Hospes: a curatorial approach to complexity in the city

Kavita Sharma

Hero Image 1 Kavita Sharma
The 'urban village', a collection of dwellings catalyzed by the Housing-Health connection.

The urban condition is a space of immense complexity and unpredictability. It is a frenzied patchwork of people, places and things, all woven together by political, economic and social networks. This inherent complexity of the city represents a pressing challenge facing designers today, as the city grows ever more dense and entangled. In this context, this thesis attempts to develop a methodology to design within Complexity and to address the dynamism of time and uncertainty in spatial practice. The testing ground for this methodology is through the Urban Pedagogy lab in collaboration with the ADHB to speculate on the future of the Greenlane Clinical Centre site (GCC).

Located at the centre of the Auckland isthmus, the GCC is surrounded by significant urban artefacts: an imposing civic park and its mighty maunga, a prominent racecourse and showgrounds, all interspersed with low-density housing. Sadly, within this rich context, the site operates as an insular modernist campus, a healthcare hole in the urban fabric. Moreover, the site has been built up over time in an ad-hoc, top-down manner, dictated by the ‘strategy’ or Masterplan—an exercise in space attempting to dominate time. As such, the institution and the space find themselves at an impasse with the mounting problems and fast-approaching future.

The first section of the thesis establishes the ‘case of complexity’, unpicking the healthcare sector— its spaces and future— and in-depth site analysis. This analysis deploys established spatial precedents such as Atelier Bow-wow's ‘PET Architecture’. The outcome of this research paints a surprising picture of a campus that, as much as it resists, is already porose to the city and its residents. The public occupies and inhabits the space in a way that modifies its sense of place— a foil to the idea that ‘healthcare land is only for healthcare’.



To address this problem, this thesis engages with the wider discourse of Complexity as a field, including Actor-network and Assemblage theory. The work of architect Cedric Price and his material semiotic method also offered an architectural touchstone. His approach reframes the city as an ecology, demonstrating how processes and linkages construct space more than edges or boundaries. Drawing from Price’s representation techniques, diagramming and mapping become generative tools to visualize and demonstrate the ecosystem at work. Here, complexity is an opportunity. By embracing the density of interdependencies, connection itself becomes the catalyst for design. When we ‘connect the dots’ we create the gaps for architecture to emerge rather than be imposed. This was exemplified in the Swimming pool. A once-loved facility fallen prey to the institutional masterplan, the pool is a leverage point to spatialize the agency of the users.


Finished Product

The final project, a collection of dwellings, emerged from the ecology, through the established interdependence of housing and health in the New Zealand context. The mapping identified key users who formed the design brief. Each of these scenarios prescribed a different housing typology, depending on the level of interaction with the clinical centre. This narrative approach epitomized an empathetic way of designing; to describe inhabitation and the experiential quality of space—‘ethics as the counterpoint to rationality’ (Rowe, 1987). The ‘design by connection’ method permeates the project, from the interactions between housing blocks and different resident types, to the interactions within an individual dwelling. In this way, the ‘hospital’ becomes more hospitable— the root of these works meaning ‘a place for strangers’.

The thesis culminates in the ecological approach to complexity, where architecture is not a mute object or a single moment of creation imposed on a context but rather an emergent force creating ripples in its ecosystem. When we design in this way, we leverage Complexity rather than attempting to simplify or ‘dominate’ it. An architect designing within complexity assumes the role of a curator bringing together seemingly disparate threads and creating new connections to make a whole.


Critic's Text

As part of the Urban Pedagogy Lab, Kavita Sharma proposes the role of the architect is to navigate complexity, cultivating methods to act as a curator of relationships, as much as a designer of spaces.

Working in partnership with Ara Manawa, this position emerged through speculating on the future of the Greenlane Clinical Services Center, a significant hospital site with a complex history. Located on the isthmus of Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland, the inward looking hospital campus faces away from its largely residential neighbourhood, cut off from Cornwall Park and the tupuna maunga, Maungakiekie.

Since its inception the hospital has developed in an ad hoc manner. With healthcare issues ever increasing and densification of the neighbourhood happening at pace, new pressures emerge. Drawing on histories of approaches to complexity, combined with expanded architectural practices of ‘bottom up development’, Kavita acts as an interlocutor of possibility. New relationships are mapped across multiple government agencies, NGO’s, staff and neighbourhood groups to imagine increased agency and connection.

The issues are first distilled through a small scale case study; a currently closed on-site swimming pool, funded by staff and built for staff and community use, is re-invigorated by proposing new management scenarios through relationships with a neighbourhood gym and nearby school. This relational approach is then scaled up to tackle the challenging and entangled questions of workforce supply and patient accommodation. With new relationships mapped across multiple bodies to fund development, the proposal sees staff, university medical students, patients from remote locations and patients without homes all housed on the site, while providing increased amenity and opening new connections to the neighbourhood.

Working alongside her colleagues in the Lab and with Ara Manawa Kavita developed this highly detailed proposal and honed a capacity to communicate such complex scenarios is highly effective ways.

—Kathy Waghorn, supervisor