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ADS5: Camping in a High Rise

Jonny Ryley

Jonny grew up on the coast in the South West of England, in Torquay, Devon. He received a First Class degree from the University of Nottingham (BArch), after being nominated for ‘Portfolio of the Year’ in his first year, and jointly developing the winning design for the Saint-Gobain led ‘Multi-Comfort building standard’ competition in his second year. From there, he went on to work at CookFox Architects in New York City - the city he will be returning to upon graduation (when the Covid-19 pandemic allows) having met his fiancée Genny there. The latest step in his journey was arriving in London to complete the two year MA Architecture programme, where he spent a year with ADS3, and his final year with ADS5.



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ADS5: Camping in a High Rise

I spent the majority of the Covid-19 lockdown back at my parents home in Torquay, having ‘escaped’ London just in time. And now reflecting on my different projects in my architectural education so far, I think I have been inspired consistently by three things throughout. Firstly, the coast and the slower pace of life that comes with it, as well as the calming, healthy or peaceful connotations associated with it. Secondly, my relentless optimism, that leads me to want to design  spaces of positivity, that encourage, that lift people up in their daily lives journeying through this world. And finally, perhaps most importantly, my own faith in God, that I have relied on through the highs and the lows. These things have all infiltrated into my work, and have led me in one way or another to want to design spaces that have an effect on the human, individual scale. 

I have explored themes of wellbeing, of reflection, and of togetherness, all of which have reached their climax this year, in designing my final project, ‘The Refectory: An Urban Monastery’. This final year in ASD5 at the RCA has combined my favourite methods of working - which is a great way to finish my architectural education - hand drawing, large scale model making, and photography (and a newly found favourite - real-time rendered film). I had started developing the project with the idea being to create a space that eliminates hurry in a city that (quite literally) never sleeps, New York City … but then the global pandemic happened - and the city finally slept. Initially, I thought perhaps the current health crisis somehow undermined the themes of my project. However, in being forced into isolation myself during lockdown, along with the rest of the world, I realised that in fact the themes I was exploring were even more crucial at this time. Within ‘The Urban Monastery’, I have focussed on themes of reflection, of contemplation, and of peace, asking how someone can have an encounter of something bigger than themselves upon experiencing a space. This question is something I would like to carry forward in my future career and put into practice, wherever that takes me and whatever form it is in.

The Urban Monastery: In Context — Situated in the the East Village neighbourhood of Manhattan, the low-rise surroundings and tree canopy of Tompkins Square Park allow you to rise up and out of the city on climbing upwards within the monastery.


Floorplans — The structural grid is ubiquitous throughout the building - apart from in the outdoor terraces and prayer space, when there are breaks in the stubborn grid to allow a new experience within the space. The infill - the walls and the floors - locations change depending on the spaces use, suggesting that what ever the future use of the building, it could easily adapt to suit that specific need.

Elevations — The double height terraces are visible here, that alternate from corner to corner on every other floor. Certain openings are filled in, becoming walls, for example around the perimeter of the rooftop walled cloister, curating the views of the city and the atmosphere in a particular space.

A City with an Absence of Timber — New York City is built for efficiency. The grid iron plan - whilst not unique - was made specifically to make life easier; easier to navigate, easier to build on, easier to section up. The Refectory: An Urban Monastery takes the grid and stretches it, making the journey along it and through it the important part, not the part you get over as quickly and efficiently as possible. Until recent global events, the city thrived off being the city that never sleeps, and this takes a toll on people over time. In fact, ‘hurry’ and ‘rushing’ can quite easily take over our world, leaving us run down without even knowing it. I have chosen this city as my site because I think it is a place that could benefit from it most, the elimination of hurry.

What creates a space of stillness? What creates a sense of contemplation?

‘The Refectory: An Urban Monastery’, is an exploration into answering these questions, and applying the findings to the generic typology that is the high rise. Monastic traditions and conditions have provided guidance for the design of The Urban Monastery, in both the programme and the physical design of the building, but in places I have intentionally flipped these traditions within the design - most noticeably being the vertical design of a typically lateral typology - with the goal of pushing the boundaries of what both the monastery and the high rise as a typology are capable of spatially. Whilst important even before the Covid-19 pandemic, the themes of reflection, contemplation and rest are more important now than ever, and I have been exploring how different elements of the design can alter one’s perception of a space, transforming it from just a room with a function, into something bigger - physically, mentally and spiritually. The idea of ‘rest’ is not designed into our cities or buildings with the importance that it should hold, and the Urban Monastery aims to tackle that with a first small step. It does so through the programme - as an Urban Monastery, an adapted version of the traditional monastery that blends the monastery we all know with a form of retreat, and aims to fit into shorter periods of time within our urban life - and through the structure, that explores the globally untapped potential of the timber high rise in a city of concrete, brick and glass. The hope is that from this project, I can continue exploring what it is that creates a space of stillness, and discover how these atmospheres can be implemented within all the different details of spatial design.
01 / Setting the Scene
02 / Upon Entering The Monastery
03 / The Corridor That Carries You
04 / Upon Waking - The Refectory
05 / A Break In The Grid
06 / The Rooftop Walled Cloister
In exploring themes of contemplation and meditation, I wanted to create an immersive experience of the spaces I had designed, allowing you to follow on a journey through them, the videos themselves acting as a meditative experience.

The Corridor within The Urban Monastery

Thoronet Abbey plan - source: — The walled cloister is visible in the centre of the abbey, with the corridor circling endlessly around it's perimeter

Thoronet corridor (source:

Hans van der Laan - Corridor at Saint Benedict Abbey (source: — Dom Hans van der Laan's lifelong studies of proportion, light and materiality were extremely influential to me in my project, and I aim to learn from these as well as from his ability to interlace different spaces together, and change ones perception and movement through a space.

The Corridor within The Urban Monastery

The corridor is fundamental to the monastery as a typology - it's ability to link spaces together obviously extremely important for functionality, but it's importance lies in it's ability to loop endlessly around the cloister at the centre of a traditional monastery, providing a timeless experience that enhances themes of solitude and reflection for an individual.

Delicate copper handles between spaces

Verticality within the infill — Narrow 'planks' are used within the floor and wall infill panels, breaking up the solid square mass into lighter vertical sections. The walls are therefore treated with the same fragility as the furniture, in order to distinguish itself from the heavy structural grid.

The copper wires and thin white counter create a tension sitting next to the large vertical structural elements

The Bench — A detail shot of the bench, designed to mimic the tension of fragile vs heavy, the solid white marble element sitting on top of the lightweight brass frame, it's legs stepping in on one side to further push this idea of balance.
Whether through the material pallet, or through the visible form of a piece of furniture and how it sits in the space, there is a contrast in the fragility of the tangible human scale details compared to the solidity of the chunky timber grid within The Urban Monastery. Copper and gold colouring are used for the window frames and the handrails throughout the building, as well as white cast marble and concrete as suspended countertops and stair toppers, in contrast to the monotone timber colouring. The hope is that this material contrast adds to the tension already created between different scales, by the fragile benches, the suspended countertops in the refectory, and the simultaneously lightweight yet solid steps that are scattered around the monastery that cater to the level changes between spaces.
The Drawings That Drove The Model

The Drawings That Drove The Model

1:100 Test Model

The Grid From Afar

Exploring Level Changes


Sunken -> Security

Passing Through The Grid

The Model In Context

From Below

From Above

Roberto Menghi: Unknown. — This image acted as the starting point for my design, exploring it in minute detail to try an understand what about it creates the atmosphere it portrays. The architectural elements I focussed on were the grid that frames the space (as well as becoming the threshold between interior and exterior), the idea of alcove and how it feels to sit in it, and the idea of level change in both the ceiling height and the floor below you. In this example, the small step down from 'the outside' suddenly allows you to feel safe - detached from nature whilst simultaneously sitting within it.

Kazuo Shinohara: House in a Curved Road — Shinohara's use of the chunky structural elements here create a blurring in the overall scale of the space, creating a beautiful tension with the human-scale details like the door handle and the power sockets in the wall.

The 1:20 model drove the design of The Urban Monastery. This is where I developed the ubiquitous and stubborn CLT grid, inspired by the 2x2" pine sections used to build the 1:20 model. The pieces are jointed with domino dowels, and construction ply is used to create a contrast in material to the pine structure, whilst still maintaining the wooden materiality.

Tenerife - Studio Research Trip

Tenerife - Studio Research Trip — The paper thin fabric of the tent that becomes you bedroom wall, the pole arched around you supporting this 'wall' from collapsing in, like the core puncturing through the high-rise - the fragility of the tent, as well as most camping equipment, inspired the fragility of the furnishings within The Urban Monastery. It is a fascinating relationship, the delicate frame of tent poles sitting on top of the hard, dusty ground.

The integration of 'camping' within my scheme is two fold. Firstly, the contrast between the temporary, lightweight equipment used when camping and the solid mass of the earth, the trees, and the rocks that surround you, which I have aimed to mimic in the relationship between furnishing details and solid structure. Secondly, I have kept in mind the visual ambiguity of the spaces I've designed, trying to portray my project as The Urban Monastery through my words and my imagery, but still allowing the space to be open for interpretation in terms of its function. This relates to the open programme of 'the wilderness', which is able to be the backdrop for many different functions.

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