A Bureau for Customs Fraud | Piraeus, Greece| Unit 21 | 2019

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The project proposes A Bureau for Customs Fraud situated on a rocky islet just off the coast of Piraeus in Greece, conceived as a series of dispersed programme spaces which are shrouded by a unique fragmented shell structure.
The programme has developed as a response to the topical issue of customs fraud at the Port of Piraeus which has become a growing concern since the leasing of two docks at the port to the Chinese state-owned shipping company (COSCO) in 2009. In 2016 the EU’s anti-fraud body (OLAF) first identified cases of fraud at the port within its annual report. The scheme, therefore, proposes to serve as an extension to OLAF’s main office in Brussels; the proposed spaces consider OLAF’s organizational structure and budget proposing a similar set up with four specialised office teams.
The design derived from an interest taken in the development of cryptography since its conception in Ancient Greece which prompted a series of investigations that explored the translation of cryptographic principles into purposeful design tools. These investigations were guided and strengthened by my continuous research and understanding of different ciphers and methods of encryption and were ultimately inspired by the concept of entropy in computing.

The processes developed were eventually applied to my identified site and the principal building fabric has been generated through a scripted algorithm (followed by manual refinement) that exploits the site’s unique topography.
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Given my earlier groundwork and proposed programme (A Bureau for Customs Fraud) which, on a symbolic level, seeks to reassert Greek’s authority and redefine its physical position at the edge of the EU with subtlety, the overall vision and design principles are concerned with the realisation of a building project that presents a paradox, visually and experientially and, at varying scales and dimensions. This notion of a paradox builds upon my interest in cryptography and its implications in architectural design.
In view of this established aim, the detailed design process inspired the generation and design of a rocky surface which seeks to imitate and exaggerate the existing terrain yet at the same time present an uncanny artificial intervention.
The design of the interior space contrasts the character of the protective cloak with smooth surfaces and a simple material palette (exposed concrete, glass and steel). Yet at the same time, the extensive use of glass for the floors and walls permits a continuous experiential and visual relationship between the natural and the built which merges the boundaries between the “natural” and the built.
Finally, the project themes and aims were also applied to the performance of the building systems. Besides moderating the internal and external environment across the islet through various methods for user comfort and energy efficiency, the design considers the (theoretical) possibilities of generating different types of mirages. Again, the notion of a mirage takes inspiration from my earlier interests and reinforces both the programmatic aims (combining a subtle response to the issue of customs fraud at the Port of Piraeus and a discreet element of surveillance) and architectural intentions (to challenge the limits of reality and materiality). My investigations combine scientific knowledge with data derived from my proposed drawings and historical weather and climate data; these culminated in the prediction of three “Moments of Mirage” which imagine spectacular optical illusions of the building project for specific conditions.
The final scenario is inspired by the phenomenon of a Fata Morgana which is a complex form of superior mirage that is characterized by object being distorted in such a way as to appear as castle-like features. A Fata Morgana may change in various ways within just a few second of time. This may result in various forms of atmospheric refraction such as stooping where objects seem to be shortened or towering, where objects appear stretched.
My studies revealed that the ideal conditions for a Fata Morgana would most likely occur during the wintertime, especially during rainfall or snowfall. Building on this knowledge, and in anticipation of the required atmospheric conditions the final scenario imagines a spectacular sighting of a Fata Morgana on a Snow Day.

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