Marwencol is a project by outsider artist Mark Hogancamp. On April 8, 2000, Mark was attacked by five men and left for dead outside of a bar in Kingston, New York. After nine days in a coma, he awoke to find he had no memory of his previous adult life. He had to relearn how to eat, walk and write. When his state-sponsored rehabilitative therapies ran out, Mark took his recovery into his own hands. In his backyard, he created a new world entirely within his control – a 1:6 Barbie-scale World War II town he named Marwencol. Using doll alter-egos of his friends, family, attackers and himself, Mark enacted epic battles and recreated memories, which he captured in strikingly realistic photographs. An ulterior motive for his work was to use his alter ego doll to rehearse his desire to cross-dress, working up the confidence to do so in real life. Mark has now had several art exhibitions and a documentary about his work and cross-dresses whenever he feels like it.(See or the 2010 documentary film “Marwencol” by Jeff Malmberg for more information.)

Architects design and realise future realities. As such, most of their work consists of testing the imaginary.However, as a profession dealing with real-world constraints, including the need to convince clients of our professional competence, we try to appear to have knowledge. We disguise our use of the imaginary, rejecting the ‘unknowns’ in favour of what we already know – leaving little room for the parts of the project where imagination thrives. This frequently results in under-whelming and over-simplified buildings deprived of social agency for their users, determined by “risk management”. Our fears and desires, often pushed to the back of our minds only have the chance to unravel themselves in the space of dreams instead of our reality-rooted architectures. 

What if, instead, the imaginary was taken seriously as a test bed for future realities?

 Is there a space we could test the resultant typology of our imagined-world colliding with the real-world context?

 Children too, learn about the world by rehearsing reality – whether that involves playing contractor with toy tractors, or playing architect with crayons and Lego. These toys (purpose-designed or makeshift) are opportunities for children to develop in a safe space. They provide scaled representations of adult life in which the imagination can thrive. The architectural drawing or model performs a similar role, allowing us to play through possible situations before committing to full-scale real life. In this case, the architectural drawing in question is our cube: a space of 4x4x4m.

Within the Season 3 theme of unlikely coupling between typologies and their context, architecture plays mediator. This brief encourages you to rehearse your new reality, using the 4x4x4 as a testing ground for two different contexts to collide with one another:

1. The context in which the cube is placed is in the “real world”, perhaps in a space you spend most of your day in. Is it an office setup? An architecture studio? A café? Try and demonstrate what the context is through writing rather than drawing

2. The “rehearsed reality” in question then inhabits the 4x4x4, thus turning it into a juxtaposition of typologies in direct confrontation with one another. This is a personal entry, deliberately kept open in terms of what typologies you want to pair from your own experiences. This is an opportunity to enjoy the conflicting desires of opposing function. Play with the boundary between fiction and reality.

How could seemingly conflicting typologies and contexts allow both to imagine alternatives to the norm, and perhaps realise more stimulating realities? This can be as explicit or implicit as you like. The aim is to connect this speculative design of the 4x4x4 with our personal dreams, investigating the relationship between reality and fiction and the implications of this for architecture.

Brief Written by Kirsty McMullan