Birnbeck International Film Institute

Matthew Hynam, Steve Brown

This film reflects on a year-long collaboration between Master of Architecture students at UWE Bristol and Birnbeck Trust. Over the course of the year students were tasked with developing proposals for an International Film Institute to be constructed on Birnbeck Island near Weston-super-Mare. What became the experimental pedological move from the project was how the students began to take filmic techniques and adapt them as tools to engage with the complex and physical conditions of the island.

Birnbeck Trust are a charitable organisation set up to consider how Birnbeck Island can be saved and regenerated. Birnbeck Island was a prominent Victorian amusement attraction which since its heyday has fallen into disrepair and become a dystopian ruin. Today the rides have gone and all that remains is the skeletal structure of a pier to the mainland, a ferry boarding pier and a number of dilapidated listed structures. The complexity of the structures and the social and economic backdrop of Weston means that any proposals for the island need to consider carefully how they can be sustained into the future. Alongside this is the complex geography of the island a limestone outcrop which sits 300m from the shoreline of the Bristol Channel with its fast-moving water and 13m tidal range, the second highest in the world.

With the trust unable to formulate a brief that can tackle these issues
Architect and lecturer Matthew Hynam developed a brief for students to explore and challenge how the site may be reused. Within this Matthew developed a brief for an international film institute that required students not only to think how they might engage with wider society and the context but how filmic techniques might be used within the design process to enrich the project. This process builds upon previous research by Matthew who during his MA developed a palate of filmic transitions to read and intervene within space.

For the Birnbeck project students were asked to go beyond the typical architectural tools of sketching and modelling and embrace new filmic techniques for recording society and the landscape through photography, digital modelling, storyboard narrative generation and filmic mapping using a drone. The drone mapping allowed for the creation of a photogrammetric model which became a crucial part in students understanding the ethereal qualities of this shifting site and allowed them to record in subtle detail its periphery. This in turn allowed them to develop proposals that played with the threshold between the estuarian tidal range and the limestone outcrops of the island. Students began to develop ideas of interweaving past and present narratives, using filmic transitions such as cuts, fades and dissolves to explore how one might create a range of spatial thresholds at both a master planning and building programme scale.

For the Trust the collaboration has provided a set of ideas for how the island might be regenerated for the 21st century. The success of the project has also established a further live project where UWE Master of Architecture students will refine the material further through collaboration with the Trust and the wider community to create a detailed brief and proposals for Birnbeck.

MArch UWE students:

Charlie Ardren
Daisy Denny Higgins
Esther Slade
Franceska Clarke
Georgia Antonopoulou
Hazel Hodge
James Watson
John Mullankuzhy
Katy Lodge
Nicholas Paley
Rosa Premier
Thomas Harper
William Millest