ADS1: The Cave and the Tent

Alistair Napier

I am a co-founder of the design and research collective MISC, a writer, and Londoner. My work engages with the relationship of everyday culture, media representation, and collective identity in post-imperial Britain.

Growing up in London with British and Indonesian heritage, I have both felt engrossed yet at times on the edge of British cultural life. Using this insider/outsider duality to approach my work, my projects aim to both celebrate the unique everyday cultures that are severely under-represented in the nation’s media, whilst critically approaching the problematic state apparatus we have to engage with in Britain.

Last year, explorations into the Wembley Twin Towers formed my understanding of Britain’s post-imperial identity through the relationship of historical amnesia and popular culture. From having a ghostly rebuild of their form shortlisted for the 2019 Antepavilion Competition to writing about the burial of their imperial history in Failed Architecture, these complex and interweaving ideas have found their form in a variety of media. These projects aim to add a layer of celebration of under-represented cultures alongside the necessary critique of Britain’s imperial history.


How the British Buried Their Imperial History Along With Wembley Stadium



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Degree Details

School of Architecture

Wembley’s prominence in England’s national story has critically informed my final year work at the RCA. Further working with everyday culture and national histories, my work has explored the role of state institutions within the relationship of class, culture, and national identity.

This led my final year research towards the role of National Exhibitions and the projection of a seemingly unified, British collective sense of self; primarily looking at the Crystal Palace from the Great Exhibition in 1851 and the Sea and Ships Pavilion from the Festival of Britain in 1951. Using a process of drawing, model-making, examining archive material, reading and forming my own spatial critique of these two similar yet contrasting forms, themes of benign imperialism, autonomy and collective identity are raised at two-bookends of Britain's Empire, revealing the insecure British sense of self. As tools of Architectural Propaganda, these ideas were explicitly directed not only outwardly to the globe but also to all classes of Britons at home. A spatial analysis of these projects has revealed the insecurity laid-bare in these nostalgic imperial forms, which has informed the key themes and concepts for the design process of The Ministry of English Culture and Sport.

Through a blend of cultural analysis, spatial critique and architectural proposition, my work aims to find a space to mediate these problematic British spaces in an attempt to find routes to reclaim a positive collective sense of self.

The Crystal Palace (1851), The Palace of Engineering (1924), The Sea and Ships Pavilion (1951), and The Ministry of English Culture and Sport (2020)

The Crystal Palace (1851), The Palace of Engineering (1924), The Sea and Ships Pavilion (1951), and The Ministry of English Culture and Sport (2020)

Axonometric of The Ministry of English Culture and Sport in the Wembley Masterplan


Ground Floor Plan, Arcades and Urban Courts


Section, The Tower and Shed

Axonometric Upview of Structural Strategy

The Ministry of English Culture and Sport (MECS) is a new government department for a hypothetical federal United Kingdom, an institution aiming to foster a national reassessment of a contentious English identity.

Since the devolution of the Home Nations in 1999, England has festered at the centre of an imperial British state. Meanwhile, period dramas reassure an insecure nation with a nostalgic vision of aristocratic Englishness, simultaneously alienating large swathes of the population. MECS promotes an adjacency of programmes to celebrate ‘low’ culture as prominently as its overrepresented canonical counterpart.

Albion’s Call critically examines expressions of Englishness through the lineage of National Exhibitions. From the Great Exhibition to the Festival of Britain, this use of lightweight architecture continues to raise paradoxical themes of benign imperialism, autonomy and collective identity, challenging the post-imperial delusions of the high-tech era. The Ministry of English Culture and Sport appropriates and reclaims the tectonic tools from its imperial past to express a nation in flux, at the beginnings of a humble rediscovery of itself.
British Empire Exhibition
Crystal Palace
Festival of Britain
Lightweight Architecture
National Exhibitions
National Identity
Palace of Engineering
Sea and Ships Pavilion
The Great Exhibition

The English Library

The English Library and The National Archives England

The Ministry of English Culture and Sport Offices

The National Museum England

The National Museum England Entrance

The Institutional Front

MECS utilises key concepts from these precedents such as the structural grid, fractured billboards and urban courts, to house the diverse activities of the building within a cohesive form. The new pink steel structure envelops two existing buildings and adds a new form onto the institutional front of Wembley Way, allowing each one to sit distinctly as their own whilst unifying their visual presence. Behind, an inhabited roof structure containing The National Museum England unifies a series of urban courts and their vibrant daily activities below.

The Arcade

The National Museum England

A Photography Studio

The English Library

The Ministry of English Culture and Sport Offices

New institutions, by the name of The English Library, The National Archives England, The Ministry of English Culture and Sport Offices and The National Museum England, sit alongside more everyday facilities such as Wembley Market, shops and leisure facilities forming a new cultural and civic hub. This range of activities sit within a range of urban courts, and provide a unique blend of institutional and everyday activity, making the institution more accessible and representative of communities normally left out the national conversation.
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