Heterotopia by David Kohn Architects




David Kohn Architects' design for Heterotopia, a zero carbon art garden at the Thames Gateway, has been shortlisted for the RIBA London and Arts Council England ideas competition 'Arts Space of the Future'.

The shortlisted designs will be on display at the National Theatre, 11th January - 16th February 2008, as part of an exhibition exploring the future of arts and leisure space design. The competition winners will be announced 10th January.


The following information is from David Kohn:


Heterotopia - a zero carbon art garden in the Thames Gateway

The Arts Space of the Future should be a place in which to question our everyday reality, a place once removed from contemporary metropolitan lifestyles, where other lives can be imagined and enacted. We propose a garden that sustains buildings and imaginations. Newly planted forests are coppiced to provide fuel to run new arts facilities. This in turn creates a changing network of forest clearings in which to host temporary arts events to fire imaginations.



Prior to the Industrial Revolution, the Thames Gateway was London’s pleasure ground. A plethora of pubs and teahouses served those who came in search of hunting, shooting, boating and fishing. Such escapes remained well into the C20th century when a combination of development economics, flood risks and poor transport lead to the gradual industrialisation of the area. The current redevelopment of the Gateway is an opportunity to once again shift the place’s identity to a balance between utility and pleasure.


The “white cube” gallery space continues to undergo gradual transformation. Artists and curators remain concerned with the relationship between works of art and their contexts so that environments that speak quietly of other times and uses have become intrinsic to artworks when installed. Architecture is able to communicate a relationship to memory through typology, the loose connection between buildings’ forms and their use. We propose creating an interior that is the accretion of a number of types that offer a range of spatial encounters, from the intimate to the sublime, whilst being made in a singular fashion that does not parody the cities in which these types are found.


Following the RIBA London and Arts Council England ideas competition ‘Arts Space of the Future’, the National Theatre is hosting an exhibition which will explore arts and leisure space design. A selection of top RIBA Award winning galleries, museums, performance spaces and theatres will give context to the conceptual schemes on display.

Shortlisted entries from the competition speculate on the future of cultural buildings and institutions through a selection of displays, models and articles. The winning entries will be announced at the launch party on 10 January 2008. The exhibition will be open 11 January – 16 February 2008.


Posted by Rose Etherington

Posted on Monday December 24th 2007 at 6:25 pm by . Copyright policy | Comments policy

  • Margherita

    This is an impressive, clever and heartwarming project. Art, nature and eco-sustainability establish here an outstanding partnership. The building stands strategically in the park like an ancient citadel on the top of a hill. Londoners really need a heterotopia, a place where they can be different from themselves and imagine new possibilities for the future. If only they could build this for real: this is my wish for 2008!

  • gaque

    that model looks too similar to sanaa’s kanazawa museum. the structure, however, is completely unlike sanaa’s thin and hidden approach to structure…those giant trusses are quite apparent.

    the “heterotopia” is taken too literally in the architect’s summary. and, how are the new forests providing “fuel” for the facility?

  • The new planting is an energy crop, SRC (Short Rotation Coppice) or Miscanthus, that grows very quickly and can be turned into woodchips and burnt in a plant in the arts centre. The area of new planting shown in the aerial perspective has been calculated to provide a sufficient harvest on a three year cycle to heat the building all year round.

    As you probably know, I borrowed the term Heterotopia from Michel de Certeau’s 1967 lecture about ‘other spaces’ which was subsequently published in English in Diacritics, 1986. In the essay he describes spaces that exist in societies where behavioural expectations are turned on their heads where, amongst other qualities, a space “… is capable of juxtaposing in a single real place several spaces, several sites that are in themselves incompatible.” He goes on to propose that the garden is one of the oldest heterotopias having been in times past a sacred space that represented the whole world but at the same time is no more than a small parcel of land. Carpets are consequently transportable heteroptia. This description of the transformational qualities of gardens lead to the adoption of the term, heterotopia, for the competition entry.

  • A couple of other thoughts I hope are helpful:

    The whole structure is built of timber, hence the sizes of the trusses. Timber structures consume the least amount of CO2 in their manufacture and construction which was a key concern of the project. The structure being visible throughout the building was to give the centre a provisional nature that would encourage change. Like in many similar projects, this idea was taken from the work of Cedric Price.

    The project is indeed like Sanaa’s Museum. A significant difference between the Sanaa project and the Heterotopia project however is that at Kanazawa all of the major gallery spaces are “white cubes”, classic reduced cubic gallery spaces. In the Heterotopia each of the major spaces is an urban type, a machine hall, a church nave, a terraced house, a rotunda etc. and retains these formal characteristics, allbeit in timber. This was to promote a connection between contemporary art spaces and everyday urban life and memory, responding to concerns developed in Brian O’Doherty’s “Inside the White Cube: The Ideology of the Gallery Space,”1976.

  • floyd landis

    Nice paper architecture. As I’m sure you’ll agree, it means nothing until and unless it is built. Architects shouldn’t be allowed to write, and that includes me.

  • Julia

    I am so intrigued by both the concept of spatial multitasking and the gigantic rainbow dog…
    With a bit of luck, it will be a wonderful beginning of the year for you.

  • Many thanks. The dog is by Jeff koons.

  • Steven Rendell

    Spatial multitasking… only a female could come up with that! Genius.

    Nice building, good luck with it!

    To Floyd Landis: It’s not architects who should stay away from writing, it’s you! Stick to cycling. Please.

  • D. YIM

    Heterotopia, it’s the notion of Foucault…….not of De Certeau..

  • C. Reyes

    I was wondering how many watts can be generated from burning the chips or logs of one tree? I hope this is something you have covered as I am doing something similar in a project and would really appreciate any help possible – Many Thanks

  • Vitek

    Look very OMA's