I now take the West Coast Express home from work. I have a short commute and rather enjoy the quiet, relaxing travel from Vancouver. I am on the train for the shortest distance but it takes almost 1 hour and 15 minutes for the final stop in Mission City. Over an hour is a long commute but according to urbanculturastudies recent post on commuting this is not a longest commute by far. Being on a train is obviously different from driving, for one thing, since someone else is driving, you don’t have to worry about the road and you can indulge in other activities. I couldn’t imagine spending 2 1/2 hours a day getting to and from work (and I know it is very common) but I thought that it could be an opportunity to be productive. What if a selection of correpondence courses were offered through a partnership between the train and a regional learning institution? I immediately thought of Cedric Price’s unrealized project called Potteries Thinkbelt which envisioned the dilapidated industrial infrastructure of the North Staffordshire Potteries and turn it into a new kind of High-Tech University. As I have mentioned previously in my blog Price’s interest in movement and mobility within architecture.
Price acknowledged that architecture was too slow in solving immediate problems and for this reason he opposed the development of permanent buildings that were limited for a particular function. Instead, he stressed that buildings needed to be constructed for adaptability because of the unpredictability of the future use of these spaces. Potteries Thinkbelt emphasis Price’s “preference for dismantling architecture and making it disappear into unconventional systems.”
Before WWII, North Staffordshire Potteries was the centre of the English ceramic industry for more than 250 years and was known for its cutting edge technological developments. But after the war and with an international shift from industrial production to a technological and scientific production, the Potteries languished unable to modify to the new market. Cedric Price grew up in the Potteries and wanted to see the Potteries not only recover but regain its previous status as an innovative progressive community by branding the Potteries as the new scientific and innovation hub. The PtB was to be an alternative to conventional higher educational institutions that was primarily devoted to science and technology. The project addressed the many concerns that Price felt were the main issues with the ailing community such as the unemployment, vast areas of unused, unstable land, and a national need for scientists and engineers. The structure of PtB was unconventional and radical and did not conform to what was considered architecture at the time and could not be supported by the ministry of education.
It was not a single “building”, but a network of mobile classrooms and laboratories placed on the existing rail lines to move from place to place, from modular housing to administrative units to a library to onsite factory to computer center. This movement allowed for many variations within the system by permitting present and future configurations to be arranged and reassembled when the needs changed. There were to be three major transfer points, which formed a triangle from Pitts Hill to Madeley to Meir, spreading 100 square kilometers, encompassing all the towns inside as part of the institution. By taking advantage of the compartmentalization of rail cars, class rooms and laboratories could be linked to form larger units, with the largest lecture spanning across the three parallel rails joined by inflatable walls and portable decking.