Author : Muhammad Shamin bin Sahrum

University : University of Greenwich

Status : MArch RIBA II, 2015

Advisors : Max Dewdney, James A. Craig

Title : 21st Century Birdwatching | A Drone Training Centre for The London Metropolitan Police

Somewhere in the province of Waziristan, eyes are watching from the sky, hovering to every movement below. The loud humming sound of a large mosquito that every local fears. Elsewhere a young recruit officer watches the flickering screen in an air-conditioned cabin. An active duty soldier in the middle east, with his body in the middle of the Mohave desert army camp”

These are the realities of operating a UAV or an unmanned aerial vehicle. As with most technology now used in our everyday lives, the UAV, or drones as commonly referred, is trickling down its way from its military usage into the hands of civilians operators. Used by hobbyist to professionals alike, drones are used extensively from aerial photography, reconnaissance, search and rescue operations and most recently, drone operated graffiti. With the mass manufacturing and rapidly reducing costs of the devices, more and more civilians are operating them even without proper training and safety awareness.

Authorities the world over are scrambling to make sense in how to properly legislate and control the authorized use of drones as currently it blurs the line between aerial vehicle / hobbyist activity, infringement of privacy among others. News of a privately operated drone crashing into the lawns of the White House, Washington DC, sparked a greater urgency in controlling its uses. Where does it stop though? There will undoubtedly be more proliferation of drones entering into our private lives whether we like it or not in the near future. Closer to home, a number of police forces have used drones- frequently in trial form with the technology subsequently dropped – but they are employed by at least two forces. The varied use of drones by police forces across the United Kingdom makes clear many of the problems raised by the technology, and many of the obstacles that still need to be overcome to allow for regular flight.

Historically, it isn’t something new for the police to deal with new scenarios in society by actively trying to find solutions in controlling it. Even closer to home in the Greenwich Peninsula, we found that a riot training center emerged as a result of the London Metropolitan Police force trying to control riots taking place in the 80’s. Namely the Brixton Riots. Reports on The River Way Police Holding and Training Centre mentions of horse-mounted mock assaults on mock-up streets , equipped with water cannon and gas practice for crowd dispersal.

With that in mind, it’s not hard to imagine with the current scenario involving drones of a similar facility being set up by the London Metropolitan Police Force. This projects envisions the materialization of a Drone Training Centre for the London Met Police. Located close to the site of the previous River Way Holding and training Centre. Working closely with Greenwich neighborhood Watch Association, a model town is developed for drone training and servicing. The police force gains critical data from operating drones from within this dynamic urban environment. Neighborhood watch gets to extend its surveillance over the area by operating drones alongside the police force. Funded by a private-public research arm; ASTRAEA (Autonomous Systems Technology Related Airborne Evaluation & Assessment).

ASTRAEA is a public-private project led by seven companies of which six are major arms firms, including BAE Systems and the Ministry of Defense among others.

Set in a scenario in the not-too-distant  future where widespread drone usage is a reality, and where the London Metropolitan Police force are varying its methods on its surveillance operations including counter drone terrorism and the development of  new urban surveillance objects. This project seeks to question how technology and the authority  are continually blurring the public/privacy threshold and how it affects the built environment including the urban context surrounding it.

Interview

S//A : What other fields outside of architecture interest you?
Muhammad Shamin bin Sahrum_ Temporary and small scale structures where the structures are XL furnitures but categorized as XS buildings. With that, the role that these type of small scale structures have in relation to effecting the public context as experimented and done through our small group in Malaysia, Sesiseni Collective.

S//A : Most important thing you learned in architecture school?
MS_ To constantly keep un-learning, re-learning, and applying learnt knowledge in new and changing context. Architecture is a field of knowledge which is boring if just focussed on buildings solely. Itrichness makes it relevant in our ever-changing times.

S//A : Describe your dream project
MS_ A personal dream project would be to create a small ‘Musolla’ or ‘Surau’. A small prayer hall for Muslim daily prayers.