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architecture

Bedford square

Bedford sq is fascinating at the moment; on one corner there is a pro-life protest outside the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, on the neighbouring corner there’s a counter protest by a pro-choice campaign. A couple of weeks ago I was on the square with Herbie. He ran up to the pro-life people, to be greeted with pious scowls, he soon ran off towards the pro-choice desk. He was met with smiles and warmth / laughter and conversation. Ignoring my political position on the matter, I find it ironic that those stood on the corner, fighting for ‘life’, didn’t seem to see the joy of it. It’s was quite sad.

Pro-life protest

Beyond that, I find the spatialised aspect of the protest intriguing. Both camps ignoring each other, creating a geography of decision making. As you move around the square you encounter different ethical positions, it’s an argument in spatial terms. You move to locate yourself in the debate.

This is spatial politics at its most explicit. The thing that struck me, was that the process of understanding and navigating the ideas was far easier when physicalised. The contradictions and aesthetics of the philosophy involved was unmasked. The agendas were exposed for all to see.

This is something that gets lost on the internet, the abstraction and reliance of language means that complex debates spiral into rhetorical and circular debates… forget the internet of things, I want the space of networked political debate… this is a lot harder to do, when faced with a man and a toddler.

Herbie is pro-choice

For nearly two years I’ve been taking photographs and tagging them with the phrase ‘boring urban landscapes‘. The ‘project’ began with a general interest in the over-looked, the parts of our cities that aren’t seen as beautiful or interesting – the underrepresented, the marginal. By no means am I the first person to look at this, there are some wonderful photographers and a great tradition of looking for a non sentimental representation of our human-altered landscape.

New Topographics, as a term was coined around 37 years ago by William Jenkins for the curation of a show of the same name. It was a reaction against the overly romanticised view of the landscape typified by photographers such as Ansel Adams. However, this approach to photography has a varied and complex past, with masters such as William Eggleston and his representation of the ordinary. Anyway, It’s been going for 30-40 years and has a keen following on flickr, and I’m by no means a master.

What I’m going to do is use my photos as a starting point; a conceptual spring board for a range of unconnected ideas and thoughts. These have been rattling around my mind for a while.

I was first attracted to these kinds of spaces because of the way they seemed to collect objects. They acts as some sort of net for the flotsam of our material culture. In South East London, they operate in two main ways; part fly tip, part recycling centre. Here both operations are outside of the law, a black market space for material transfer. Things get left there, people pick things up there. These are spaces that get given a programmatic identity through the community that surround them, I therefore suspect that they are good as a form of social barometer.

I’m fascinated with how these ‘non-spaces’ acquire an unofficial function. Through the very fact that they a free from programme, they assume and grow a function organically.

I also like that these spaces are often found near transport infrastructures. It’s not a big surprise that land use isn’t as dense or populated by high-density lines of transportation. But I hold onto the mental image that the speed and flow of people has knocked the culture and life out of these spaces – blowing it away – like the dirty bits of motorway verges.

When we plan our cities, these bits are rife with failure; they always turn into deserted and intimidating spaces. These are the space of deviance and disorder, the city in peril. The true margins of society… maybe ‘boring urban lanscapes’ is the wrong title.

The final idea that has arisen from these is how we can start to think about the underrepresented when thinking about the future of our cities. These are the types of space that never get visualised and thought about, however, they are the spaces of a sort of Ballardian future… banality spatialised. I think we need to think about the future that has these sorts of spaces in, they ground us, they allow us to image the cultures that will adopt, occupy and transform the boring urban landscapes of tomorrow.

I’ve had the unfortunate experience of visiting a few care homes recently. My dad has vascular dementia and has needed respite care in a secure unit of a dementia home to recover from an operation.

Beyond the deeply upsetting nature of the homes, I’m fascinated by the architecture and design of the spaces. Here is the home that my dad is currently in:

The building is designed as a loop: internally it feels circular, it allows for a continual semi-cognisant drift. There is something profoundly tragic and almost cruel in allowing people to travel without ever reaching their intended (or impossible) destinations.

It reminded me of Loop Geography and Trap Rooms, the construction of an architecture to pacify and contain, forget and hide. They’ve built a psychological treadmill to allow for constant movement without interruption and restriction.

How are these structures designed? Do they come from an architectural consultation with Dementia experts?

An alternative, is Dementiaville. A dutch care village that constructs a different form of care. Instead of trapping the residents in an immovable now, they transport them to a fictional past. The ethics of this is complicated, but I know one thing, the now is not that great for these people. I wish my Dad was in Dementiaville.