issn 2041-2878 (print)
issue no. 6 Landscape/Ecology
P. E. A. R.
paper for emerging architectural research
contributors jonathan hill mariele neudecker greer crawley smout allen & geoff manaugh jan zalasiewicz matthew butcher (post works) jes fernie & marjolijn dijkman aberrant architecture dk-cm omar ghazal hugh mcewen & catrina stewart fleafollyarchitects: stasus david musgrave ay architects phil tabor peg rawes adrian lahoud the big air world
Heritage Landscapes aberrant architecture
Roaming Market Front View. Photo Ben Quinton, 2013
40â€ƒ Heritage Landscapes
Exterior View, St John’s Square North, Tiny Travelling Theatre. Photo Simon Kennedy, 2013
Heritage architecture should offer more than meets the eye.
efore the recent G8 summit in Northern Ireland, some shops near the venue in Enniskillen were made to look like an old-fashioned high street. This ‘historical’ experience was part of a £1m makeover for the visiting North American, Japanese, Russian and European dignitaries, who were being put up at a bankrupt golf resort. Only the sausages hanging in the traditional butcher’s shop window were fakes. In fact, every one of the stores was a façade. One clue was the lack of signage above the doors. Another giveaway was the lack of customers. Northern Ireland is apparently leading the way in this nascent demand for fake shops, which are also starting to appear in other locations, inspired by a mix of nostalgia and ‘death-of-the-high-street’ angst. Defending the optical illusion, the chief executive of the local council in Northern Ireland stated that they were just trying to make the local high street “look better and more aesthetically pleasing.”1 When visiting abroad, citizens of ‘old’ Europe may be used to scoffing at this type of historical fakery: from the phoney Eiffel Tower in Las Vegas and the mock Tudor Mansions in Massachusetts to denigrating the indoor Venetian canal in Macao or the model English villages in the middle of China. But, as it turns out, we are all at it now and the European examples are not all that recent, either. During a discussion on heritage at a Royal Academy Forum in London in 2011, Ippolito Pestellini from the architectural office OMA described the city of Dresden in Germany as a complete fake. For him the city rebuilt after Allied bombing during WWII is comprised almost entirely of re-engineered, artificial versions of buildings recreated from the city’s past. This idea of the historical fake has arguably reached its nadir with the establishment of the pop-up high street in Northern Ireland. Yet are these shop façades, principally based upon image and surface, enough to qualify as heritage? To answer that we must first decide what heritage means in terms of architecture. Heritage refers to something inherited from the past. In architecture this ‘something’ is all too often taken to be a building without
any context or relationship to time and place. But there is a movement within architecture against this form of isolation. Alongside the likes of OMA, the great Italian architect and designer Aldo Rossi has lamented the principal failure of modern architecture to be “its inability to realise a valid historical synthesis”. Right now this question of heritage in architecture is currently playing out in Rio de Janeiro as the city receives a facelift and substantial infrastructure investment in time for hosting the football World Cup and the next Olympic games. Washington Farjardo, the President of the Rio World Heritage Institute, questions the city’s current preservation strategies. Writing in a recent issue of the RIBA Journal, guest-edited by aberrant architecture, he argues that an exclusively physical approach is not sufficient: “When talking about heritage, are we solely talking about inheritance and a look at our past? Or can we think about heritage as a tool that, when we remember our origins and our history, it works like a lever for the construction of the future, a catalyst for ideas and actions that look ahead, having in this present past, the anchor of an evolutionary process?”2 Heritage landscapes Quite simply, heritage in architecture needs to run deeper than the surface image. It should be understood within a broader framework of time and experience of use, engaging both with context and with all the senses. To us, heritage should be seen as a continually evolving landscape. In everyday conversation, we typically use the term landscape to describe a postcard scene of the rolling countryside (or a painting of such scenes). However, the true meaning of a landscape comprises not just the image and surface the physical elements, such as hills, rivers and trees but also the cultural overlay of human presence and activity over time, as well as transitory elements such as lighting and weather conditions. So a ‘heritage landscape’ should in fact be seen as the dynamic backdrop to our lives, combining both the bricks and mortar of image and surface with a cultural non-physical overlay of context, narrative, time, memory and experience of use. In this way, the specific character and quality of an individual heritage landscape defines the image of an area, town or indeed a high street, giving it a sense of place that differentiates it from other areas.
Research Drawing, Tiny Travelling Theatre, by aberrant architecture, 2013
Roaming Market Perspective. Drawing by aberrant architecture, 2013
For Jay Merrick, architecture critic of The Independent, it would also include experiences derived from “different personal positions of time, place and emotion; the clichés of a remembered colour, smell, quality of light or a single small detail”3. As Merrick has questioned, “Is it a subtle essence or atmosphere of the past that we crave, rather than starkly arbitrary presentations of heritage substance?”4 We could say that a heritage landscape embraces a whole array of knowledge, stories, activities and traditions that stretch beyond the physical objects that can be touched. Two of our most recent projects at aberrant architecture have attempted to recapture these elements or atmospheres of the past without purely resorting to historic recall. Tiny Travelling Theatre The SMALL-COAL-MAN’S Tiny Travelling Theatre gave its debut performance at the 2012 Clerkenwell Design Week in London. The mobile theatre toured the Clerkenwell area for the duration of the festival, towed behind a Volkswagen split-screen camper van to various staging sites, from Clerkenwell Green in the North to St John’s Square in the South. Once in position, an audience of up to six people can sit inside the mobile theatre’s enclosed staging and seating area, from where they can enjoy a series of intimate one-off theatrical, comedic and musical performances delivered by solo performers but often with audience participation. A large sound funnel provides passers-by with a snippet of the acts occurring within. Meanwhile, folding tables and ice buckets on the exterior allow visitors to enjoy pre- and post-performance drinks at the impromptu bar. The project showed off Clerkenwell’s unique cultural overlay by focussing on the story of a distinctive local resident from the 17th century. In 1678, Thomas Britton, a travelling coal salesman by trade, turned his living quarters above a coal shed in Clerkenwell into a concert hall called the Small-CoalMan’s Musick Club. It was a wildly popular venue that attracted performances from first-time amateurs to one of the greatest composers of all time, George Frideric Handel. We drew on historical accounts of these events to recapture some of the essence, atmosphere and qualities of the original venue, even though the final design of our Tiny Travelling Theatre has very little in common with its historical inspiration in terms of visual representation. For instance, in our travelling theatre the stage door is opened by use of a boat handle, and a ‘coal scuttle’ roof filters dappled light into the miniature auditorium. These aspects reference Britton’s former profession and his own concert hall’s fully functioning organ, creating sensory experiences of this 17th century historical landscape without resorting to a pale imitation of the original design. Roaming Market Roaming Market is another of our projects to demonstrate how contemporary architecture can locate itself within tradition, creatively adapting precedents to new conditions. We created the stall earlier this year for Lower Marsh Market in Waterloo, part of the London borough of Lambeth.
The Roaming Market can be moved to different sites around Waterloo, much like the Tiny Travelling Theatre moved around Clerkenwell. Once in situ, the compact structure unfolds into a multi-functional market stall, featuring a covered seating area with built-in chessboard and a stage on the roof for hosting live events and performances. The design is inspired by a number of historical precedents from the local area. One of these is a set of drawings of ‘totem’ structures, which we found in Hugh Alley’s idiosyncratic 16th century text ‘A Caveatt for the City of London’. Groups of market traders would assemble around these totems, often representing the part of the country where the produce they were selling originated. An additional influence was Lambeth’s history as a market area renowned for mystics and fortune-tellers. The giant chicken sign capping the structure captures stories of chickens being used to tell fortunes, a local tradition that goes back to Roman times. The sign is also formed of images of livestock, food and household items that were sold on the ‘New Cut’ market, according to records from 1849. Once again, though, the stall itself is not purely the ‘event’ in Lower Marsh Market. It is not a historical site to see or solely fixated with image and style. Rather, it is a platform that can accommodate an annual programme of events and shared experiences for the contemporary market. The new stall marks the next step in the evolving story of Lower Marsh Market, reimagining historic market structures and happenings to reflect the unique character, noise and atmosphere of the present day. History keeps moving History continues to fascinate. Even so, the interests and expectations of modern participants demand more one-off sensory experiences over static objects to be stared at from a distance. Heritage architecture that offers little more than a façade for a quick photograph will last as long as it takes to delete a digital file. The idea of the heritage landscape as a series of overlapping layers comprising the physical and experiential; the everyday and extraordinary; memory and presence; the contemporary and timelessness, offers a far more rewarding experience. Architecture can locate itself within this framework by creatively adapting historic precedents, tradition and historic contemplation to contemporary conditions and remembering that places are not merely architectural but social, cultural, political, emotional and economic creations.
1 Quote by the chief executive of Fermanagh District Council, Brendan Hegarty. Published online in the BBC's Magazine Monitor, 7 June 2013. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/blogsmagazine-monitor-22819331 2 Washington Fajardo with Felipe Cristiano Reigada and Paula Oliveira Camargo.Translated by Fernanda Balata. History, The City and the Role of Studio-X, Riba Journal, March 2013. 3 Jay Merrick, Cronocaos: Heritage and Heresy, Architects Journal, 7 April, 2011 4 ibid
Roaming Market Rear View. Photo aberrant architecture, 2013