alleyway alongside the building is regularly occupied by homeless people. 

The site has a fascinating hidden history, which been erased apart from a single column left standing. In 1807 it was a tavern and tea garden where customers would perform in exchange for a drink. By the middle of the 19th century the tavern was a fully-fledged theatre, the Old Bedford Music Hall and Palace of Varieties, which was completely rebuilt in 1898 and a French Renaissance-style facade on Camden High Street was added. In 1969 the theatre was demolished and by 1985 the current poor quality red-brick commercial building put up in its place.

PAST CLUSTER - The Ghost Facade: study model of the shadow in balsa and PVC
PAST CLUSTER - The Ghost Facade: the structure
PAST CLUSTER - The Column Remnant
PAST CLUSTER - The Column Remnant
PAST CLUSTER - The Caryatid
ANTICIPATED FUTURE - The ruin
ANTICIPATED FUTURE - The ruin
ANTICIPATED FUTURE - Detail of the mended facade of the ruin
PRESENT INSTANT - The archive structure
PRESENT INSTANT - The archive connects the ghost facade to the ruin

The design strategy is to bring together the past, present, and future of the site in a single building that is a composite of the existing brick, stitched together as if by handmade repair, with a new structure. The new building is a composition of three architectural groups :

1. Past Cluster

A ‘ghost facade’ creates a wide covered public space bearing a stylized reproduction of the demolished facade of the Bedford Theatre. Supported by a steel and brass frame, it projects a shadow of the Bedford above the alleyway, slowly moving with the path of the sun and marking the passing of time. The remnant of the stone and labradorite column, is restored and kept in its place to mark the position of the original facade.

The Doulting stone caryatid from the Bedford theatre auditorium sits under the canopy as part of a fountain, a tribute to the Regent’s Canal, the origin of Camden’s commercial success.

2. Anticipated Future

The existing brick building is transformed into an anticipated ruin that evokes the natural life cycle of the urban environment and its temporary nature. Here the death of high streets and the triumph of smart-working and e-commerce transforms modern featureless commercial buildings into empty boxes. As James Wines states, 'an empty building is in itself already a ruin’. Fragments of the ruin are visibly mended, using red brick and concrete extrapolated from the original building.  

3. Present Instant

Here the idea is to zoom-into the present moment, while separating and connecting past and future. The system hosts an archive displaying discarded household objects waiting to be exchanged and repaired, provisionally suspended on walkways as if frozen in time.

Ground floor plan
THE PIAZZA — At arrival, people walk into a piazza which proposes a vast gathering outdoor public space currently missing in this area of Camden. On the right, the red brick wall on the ground floor, revealed by opening the corner of the existing building, offers the chance to create new windows for the Chinese center. The fountain helps to create cohesion between the two sides of the plaza, where materials belonging to the past, such as York and Doulting stone, blend with the materials of the present.
The Archive — The indoor public areas are on the first and second floors. Once up the stairs, the users can either turn left or right. Going left they will access the archive through a series of stone arches, which, together with other openings along the walkways, reinforce the idea of the archive as a temporary and transitional space, a threshold between outside and inside.
The Hall — On the right of the staircase, there is a reception hall. Together with an info contact point, this area hosts display spaces for objects sitting for a longer time in the archive. The fluted concrete tiles cladding the lower part of the walls reference the long drainage canal along the alleyway.
The goodbye room
The goodbye room — he goodbye room is next on the journey: a fluid space where people give details about the objects they leave. Freedom and creativity are encouraged, with the possibility to fill in a label, write a card or letter, or make a drawing accompanying the objects in their new houses. This space offers different configurations to allow people to choose the spots where they feel more comfortable writing or drawing. After the goodbye, the objects are left on wooden shelves to be cleaned and positioned in the archive.
The Workshop — The repair workshop is run by a team of retired artisans, actively involving the older generation in the community as a resource and source of learning. The workshop space hosts seven permanent workstations dedicated to wood, metal, glass, electronics, ceramic, leather and fabrics, painting and printing, plus a jolly station for rotating experts. Every station is associated with a different color and material language depending on its function. A consultation table sits in the middle of the space.
The Bar — The cafè on the second floor is where people meet while waiting for their objects to be fixed or read articles about the art of repair while getting some refreshments. Being located one storey above the workshop, it offers a view of the whole community space and access to a terrace facing the plaza.

On arrival at the Manearium visitors walk into a plaza, a green and quiet public that is space currently missing in this part of Camden. On the right side the red brick wall opens up to create new windows for the Chinese cafe, connecting it to the public space while allowing more natural light to enter the shop. A fountain coheres the two sides of the plaza, where materials belonging to the past, such as York stone and Doulting stone, blend with the materials of the present. The same material approach is used for the interior.  

Indoor public areas are located on the first and second floors. Once upstairs visitors can either turn left or right. Going left they will access the archive through a series of stone arches, which, together with other openings along the walkways, reinforce the idea of the archive as a temporary and transitional space, a threshold between outside and inside.

On the right of the staircase there is the reception hall. Together with an inforrmation contact point, this area hosts display spaces for objects sitting for a longer time in the archive. The fluted concrete tiles cladding the lower part of the walls reference a long drainage canal along the alleyway.

The Goodbye Room is a fluid space where people give details about the objects they leave behind. Freedom and creativity are encouraged, with the possibility to fill in a label, write a card or a letter, or make a drawing accompanying the objects to their new homes. This space offers different configurations to allow people to choose the spots where they feel more comfortable writing or drawing. After the goodbye objects are left on wooden shelves to be cleaned and positioned in the archive. The ceiling is covered in papier maché as a reference to the decoration of the theatre interiors.    

The Repair Workshop is run by a team of retired artisans, actively involving the older generation in the community as a resource and source of learning. The Workshop hosts seven permanent workstations dedicated to wood, metal, glass, electronics, ceramic, leather and fabrics, painting and printing, plus a sociable station for visiting experts. Every station is associated with a different colour and material language depending on its function. A consultation table sits in the middle of the space among the stations.

The Repair Cafè on the second floor is where people meet while waiting for their objects to be fixed or read articles about the art of repair while getting some refreshments. Being one storey above the workshop, it offers a view on the whole community space and access to a terrace facing the plaza.