Playing the Picturesque

You+Pea is the architectural design studio of Sandra Youkhana and Luke Caspar Pearson.

Their work explores the integration of video game technologies into architectural design, leading conversations on how games can engage new participants in the design of cities. They have taught and lectured on the subject worldwide. You+Pea’s work operates between the design of architectural interventions and virtual worlds, alongside developing critical theory that underpins their connection.

You+Pea draws inspiration from speculative architecture of the past, producing new forms of architectural practice that result in the design of virtual, interactive game spaces to provoke conversations about the real world.

Sandra and Luke established and lead the Video game Urbanism studio at the Bartlett School of Architecture, where they promote the use of game technologies in architectural education. You+Peawork with cultural and educational institutions, industry partners, developers, and city planners to bridge the gap between multiple disciplines and provoke new conversations about the future of architectural design through the use of games.




Top: Diamond Cottage, Blaise Hamlet, Blaise Castle, Henbury: perspective with other cottages in the background, 1800 Hugh O’Neill, for John Nash
Bottom: Nine cottages, Blaise Hamlet, Henbury, 1811 J. Herner, for John Nash

Take a seat and enjoy a panoramic view of Blaise Hamlet. Gaze across the bucolic village green for the signs of life animating the quaintly individual stone cottages.

In its image of rural perfection, Blaise Hamlet, located a short distance from Blaise Castle House, is a complete work of architectural scenography. Arranged around a bucolic ‘village green’, the idyllic composition invites an enjoyment through inhabitation. Each cottage is provided with a bench to encourage residents to enjoy the view onto the common green.

The Hamlet was laid out and built in 1812 to designs by Nash, a commission to build nine cottages to house former estate workers and employees. A terraced walk runs past and links the cottages, all of which are substantial stone buildings made more fanciful through complex roof forms and exaggerated chimneys. Though built at the same time, the cottages are irregularly aligned and spaced around the undulating green, which has a sundial and pump in the middle (1815). Each building is different, but with common design features, like tall chimneys, dormer windows and overhanging eaves. The common feature of the bench encircling each cottage underlines the fact that this is a self-conscious arrangement, allowing interaction and delight in the pastoral setting. 

Nash’s scheme went as far as to include planting proposals to clothe the walls and porches of the cottages, further exaggerating the image of the ideal village. Blaise Hamlet has been described as the epitome of Picturesque landscape and design.



Palladian Bridge

Reveal different follies from Prior Park and beyond as reflections in the pools beneath the garden’s Palladian Bridge.

The defining feature of Prior Park near Bath, designed by Alexander Pope and Capability Brown, is its Palladian Bridge built in 1756, which forms a visual centrepiece for views across the landscape. The bridge was designed to be viewed from Prior Park House, completing a view down towards the centre of Bath while being mirrored in a series of reflecting pools.

The garden was developed by Ralph Allen whose various entrepreneurial endeavours included mines that extracted and sold Bath stone. The bridge represents the centrepiece of Prior Park’s picturesque approaches, which also included a sham bridge and shell stone grotto.

Allen’s influence and desire to cultivate views from his property also extended beyond the garden, to the creation of a sham castle on Claverton Down which has a crenellated front façade and a flattened rear. For Allen, these designs were not only about refining a landscape for his own pleasure but also to demonstrate the qualities and capabilities of Bath stone as a building material.

These structures, together with the bridge and other follies, became a picturesque landscape spreading from the park and incorporating the whole of Bath within it while also celebrating the unique materials of the area.



Drawing from a sketchbook showing a folly in the form of prehistoric tomb or Druid’s temple, Blaise Castle House, Henbury, 1800 George Stanley Repton, for John Nash

Recompose a landscape of romantic ruined follies, framed within the view of a nearby cave.

A drawing from Nash’s office shows a folly in the form of a prehistoric tomb or Druid’s temple, intended for the grounds of Blaise Castle House near Bristol. Designing follies was a favourite preoccupation of eighteenth-century architects; this sketch was made by the George Stanley Repton, younger son of the highly regarded landscape designer Humphry Repton, and produced while the former was working for Nash. It followed the picturesque belief in adding architectural ornamentation to enhance a naturalistic landscape, often reminiscent of another time or place.

Picturesque planning is based on both withholding and revealing certain spatial information. Often such views are illusory, completed by the play of light, exaggerated scale, and blurring the edges where the built fabric meets the natural environment. The picturesque aesthetic invites the composition of idealised forms, arranged to orient the viewer by acting as markers in the landscape.

The fanciful, almost whimsical nature of follies suggest the wealth and the aspirations of the client, or the architect. Both in paintings and real buildings, follies were often depicted in picturesque settings, mixing real and fictional scenarios. In Nash’s work, follies such as this prehistoric temple are repeatedly used as motifs, transcending the immediate contexts and producing a moment of fictional delight.



Blaise Castle, near Bristol, 1766. Robert Mylne. Photo 1938

Uncover different routes around the Blaise Estate; depending on the path you take, you may encounter the woodsman’s cottage, the ruined mill, the house or the castle.

The pleasure of the Picturesque can be found in the discovery of visual forms in space and time, rather than a static surface. At Blaise Castle Estate, Nash developed his experiments between architecture and landscape, giving importance to the journey as well as the destination.

Producing the Picturesque experience at Blaise Castle – not really a castle, but a mock-Gothic folly, and a popular attraction since its completion in 1766 – involved another close collaboration with landscape gardener George Stanley Repton. Repton was responsible for the grounds of the mock castle; his design with Nash involved altering the route through the property, through a crenellated gatehouse and a long drive. Rather than coming directly off the road from Bristol, the Georgian Blaise Castle House would now be approached from the further London road – taking in Picturesque view along the way.

The House is first seen behind the ‘foreground’ a woodsman’s cottage. Rather than taking a direct route to the house, the drive takes a much longer and more scenic route, through hanging woods and past a ruined mill. These ‘anchor points’ in the landscape were intended to surprise the viewer, delaying the desire to reach the castle and its extensive view. Instead, Nash and Repton’s confections produce sequences of visual rewards, building a sense of enjoyment in the carefully composed, but seemingly naturalistic landscape.



Design for a proposed bridge in the castle style for a roadway over the Long Walk, Windsor Great Park, Windsor 1818. John Nash.

Take the stately Long Walk in the grounds of Windsor Castle and explore how the natural landscape provides moments of surprise and delight along its route.

The Long Walk at Windsor Castle demonstrates how the idealistic romance of the Picturesque might serve the practical concerns faced by an architect.

Before his coronation, the Prince Regent – later King George IV, and a major patron of Nash – sought to extend a Royal Lodge in the grounds of Windsor Castle as a large venue to entertain friends. At the same time, older structures such as the former Queen’s Lodge were demolished, and the sprawling grounds were tamed into a pleasing and picturesque landscape, accessed by the Long Walk.

Historic estate plans show that a small piece of land on each side of the Long Walk was owned by a private individual, who claimed to have road access across the Long Walk linking the two sides. To solve this right of access, and at the same time providing a Picturesque point of interest in the landscape, Nash designed the triple-arched Norman Bridge. The punctuation of this architectural gesture brings a sense of focus and destination to the viewer while suggesting a fabricated history.



Park Crescent, Regent’s Park, London: the east side seen from the park 1829
Thomas Hosmer Shepherd

Experience this now-familiar piece of London in its original, collonaded glory – and reveal Park Crescent as a complete ‘circus’ preceding Regent’s Park as it was originally intended.

Situated very close to the RIBA building, Park Crescent is part of Nash’s theatrical, set-piece scheme, providing a scenic link from Kensington Palace and the fashionable theatres of central London to Regent’s Park. It was originally conceived as a circus (circle) to be named Regent’s Circus, but only the bottom half was ever built.

Its semi-circular profile offered a dramatic, deep curve, which would not have been possible in the more usual designs for an elliptical crescent. The continuous ground storey colonnade is punctuated with coupled Ionic columns, which gives the crescent its elegant grandeur. This was a device integral to the whole of Nash’s overall New Street – now Regent Street – yet it survives only here.

Here, the Picturesque is reclaimed by the city, from its more usual pastoral settings; the crescent faces Regent’s Park, but both are unmistakably urban constructions. Nash’s famous scheme shows that relatively few buildings, acting in concert, could have the effect of orchestrating a whole area of London around a harmonious vision. The effect of moving through this choreographed composition, exceeds the success of any singular building.



Playing the Picturesque

- Andrew Brownsword Gallery
Using video game technology to explore architectural design