Will Martel
Joy as an Act of Resistance

Architecture is a serious business. We design serious buildings for serious people in serious places. All of this seriousness is separating us from the rest of society. Architecture is becoming harder to engage with - all we promote are chauvinistic estates in unattainable landscapes. Financial gain and the pursuit of the picturesque take precedence over curiosity and intrigue.

Joy seems to be the cure for such seriousness. Architects feel joy when inhabiting spaces they find transcendent, but very few others do. I often feel architecture is designed more for other architects than the public. If bespoke spaces don’t inspire joy in the masses, what is an architect to do?

This project proposed a permanent market hall in the town of Paihia in the Bay of Islands. It looked to address the planning problems that a market entails; cumbersome furniture creating unusable spaces when the markets aren’t running.

I propose the problem is not necessarily with architecture, but with the way we communicate. A built space does often have inherent joy, but our flat renders showing expensive furniture do this an injustice. I’m not encouraging the placement of superficial cultural references or smiling people over sub-par spaces - I just think we should be joyful with our work from the outset. This joy will then inevitably spill out into the representation. I use joy as an icebreaker when communicating. Usually something out of place that dissolves any preconceived tension. Something to trigger a smile.

I only consciously realised this was the way I worked while designing a market hall this year. I had painted the building purple, made the plinth from cheesecake, used vegetables to simulate greenery and placed images of myself in the renders. All of these additions were used to cover what was a very serious building. At my final presentation the critics spent all of the time arguing whether the building was actually purple or not. The confusion was rather funny - a simple choice of paint threw the group into a heated debate over something so insignificant. I am still unsure whether this was a positive outcome or not. I certainly learnt the power of representation, and I think the turbulence that arose out of my purple building was very interesting. It briefly turned an austere event into one where people were getting very animated, with sniggers and smiles across the room. For a brief period, people forgot to be serious.

The base of the model was initially made from cheesecake. But, whilst I was away, a local swarm of ants broke into our garage and partially consumed it. The model was to be exhibited in Paihia meaning a new, less edible, base had to be built.

The market hall is a dynamic structure, adjustable depending on its use. In fine weather the sixteen doors of the hall may be opened, panels flipped down, and awnings drawn out to form outdoor market stalls. The roof is a community vegetable demonstration garden which supplies the permanent stalls with some of its produce.

A Building for Sundays proposed a collection of theatres and galleries to form the civic centre of a new urban development. The exterior of the building was clad in aluminium, reflecting the bright colours of the surrounding flora.

Another, more recent project, A Building for Sundays, folded joy into the design process from the outset. Using simple forms, the civic centre took on a playful and charismatic persona. The large saw-tooth roofs coupled with the glimmering aluminium cladding gave the building a child-like optimism, and I am often asked if the building is a school. Of course, representation still played an important role, but here it elevated what was already there rather than run in contrast to the architecture. The building was the focus of the image, rather than everything else. This project was presented on Zoom, so I can’t compare the reactions to the purple project. There weren’t any animated debates, sniggers, or confused silences. This project drifted back towards the expected, and once again I am unsure how to feel about this. The line between controversial and mundane seems blurry, and is in a different place for everyone.

What I do know for sure is that these two projects seem to be better received by my non-architect friends and family. In many cases the conversations begin with laughter or intrigue, but quickly progress into serious discussions over the practicalities of market stalls or the planning of theatres. Because, after all, architecture is a serious business and I don’t have a problem with that. I’m not naive enough to think that all of its issues can be solved by putting a giant asparagus in a render. I just think we would have better buildings if we got up from our Eames office chairs, kicked off our RM Williams, and had more fun with what we all love to do.

The entrance for this building blurs the threshold between indoor and outdoor occupation. The space fosters joy, children hurtling down the slide, flowers blooming under the reflected ceiling, people hurtling through on their way out into the landscape.

Will Martel recently completed the first year of his MArch(Prof) degree at the University of Auckland. He likes architecture! The two projects featured were produced as part of Advanced Design 1 and 2 papers during 2021.