"Many years ago, when I chose to become and architect in order to make a positive contribution to the world, I heard a lot of criticism towards to the very excluding language that architects used when talking about the built environment.
Nowadays, It would appear that not only the world of architects but the rest of the built environment is full of buzzwords which neither manage to convey what is important about what we are trying to achieve nor are accessible to those who we are ultimately building for.
People in this industry repeat them endlessly as though in doing so, they gained sense … The use of words such as “café culture”, “gentrification” and “place-making”, quite literally gives me heart ache for those who talk about them rarely understand the true meaning behind them.
When we were children, we were told that there is a meaning (name/word) and a signifier (object/idea), and that one cannot make sense to us without the other. (The tree was the example they used in my school.) Nowadays, however, the same words are copied, pasted and forwarded in a variety of very different contexts. What works here, must work there and if it does not, we demolish it and start again.
Like tourists who don’t know the local language of a place and expect the locals to speak to them in their own language, we seem to have developed a tendency to work from a blank sheet rather than submerge into what is already there in order to come up with solutions that are rooted within their own context…
The arts have not such a manner though. They look AND they see. They take AND they give.
I live in Maiden Lane, an estate that was born from the dreams of Benson and Forsyth and which became their nightmare as social breakdown took place in the eighties…
Years and even decades have gone by and a lot was written about it “by experts” but as a one of the many architects “in residence” who choose to live in houses and flats they love rather than compromise elsewhere, I have spoken to the residents who repeatedly told the same story to me:
The buildings were wonderful, like villas in sunny countries, but as money run out, the council made cuts in the construction of the later phases…. By the time the last phase was completed, the profile of the council tenant had changed and despite the fact that many of those brought in to the estate were vulnerable and had serious problems, they were abandoned without support. Then the council stopped maintaining the estate and the perfect storm found its way into the estate.
Estates have a reputation that can rub off on those living in them. Children seek the safety of the hood and choose not to adventure into the rest of the city , despite having free bus passes, because of a paralysing sense of inadequacy that they have learnt to feel.
The economic difficulties that many families live with, make looking into furthering one’s education a lesser priority whilst turning culture into a perceived luxury that does not seem to be at reach. Yesterday though, as outsiders became hosts I felt a glimmer of hope...
As part of their Circus Fest 2014, Roundhouse selected the heart of the estate to become the centre stage and backdrop for their Echoes performance. Choreographer Ella Robson Guilfoyle developed a site specific piece that was inspired by the opportunities for interaction presented to us in our daily life, which she staged making use of the context in more ways than one.
From acoustics to lighting, from textures to *corral-style overlooking from balconies, the elements were part of it.
The days leading to the event were full of palpable excitement. Kids, teens and adults alike passed the installation pretending not to look… I know this, because I was “one of them”. We secretly wanted to know that it was really happening, that the Pink Floyd Echoes were not a hallucination and that they were for us to enjoy.
As people adventured into the estate to see the performance the space became , to them , a welcoming theatre rather than the threat that is usually perceived to be.
A magic blanket of music and light shone on the facades of the same buildings that the experts criticised . The canopies above the entrances to the terrace houses became benches for inspired teenagers and the little ones who would never have attended a contemporary performance sat closely with their eyes and mouths opened .
Parents relaxed and so did visitors . People left possessions unattended and gave way to each other . They spoke and gasped looking at each other's eyes.
Maiden Lane was once more, at the centre of the debate. Bright, once more , despite the lack of maintenance . Afterall, as we say in Spain, every cat is black at night.
Art, theatre and good design are magical, tangible . They bring the best in people. They are not material, and yet bring so much value to people's lives that they feel transformed. Through performances like this one, we travel to places that never imagined and get inspired to do things we never imagined that existed... It is because of this that more of these kind of events should visit communities rather than expect for the communities to visit them.
If we want to build cities where people will want to live, lets start by working with what we've got and improve it , as a team, rather than demolish it or change it. I have the feeling that this will always be a more enjoyable journey.
As the second performance is about to commence, I can't wait to experience the magic again .(Final performance Saturday 5th of April 2014 at 8pm)"
Photography by Cristina Lanz-Azcarate