A research practice you all know, but would not recognise

Under the scrutiny of survival, Earth is currently screaming for help. As designers and architects we are responsible for an industry plagued by questions surrounding; sustainability, connectivity, isolation, social economic issues, political differences, natural disasters, disease and pandemics. We must respond. Five time World Architecture Festival finalist and international research led practice Desitecture, break main-stream architecture practice conventions, in order generate thought provoking responses to some of these world challenges. Established in 2005, they have presented upon the main stage ten times, hosted numerous exhibitions, lecture and inspire many. However are not a practice we all recognise.


The practice founder, Layton Reid, combines practice, education and academia. Soon to be opening the University of West London, he is a former Associate Dean at Ravensbourne University, former Professor at Essex University and a current PhD student at the Royal College of Arts. The PhD focuses an investigation into Polyculture and Sustainable Cities. These two vast areas, commonly singularly researched, manifest themselves as integral research areas for the practice. The practice predominantly is based within the UK, however have members scattered throughout the world Further changing ‘norms’ of the industry, the practice website resolves hierarchies and there is no indication of personal professional levels, academic achievements or ranking. Through latest technologies, the like minded team are able to remotely, inter-globally ‘social-network’, utilising unconventional office hours and personal time to collaboratively create forward thinking architectural interventions. Thinking beyond UK architectural industry office constructs, Desitecture has the ability to eliminate wasted time. Traditional office commutes, work preparations and common ‘nine to fives’ are gifted back to the individuals in exchange for opportunity. ‘Through the exchange of time, we are able to focus upon research questions people wish to ask and Desitecture provides the platform for this information and exploration exchange of ideas.’ After all, time is the one commodity we cannot get back.


In each design approach, what is integral to Desitecture? What is fundamental to the practice value and what are your core values? Waste: ‘Our aims are to make use of proper understandings about how people inhabit and their aspirations, in a service of the city as a construct. Make use of the proper-ties of the city and re use them. We reuse the use the plastic found in oceans and see it as more of a resource than an issue. We have created a potential valuable re-source, which we can recycle alongside some of the basic local materials, of the project areas. This will form these into new structures that can be reworked and re-worked. In doing so they reverse the global perspective of ‘waste’ and start to re-image these materials as valuable resources that can become structural components.’ The understanding of cities and cultures: ‘We think that there is still much to be learnt from emergent cultural requirements. The shift from the rural to the city, the management of accommodation, means that there is definitely a need for what ‘we do’ within current cities and that it is important that the city understands these constructs. We should then place ourselves within the city and the key locations to make those destinations available. They become magnets in which people stay and grow, work and live and transform the transaction.’ Social integration: ‘Our buildings do not look like other people’s buildings because they are not meant to look like existing typologies. They are meant to look like culture distilled. We ask the building what are the interactions? Neighbourhoods at different levels and at different places? What does this do to the appearance of a building?’ ‘Notion of lack of social integration within tall building, stems from seeing the building as an artificial construct, with formal hierarchies and systems. How-ever, when people live up a hill or up a mountain we do not consider it like that and that’s why the notion of a Favela in Rio, is not seen as an artificial construct, we see that as an end result of people self-organising.’ ‘Where do the functions lay within these constructs? If they lay around communities and possibilities, you can change the dynamics of what a building can be, because most buildings believe space is wasted by giving up a floor or half a floor to others. However this space is crucial to expressing the cultural identity.’ Polyculture:

‘As an alternative to the existing tropes surrounding the notions of outsider and difference which have meant that architectural form in a global sense has been driven by patterns of inhabitation which are always used which are western norms . The idea that changing patterns of inhabitation might be going through change have only been vaguely addressed by the built form production which we experience, in this time of extreme change and having reviewed the historic changes by diasporic shifts and nomadic freedoms offered by globalisation and mass rapid transportation, it is as if we overlook the range of cultural influence which we have embraced in order to deal with and even enhance our sense of opportunity and choice. Desitecture considers this to be the impact for polycultural influence, from the takeaway that you eat to the new extended family which we have re created in order to make life workable, from the rejuvenation of worn down areas of the city by new cultural influx , to looking to re examine the cultural products which may benefit ours futures through an understanding of their reasoning and application against their and how these can be applied today , what are the new rules when time becomes an ever more tangible commodity , when you no longer have to always travel for hours to work and back each day , when local is the new global, through enriched offers of diversity , and the self generation of energy is ubiquitous, the question is what can architecture and the interior environment learn from this ever real flux , and what if anything can it propose as a response to the need for equity and a reconsideration of the existing urban construct, and how these lessons can be applied today, both as new form and retro fit, utilising emerging and present technology.’ ‘We posit a theory that the hitherto ignorant western consumption of cultural artefacts as value less out-pourings, in the form of artefact, tradition or primitivism... can now be contested as technology allows us the time and insight to reevaluate the exotic.’


Desitecture’s proposals are spread across multiple continents. Specifically looking at the high rise, how do you integrate a now internationally recognised tall building typology within the cultures that they are located? Furthermore skyscrapers receive criticism, including statements of social disconnect and isolation within them. How does Desitecture address this?


Located in Caracas, Venezuela, Vertical City proposes an architectural model for self-organising urbanism via a tall building typology. Through analysis and research, into other self-organising models such as the favelas of Rio, Desitecture highlights the ‘possibility to refranchise the unauthorised inhabitation.’ Vertical City provides the platform for the social exchange, gifting communities with the opportunity to self-manage. They begin to test conventional high rise buildings, ‘Leaving the floor-plates flexible and open to redistribute use, which most buildings do not decide to do.’

The project further asks what is it that drives people to leave rural settings and move to a city? By understanding the why’s, you can begin to accommodation the who’s. Healthcare, education, connectivity and employment are just a few of the benefits of city living. When looking deeper, Vertical City accommodates a mixture of users with varying incomes. ‘You cannot have one without the other and must have a joined up society.’ Integrating this range of income levels, the building self sustains, having cross benefits for the inhabitants. Access to air, light, schools, work are combined. Desitecture’s intervention constantly reinvents the relationships of the occupiers.


Presenting Aero City at the World Architecture Festival 2013, Desitecture propose a mixed use development set in Sangotedo, Nigeria. Nigeria on a whole has seen a huge explosion of new buildings over the last decade, however the existing 60,000 residences, especially those closest to the water front, are under threat of eviction from the local government.

Conceptually aimed at a range of potential stakeholders, the financial support for the project comes from an eclectic mix of class, social status and locality. Aero City combines four nodal towers, pinched at points providing connectivity and servicing elements. Each tower has a primary function, facilitating different users and offering employment and inhabitancy; local administration, education, healthcare, a green tower and housing for various different income of levelled residents. The building also offers spaces for chance interaction moments through the use of; vertical farming, function spaces and sky parks.

The sky parks utilise latest technologies, harvesting water and dropping cool air through the central core of the building, cooling it and in turn turning turbines, producing electricity. Seamlessly laced within the concept, the building also combines photovoltaic cellular technology with traditional uniquely woven bamboo baskets, packed with different green life and stitched together, creating the façade.

‘If we propose a tower that can be built incrementally over time, you might grow within it and make uses of the food grown within it. You could also attract people to come and work within. The skin will also change over time. Some will rot, some will go, some will be replaced. They will serve a purpose, however personalise the tower with what they grow and what they individually do. Each will be differently and uniquely woven.’


The function of a building within a city served several purposes: To beautify a city as well as support a cultural life, holistically to suggest abundance. We believe a new building should do the same things, actively reduce the consumption of others, in order to take such a space within a city.’

‘The insides of buildings should not be layers upon layers of ‘stuff’. It should be as much organisms and as redefinable as possible.’

Osteon Cumulus Vertical City, set in Wuxi City, China and Flux City, contextless, continue developing high rise. Both projects have been presented at separate World Architecture Festivals, with Flux City being the poster image for the 2014 invitation letter. ‘Desitecture, a research practice you all know, but would not recognise.’ Through rigorous interrogation of the tall building typology, both proposal continue addressing questions surrounding communities, cities, emerging technologies, flexibility, waste, polyculture, microclimates, light, form and sustainability.


‘Desitecture designed a stadium as a living entity, making use of retractable playing fields into an all weath- er playing field. Inward looking terraces that are the backs of houses/hotels. Could be a market, learning space, pop up space. No reason this does not happen today, except they are icons and are tradeable as an entity to sell on afterwards.’

Yet, Desitecture does not focus attention solely at the tall building typologies. Stadi-City takes the stadium typology and further questions its function. Can it be more than just a stadium? Paradoxically the world assesses the need for flexibility and diversity within new buildings across all sectors, bar that of a stadium. ‘The stadium is a dead thing. It’s a huge investment that doesn’t contain anything other than a piece of rust. Used for less than 20% of its life, it is an interesting unsustainable model, that continues to exist. They are one of the biggest waste of infrastructure today.’

Furthermore, Desitecture uses the Qatar World Cup as a proposition, identifying the unjust political agendas that surround wealthy countries and the ability to host major sporting events. They highlight the need for events in society today and the attraction of people to them. Beginning to push boundaries, Stadi-City offers; retractable playing fields, market areas, apartments, booths, commercial bridges and links, business ventures, a marina and a fishing area, offering an alternative to current, sole functioned arenas. More importantly the proposal engages local communities, allowing them space to prosper, these extravagant, icons can begin to serve more than just. Profiting lo-cal; people, communities, businesses in addition to the already prosper organisations.

‘It is not a revolution, it is about bringing together basic propositions, that can generate a sustainable local economy for the people to be given a chance to make a difference.’

POLY CITY The function of a building within a city served several purposes: To beautify a city as well as support a cultural life, holistically to suggest abundance. We believe a new building should do the same things, actively reduce the consumption of others, in order to take such a space within a city.’ ‘The insides of buildings should not be layers upon layers of ‘stuff’. It should be as much organisms and as redefinable as possible.’ Their latest project, entered into the ‘eVolo 2020 Skyscraper Competition’, encapsulates their in-depth knowledge and understanding of skyscrapers. Combining both form and function through Desitecture’s confidence when designing skyscrapers shines radiantly through Poly City, opting for a meandering ‘landscraper’, rather than a conventional high-rise. The form becomes ‘a series of ribbons, rising from the landscape to a soar above this augmented market of interchange, celebration and shared hope, self-administrated, a patria of the air’. The design concept addresses the identified problem of world inequality, focusing upon that of refugees and migrants. Providing the opportunity for ‘the ethos of the migrant can be celebrated, a yearning for freedom and a search for success’, the new tech business-focused Dubai-Vegas cityscraper snakes through the landscape, breathing life into the harsh and bare surrounding. This is a conceptual piece, however Desitecture offer an example of a location, ‘If located along the varying terrain of the American Mexican border, those described as illegals will preside over a new enterprise culture of services, businesses and cultural enterprises.’ The practice’s core values are pushed into fruition within Poly City, incorporating waste, energy, sustainability, rapid prototyping techniques, polyculture farming and more. The materials are sourced from recycled plastics, found within the oceans. ‘These are then reformed to create pockets of fibre into which local material is forced, rather like a series of continuous gabion walls. ETFE is used to clad the reinforced structural grid skin.’ They use rapid prototyping techniques to create module strips which may naturally combine overtime, depending on the function and performance requirement of each one. The proposal incorporates Tesla technology, to harness electrical energy, collating it with the water vapor production to ‘offer a new technological approach to the use of production of power’.


Continuing his PhD research topics and soon to be opening his second school in London, the university of West London, Layton continues the exploration of global questions, looking to the positive potential for the future. With a strong work ethic, educating students and inspiring generations, he to address the big questions that are often skirted by major conventional architectural practices we all love. Desitecture also has work published in numerous books, including ‘Visions of the future. Architecture for the 21st Century’, and are involved in international exhibition curation. They understand the importance of self-learning through the attendance and hosting of events, exhibitions, education and competing at World Architecture Festival. They are a well established practice we all know and there is plenty more to come. Receiving both praise and criticism, Desitecture identify feet finding within a top down designer centric, ego driven industry is not always easy. Their theoretical approach allows for some ideas and concepts to flourish in the face of uncertainty and manifest within real projects, produced by others today.

This alone is enough for Desitecture.


[1] Flux City- Image courtesy from the Desitecture website [2] Vertical City - Image courtesy from the Desitecture website and created by Vynonics renderer [3] Vertical City - Image courtesy from the Desitecture website and created by Vynonics renderer [4] Vertical City - Image courtesy from the Desitecture website and created by Vynonics renderer [5] Vertical City - Image courtesy from the Desitecture website and created by Vynonics renderer [6] Flux City - Image courtesy from the Desitecture website [7] Flux City - Image courtesy from the Desitecture website [8] Osteon Cumulus Vertical City - Image courtesy from the Desitecture website [9] Stadi City - Image courtesy from the Desitecture website [10] Poly City - Image courtesy from the eVolo Website [11] Poly City - Image courtesy from the eVolo Website NOTE: All other images used within this article can be found on the Desitecture website.