Alter Periodical #1

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This is the first issue of Alter, and this is our manifesto.

ALTER

First Edition

(Change)

/200

Winter 2014


An Imprint of Bureau Architecture Bureau is a contemporary architectural design company working throughout the UK and Europe on a range of projects varying in scale, context and character. We are committed to architecture that is both sensitive and responsive when working in rural and urban contexts.

Š2014


This is the first issue of Alter, and this is our manifesto. Alter is an architectural periodical pursuing the qualities of change amidst the built environment. Our mission is to improve the quality of life in the city, inspiring debate, disseminating knowledge, exploring contemporary conditions, and encouraging change through discourse. Alter is interested in the evolution of place through use. ‘Place’ encompasses cities, spaces within them, buildings and landscapes. Alter works with all communities and is firmly focused on cultural diversity. Alter looks to celebrate excellence through design and creation, with an interest in the craft and quality of the architectural environmental landscape. Alter endeavors to make the discipline of architecture accessible and instigate patterns of change with in the context of the everyday.

Grant Shepherd


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Jim Stephenson Serpentine Pavillion


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Foreword Grant Shepherd

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The Old, The New, And The New New Johnny Fisher

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The All Weather People Millimetre

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Tomorrow Elizabeth Blundell

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Glowing Futures Katherine McConell

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Saltfish Katy Beinart Sam Barton

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Letters In The Landscape Ordinary Architecture

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Ditchling Museum Kate Jefferies

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Per Square Foot Ben Cox


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The Line It Is Drawn

“The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.” Albert Einstein

Grant Shepherd

Although rarely linear, our lives can be considered as a sequence of isolated moments, of change, lined up like a curve of dominoes. There are monumental events; the birth of a child, the death of a loved one, that alter our mind, our environments, our world. Specific events can span decades, from the construction of cities to the destruction of entire rainforests everything remains in flux around us. Change is a subject matter that is not always easy to come to terms with. Certain pleasures can be found in the belief that rhythms, routines and environments of our everyday will persevere indefinitely. Despite our hesitation, when change comes it is often expansive, thought provoking and life affirming. As individuals we strive to improve the quality of our own lives as well as the lives of others around us. This responsibility is more heartfelt by some than others but when we consciously alter our environment we aim to contribute for the betterment of humanity. And when a physical change can be identified we acknowledge that as Einstein said a change in thinking must precede the observable result. To alter: “to change something, usually slightly, or to cause the characteristics of something to change” Cambridge Dictionary. The connotation of the verb, to alter implies a deviation from a pre-existing condition; from the norm. When a noticeable, albeit minute difference comes about, through an act or process of change, this becomes one of many small steps to bring about more significant shifts. Alter; this periodical, seeks to be one of the many steps, there are unfathomable numbers of magazines and papers in print and online. Like some Alter believes in open-source publishing, not in restricting access to those that can afford it. In generating a dialogue about our culture, our politics, our society, our environment and our expectations with those outside the design professions. We don't want to preach at all, and certainly not solely to the converted that consider the places we inhabit in a critical and more importantly empowered way. Alter will seek to encourage a recognition of difference, of the contribution of multiple voices and how we might all respond and collectively improve the world we live in. Specifically, this first edition of Alter looks at change in a variety of ways, with eyes closed we consider reading Katherine McConnell's illustrative works beyond the faculty of sight. With Jonathan Fisher we reflect on the whirlwind of change as a product of hope and fear. We walk amongst the landscapes of Ordinary Architecture's ongoing projects in LA's Hollywood hills, who delightfully challenge our perceptions of scale, territory and censorship. From the origins of craft and making, Alter reviews the


work of Millimetre seeking out experimental creatives at the forefront of contemporary craftsmanship. The forward thinking article from Elizabeth Blundell looks to unhinge the reader through a journey of age, confinement and personalisation of space.Katy Beinart and Sam Barton invite us for a chat and wander around the Saltfish stalls of Brixton Market and consider the depths of their multiple histories in contrast with the present punters. Following and capturing the journey of the documentary filmmaker Giorgia Angelini, Ben Cox explores the commodification of the American housing market. We feature illustrations and photographs by up and coming creatives; Joe McCrae, Adam Dunnett and Kate Jefferies and are particularly proud to include the work of architectural photographer, Jim Stephenson. The act, to Alter has been interpreted by our contributors in a variety of ways. We acknowledge the subjectivity of both illustrator, writer and reader, where the individuals on both sides of the publishing process can open up a conversation about design in the everyday and suggest collectively how we might respond to but also make demands of the places we inhabit. Future publications will continue to consider change in the built environment from multiple positions, we hope authors will continue to cross disciplines beyond and between the boundaries of our profession. Now, a line has been drawn, we hope to transform our thinking and bring about change, first in ourselves and hopefully beyond.

To Alter: “to change something, usually slightly, or to cause the characteristics of something to change� Cambridge Dictionary.

Photograph Adam Dunnett


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Joe McCrae House Of Cards


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The old the new and the new new

Johnny Fisher


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Johnny Fisher The Old, The New And The New New

Alter and participate: the importance of joining in

things always work, where there is no toil, no boredom, where freedom is absolute, is powerful and seductive. The desire to alter and change the things that directly affect our lives is fundamentally linked to this idea of utopia, a perfect world. So we must make changes if we are to improve things and have hope that things can be better. The act of altering is compulsive. But different alterations can have radically different outcomes. Altering products or clothes is, if poorly judged, largely inconsequential. The latest iPhone upgrade will at worst be regarded with an indifferent shrug, it won’t blight the neighbourhood for generations to come; the puff ball skirt didn’t kill anyone; the asymmetric bob stopped short of being responsible for abject poverty and social alienation! But the poorly judged architectural or urban alteration is, due to its very nature, big and therefore of significant consequence to all who live or work close by. So big, in fact, that it is, rightly or wrongly, held accountable for neighbourhood blight, accidental death and the breakdown of society. These big architectural changes cannot be made lightly. They directly affect people’s lives, their wellbeing. To live alongside or walk past a particular building, or down a particular road on a daily basis, and then suddenly discover one day that it has gone, is extremely unsettling. A sense of powerlessness can take hold; if they demolished this, then what’s to stop them demolishing it all? It doesn’t even need to be the flattening of entire districts to instil this fear. Even very small alterations add to a sense of unease. The demolition of one building in a row of twenty looks like a tooth removed from a familiar smile; the closing off of one street, severing the connection that previously existed across the city, feels like a curtailment of one’s freedom; the removal of a public space and placing it into private hands feels as though what was previously unquestionably in our possession has since been stolen. Architectural and urban alterations must be undertaken in such a way that they feel appropriate, sensible, necessary and most importantly of all, fair, not to mention beautiful and elegant. Architectural discourse and critique often gets lost in subjective arguments about aesthetics and objective arguments about cost control. The fundamental debate about how successful an alteration or intervention is as a means of making people’s lives better is relegated down the agenda. A building should be beautiful and it shouldn’t blow the budget, sure, but it also needs to work and solve the problems it set out to. And fundamentally, it should benefit more people than just the client, and not make anyone else’s life any worse.

Constantly altering things, be they products, systems or ideas should make life easier. To be able to see what the problem is, address it, and find a solution is human nature, and it's arguably how we’ve arrived at where we are today and not still living in caves marvelling at the wonders of flint. To be able to improve things, even on a small scale, gives us hope that we can improve things on a much bigger scale. Change gives us hope, and hope is critical to our wellbeing.

I know that you cannot live on hope alone, but without it, life is not worth living. And you...And you... And you...Gotta give em hope.” Harvey Milk. But while change can provide us with a reason to go on, there are inevitable unintended consequences from constant alteration and change. No sooner have we resolved one problem than a new one appears, often partly the result of addressing the original problem. So a new solution must be found and another alteration needs to be made, all with the intention that it will be the last, the final touch. But on and on it goes, constant change, constant amendments, tweaks, alterations. Where will it all end, what are we trying to achieve? The pursuit of perfection is probably unrealistic, but we don’t seem to be able to stop ourselves. (Wouldn’t perfection be rather dull anyway? If everything was beautifully designed, with all problems resolved, maybe some of us would feel completely liberated and rush off to learn the guitar, or walk across Africa, but I for one would be paralysed with boredom). The concept of a perfect world, where


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Johnny Fisher The Old, The New And The New New

This is not to deny the big idea, or the big intervention, just that the bigger and more radical the alteration the more work needs to be done to persuade more people that this change can be of positive benefit to all. Without this arduous leg work, the forces of conservatism and continuity exert enormous power and will inhibit innovation and stultify the debate. While there are occasions when doing nothing may be the right thing, often these forces win through fear of change, rather than by winning the argument that the existing condition is the best. Fear of change is real; to know that what is here today will be here tomorrow and the day after and the day after that is to be secure in our understanding of the world and how it works. This gives us freedom to plan ahead and have the confidence that we can deal with whatever comes at us. Too much change too quickly will erode this, and architectural alteration without consultation and inclusion will breed unyielding resistance. The cry goes up: “we don’t need anything new, we’ve just about got used to the way things are since the last big change, leave us alone!” The fear that everything will be swept away in the process and that lives will be irreversibly altered for the worse will stop the debate dead in its tracks. Compounding the absence of ordinary voices in the debate comes the inclusions of money, big money, or more accurately, the Community Infrastructure Levy (formerly Section 106 agreements). Introduced to ensure that the developer contributes to addressing the wider social needs of a new building, (new pavements, street lights), it has become the primary source of funding for local authorities with dwindling budgets, and this means that big money is changing hands in the process of securing planning permission. Big money breeds suspicion. What were once democratic decisions start to be perceived as bought. Even if this is untrue, and the money is there honestly to make real improvements, it is not enough. People need to believe that they matter, that their opinions and ideas have value, value at least equal to that of the client. The feeling that social concerns will be over ruled by a big enough sum of money will only entrench the idea of absolutely no change, ever, and will lead to more money required to pacify public concerns. The architect is critical in allaying these fears, he or she is the only one in the process who is thinking about the lasting wider impact of the change. Arguably, there are good and bad architects, as there are good and bad teachers, and doctors. (so the moral of the story is choose wisely), but a good architect will strive to achieve a reasonable balance between wider society and the needs of his or her client.

There is evidence all over the world where this balance has been knocked out of alignment, and money has trumped all other concerns. London’s current housing market is a case in point. It no longer provides houses or homes that the majority of people can afford to buy, yet it is building them at a rate not seen for decades. This is destructive and pointless and the long term effects of it are unknown, but the precedents aren’t good. It is symptomatic of a lack of engagement from ordinary people, stakeholders in the current nomenclature, combined with the ascent of money as an end in itself as the prevailing political ideology. This shouldn’t leave us despondent. Ideas change and the balance of power can shift with more inclusion. We only need to look at how Scotland has recently used the power of greater inclusion to alter the debate. If those in power are left unchallenged they will do as they please and our urban environment will become more and more designed to serve the needs of one section of society. Alterations and changes will then become truly frightening and our concerns and our desires will be left wanting; debates about what type of brick, or what shape a roof, will seem quaint and charming as whole neighbourhoods and ways of life are swept away. We must all get involved in the debate if our tiny houses are to get any bigger, if our offices are to be more pleasant, if our schools are to become more inspiring, if our streets are to be more elegant. The architect can’t do this on his or her own, we need your support.

Join us, join us…


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Jim Stephenson CDW Out and About


Profile The All Weather People — Millimetre

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Profile Millimetre

This profile explores the contemporary British artisan design and fabrication company, Millimetre. They are the ‘All Weather People’ making what seems impossible become a reality; a boat sitting amongst the London rooftops, an indoor rainbow illuminating a cellular space. Alter seeks out experimental creative’s and delights in the playful nature of Millimetre's work.


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Profile Millimetre

The company was founded in 2006, named so as a mark of precision. They craft ideas into wonderful objects and spaces spanning architecture, art installations, furniture and interior’s. Millimetre work on the unknown; making such projects as the recent ‘Double Space’ for BMW – precision and poetry in motion for the London Design Festival at the V&A. Millimetre have been commissioned by Living Architecture for the construction and installation of a Room for London. The brief was for the fabrication of a temporary boat like structure. The ‘boat’ draws its origins from the fictional riverboat, ‘Le Roi de Belges’ in which Joseph Conrad's character navigates the Belgian Congo in his novel Heart of Darkness. With their diverse expertise Millimetre discover new terrains, they wield problematic materials into forms of joy. In a profession where care and craftsmanship in key; exposure to all weather elements is inevitable. Many of Millimetres projects involve complex contextual sites, they are people who work in all weathers they are the ‘All Weather People’.


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Profile Millimetre

We have experience and specialist knowledge in bespoke joinery, textile structure, metal finishes and bespoke art based structure.

Above

A House For London


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MAKE. CHANGE.


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Tomorrow

Elizabeth Blundell


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Elizabeth Blundell Tomorrow

Pinned to the chair a prosthetic mask is forced over his head and shoulders. The young man, George, writhes under their grip, gasping and heaving as the rubber is stretched over his face and eyes.

confinement (in the desire to escape) and indirectly of our ability to care for ourselves when mobility and dexterity falter. In the theatre setting the decades that separate the audience from the cast allow a distance to be maintained between our lived and their performed experiences. The audience observes and ascribes an Otherness2 to the actors in their roles; not necessary opposite to our own existence, but for this moment, different from ourselves. While watching I acknowledge my own fear that I will, at some point cross the lime light and that those coming decades represent a significant period of bodily transition. A transition that will take on different forms; it is likely that as individuals, we will continue to invest physically and emotionally into our current homes and gardens, to make improvements gradually over time to meet our changing bodily needs. The process by which our bodies and actions impact our environment and equally how the environment reciprocally effects us as individuals, is explored in the writing of Elizabeth Grosz, in 'BodiesCities'. Here, Grosz considers the relationship as 'mutually defining'3 and calls the process of simultaneous alteration 'inscription'4 . In the context of 'Tomorrow' we observe how the residents in the care home occupy a specific seat and afterwards, whether the individuals are present or not this place setting becomes theirs. We could say that while that resident lives there the chair, or more its position at the table has become socioculturally 'inscribed', that a legacy or territory exists within the dining room that cannot be seen but is recognised by other residents and carers alike. Modes of inscription can be subtle like this or more overt, say in the construction of buildings, which make direct, physical inscriptions within the city's fabric. Architects and other professionals engaged in the construction process could claim to have more efficacy in the production of cities, but the construction process is but a small period in the lifetime of a building during which is occupants, although initially limited by the physical attributes of the space have decades to make a space their own. As Stewart Brand notes, “[a] building is not something you finish, a building is something you start”4 and so Grosz's inscriptive process continues throughout life cycle of a home and all who dwell there make their mark. How do we understand the body that dwells, the performance in living and what traces however temporary, do we leave? A person who dwells permanently or passes through a place can be considered a 'creative agent in the production of architecture'5. Historically this agent has been called many things, not exclusively,

We look on, listening to him moan. We don't intervene, but sit aghast, gradually recoiling as the 'carers' insist. When they are finished restraining George, he sits alone, in worn striped pyjamas, his arms draped by his side, staring listlessly at the carpet or perhaps his brown stained slippers. As the play unfolds through George's residency I consider the props that set the scene in the care home around him. A winged armchair becomes the epicentre of one scene, where two residents race to claim the comfort of its threadbare cushion. The dining table is set for afternoon tea with each resident taking their place and I wonder in the depths of dementia how they remember where they always sit. Soon after George raids the laundry cupboard and we watch the residents make a first attempt to abscond. Clad in lilac smocks disguised as staff they shuffle at pace across the stage but are caught before they reach the front door. The second attempt takes the form of a stampede led by George again, and as he bellows “CHARGE!!!” they run towards the wall. I imagine the aftermath of their successful escape; the three carers standing bewildered at the cartoon-style cut-outs left in the brickwork in the fugitives wake. The escape, like an appointment George is rushing to get to throughout the play never arrives, the appointment it seems is always 'Tomorrow'1. Between the humour and despair the scenes in the care home raise some interesting questions spatially speaking about shared living environments, about the personalisation of space (in the communal lounge), of individual territories (the armchair race and table settings) as well divisions between the staff and resident realms (the restricted laundry store), about


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Elizabeth Blundell Tomorrow

occupant, inhabitant, home dweller or user. Like Jonathan Hill, I prefer the term 'user' “because it suggests positive action and the potential for misuse”6 where a predetermined idea of how one should occupy a space by the designer or architect can be completely jettisoned in the reality of how an individual chooses to live. It is a rare occurrence that a designer will work with the actual user and so the modifications of a design that is a approximation is inevitable. The extent to which we can become empowered occupants depends on how and where we live. In the care home this is limited, during the course of the play the stage doesn't extend to residents bedrooms, but the audience can imagine the few possessions and mementoes of their former life. In the UK the care home is often seen as a last resort and there is an active third age who are employing all manner of techniques to stay in the familial home they've built. Some of the 'tactics'7 are changes is habits or behaviour, not sitting on the low sofa that you can get out of or descending the thread bare stairs backwards for fear of a fall. Other small physical additions appear, mobile elements that make activities of daily living more manageable; shower seats, bath seats, toilet seat cushions, tread protectors, feet for bed legs, chair legs and table legs and there are other modifications with a degree of permanence are employed; grab rails, handrails, stair lifts and platform lifts. The problem that I and I believe the public at large have with most of this off the peg equipment is that as objects they so closely resemble medical equipment, that allowing these objects into your home seem tantamount to admitting you're one step closer to the hospital. My grandma's recent resistance to the introduction of a handrail reiterated this belief, undoubtedly these object should be seen as tools that extend ones independence but quite frankly they just don't match the wallpaper! And as Eileen Grey remarked “A house is not a machine to live-in. It is the shell of man, his extension, his release, his spiritual emanation”8 and the admittance of high tech. manufactured objects feels like a mechanisation of the home and ignites resistance. These borrowed object from the medical environments perform the job, but don't come in a variety of human sizes and colours and they just don't do it beautifully. So what can we do? I like us all to consider our potential as 'creative agents'4, as it is precisely the work that is undertaken within our own homes to directly meet our needs and aspirations that will keep us independent and empower others to do the same. Expectations need to be raised, why does a toilet have to become surrounded by bars and grab rails, why doesn't it have arms in the first place like a rocking chair?

Recently a friend had a new frame and casters added to the underside of the sofa, this raised it up and now she can rise from the cushions with ease, it made a heavy sofa mobile which can now be rearranged as she pleases. Personally I don't want to be making the dash for the winged armchair in a care home at all, if possible, I want to live a mobile life in the home I've created and so I'll be encouraging other people to modify their surroundings and to appropriate architecture. After the life affirming play 'Tomorrow' I'll be designing with alteration in mind to encourage change to take place.

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Tomorrow – Created by Vanishing Point. Conceived and directed by Matthew Lenton. Co-produced by Brighton Festival. 2014.

2

Luce Irigrary, The Sex which is not one. Cornell University Press, 1985. p.35.

3

Elizabeth Grosz, Bodies – Cities, pg. 385.

4

'How building's learn, what happends after they're built.' Stuart Brand.

5

The life of 'the user'. Adrian Forty. Daylight Architecture. Life Cycles. Autumn 2011 Issue 16, pg. 25.

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Jonathon Hill – Actions of Architecture, Architecture and Creative Users, Routledge, London, and NewYork, 2003, p. 27.

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Michel de Certeau – principle of 'tactics' which are often developed in response to an environment that does not meet the exact need of its occupants.

8

Eileen Grey, Architect Designer Painter. Anderson, Darran. Studio International, Visual Arts, Design and Media. 2013.


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Joe McCrae House of Cards


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Jim Stephenson The Ecology of Colour Studio Weave


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Jim Stephenson The Ecology of Colour Studio Weave


As Heraclitus stated "No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it's not the same river and he's not the same man" and as the passage of time rapidly changes the waters minute by minute we change, we age, we loose ourselves in our memories and those manifest as traces on our skin. The work of Katherine McConnell creates connections with the visually impaired. Her images and relief work traces the history in people's faces and gives back elements of a lost world, offering a different way of seeing to people suffering from the loss of sight.

Glowing Futures Katherine McConnell 24


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Glowing Futures Katherine McConnell


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Glowing Futures Katherine McConnell

McConnell spends time with the visually impaired community; she catalogues these encounters and presents delicate pencil drawings and tactile portraiture. Executed with a soft touch that does not immediately scream for attention her portraits drawn the onlooker into the work and invites one to take time and question ones perceptions, this face, those eyes, life a story told through time.


Through a process of understanding touch and image McConnell compares two groups of people; one group who have been blind from birth and another who are sighted but wear blindfolds. Her investigation aimed to understand the differences between blind and sighted object perception and how this could translated to a drawn form. The results demonstrated that although the visually impaired group had never seen the objects they were able to draw it on to paper far more recognisably than those who were sighted.

This exploration lead McConnell to work with The Blind Society and she continued to produce delicate portraiture that explored personal histories : how individuals came to be blind, problems faced and overcome during their transition. With a view to ensure the work remained accessible to those who participated in its production McConnell's portraiture took on two mediums, the final piece comprises one drawing in graphite and one embossed relief. The faces that embody the history of various lives can therefore been traced with fingertips as well as seen.

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I

AM

WHERE


THE SPACE

I AM

Noel Arnaud


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Joe McCrae House Of Cards


Saltfish Katy Beinart & Sam Barton A conversation

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Both of us are working on PhDs that are rooted in some way in Brixton. Katy is doing a practice-led PhD at The Bartlett, UCL, and Sam is a Geographer also at UCL. Katy’s work concerns salt, commodities, migration, empire and poetics in relation to current regeneration sites. Sam works on the competing claims to authenticity made in a neighbourhood undergoing an accelerated period of change. We chose to structure a discussion around saltfish as a way to dig into the overlap between our projects.

SB: Maybe you could start us off by speaking about your interest in saltfish? KB: Saltfish might be seen as signifying the intersections of different communities in Brixton. People who buy saltfish come from different cultural backgrounds including the Caribbean, Portugal, Greece, Italy, and parts of Africa. Despite the wide-ranging cultural origins of buyers, and differing uses of the product in the present, its place in these food cultures is part of the same history. Salt became a valuable commodity during European colonial expansion, because it preserved food for the long journeys of exploration and subsequent colonisation of overseas territories. Furthermore, salted fish was used to feed slaves working on the sugar plantations in the West Indies. In West Africa, cured fish could be used to purchase slaves1. Saltfish has become part of distinct and geographically diverse cultural

traditions and diets through the slave trade and British colonialism. As migrants have arrived in Brixton, they have brought with them traditions that are perceived as foreign, but are in fact intrinsically linked to the imperial history shared by Britain and its former colonies. Brixton market has been going through some significant changes. Can you explain how the way saltfish is being consumed is changing with new consumers coming to Brixton market? SB: Today the market is transformed into a crucible of middle class consumption. Encounter with difference remains a draw for white middle classes, who seek to participate in what bell hooks has termed ‘eating the other’2. The allure of the ‘authentic’ has a heightened presence in the section of the market formerly know as Granville Arcade and now rebranded as ‘Brixton Village’. A diverse array of food available from both traditional stalls and new restaurants can be read as telling a story of empire past and present, of postcolonial melancholia3 and globalisation. With this article in mind I recently went to buy saltfish. Picking it up, looking at it, comparing prices, and eventually settling on two sides of cod encrusted in diamanté salt - in a fishmonger on Market Row, for £6. Afterwards I walked into Brindisa, the newly opened restaurant and food shop of the well-established Spanish wholesalers. There for £9 was a small perfectly square fillet of salt cod boned, dusted in salt, protected by plastic, almost like Turkish delight. What does it mean for the white middle classes to encounter and buy saltfish, or queue for salt cod fritters at Fish Wings and Tings in the Village, given the history and cultural significance imbued in these products as you’ve outlined? KB: To buy saltfish today is, in part, to be nostalgic. The need for salting to preserve fish is no longer there, but it

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remains a traditional part of many food cultures. I spoke to a woman in Portugal who said she would always buy salt cod for the taste, even though it was more expensive. However in terms of the ‘white middle classes’, I think it is a different kind of nostalgia at work. Svetlana Bohm suggests that urban renewal taking place at the present is no longer futuristic but nostalgic4. Nostalgia can be seen as a response to a teleological notion of progress, which leaves a yearning for the particular5. In situations of rapid change, this can impel a kind of restorative nostalgia, in which an invented tradition is a response to the changes taking place. I think that what’s happening in London is that people want to consume something more authentic or particular. This is being packaged as an experience that they can consume - whether that’s salt cod in Brindisa or salt beef in Maltby Street. The danger is that this means rewriting the past, editing out elements that don't fit into the chosen narrative. So people can consume salt cod without awareness of the slave trade, colonisation, or the fact that migrant communities are being pushed out of these areas. Diverse food cultures are being made palatable for consumers, concealing the political. How does this notion of nostalgia relate to the way that you think about authenticity? SB: Like nostalgia, the idea of the authentic object negotiates dialectics of absence/presence6, past tense/present tense - how to encounter something absent or past in the here and now. In my research I have tried to break apart the notion of authenticity, in order to distinguish between claims that rest first on the object’s semiotic entanglement with an external referent. For instance, thinking of saltfish as authentic because it comes from somewhere, or because it resembles something past or absent. It is authentic

basically because it is vouched for. The second sort of authenticity rests on the encounter. The authenticity that means that the object and the subject meet on their own terms. Considering an object such as saltfish anew, not just materially but with some sense of what it means socially and culturally to meet it. I think one can usefully compare these ideas of authenticity with Benjamin’s notion of Aura7 and Berman’s deployment of Rousseau’s ‘authentic’ subject8. Our yearning is never satisfied because a commodity cannot be particular; it must resemble other things in order to have an exchange value. However, in a place like Brixton Village market, or Byron Burger9 for that matter, there is a courting of the particular through an aesthetic of incompleteness. Something incomplete infers that you might encounter the means of production, as we are left to imagine the return of the maker to complete it. Perhaps you could talk about the kind of encounter you try to curate with salt. Do you think of this as deconstructing salt as a commodity? KB: Saltfish’s authenticity is cultural. So I guess if you wanted to encounter it authentically, you’d need to get into the way saltfish is used in cultural practices - the recipes, the occasions, the conversations. I think that is what I am trying to do with my work with salt.Through working with salt I attempt to understand its poetics, its cultural connections, its social relations etc. But I’m also trying to highlight a substance that seems to be hidden in plain sight, that is in one way very ordinary but also quite extraordinary, that contains multiple, difficult, contested histories. So that in a sense we bring back the social relations to the commodity, and defetishise it. So, through exposing the narratives behind the product, it becomes the opposite of the fantasy image of the

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To buy saltfish today is, in part, to be nostalgic. The need for salting to preserve fish is no longer there, but it remains a traditional part of many food cultures.

In terms of the ‘white middle classes’, I think it is a different kind of nostalgia at work. 35


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product, and instead I'm saying: touch this, imagine the sea. Not just now but in history. There’s a poet called Edouard Glissant whose poetry book ‘Black Salt’ talks about the historical connections between the sea and slavery10 and of course Paul Gilroy has written about the idea of the Black Atlantic11. So it is asking you to get in deep with what you are consuming. And this includes place of course. To come back to Brixton, the way I see it is that there is a danger that the experience on offer is superficial, you can encounter the other, eat the other, but you don’t have to stay in it. You don’t have to take on the difficult past of the other, too. More broadly this points towards the importance of dialogue in public places, which can help create a critical engagement with objects and spaces of consumption. Jeremy Till has written about the need to reform the everyday as a place of political resistance, not just of consumption12. SB: Yes, I do think you are answering my question! What I’d add is that in the fantasy image - or dream image, as Walter Benjamin described in the Arcades Project13, there is a utopianism that should not be discarded, but that might actually be profoundly radical when freed from the commodity form. I suppose returning to the notion of the particular, or the authentic, within these ideas is a facsimile of the object which reveals its production, that is engaged with fully by both producer and consumer. It seems to me that your work about salt is almost about prising open a fissure in a space of consumption like Brixton Village market, and hopefully constructing a space in which people can seek an alternative future, instead of flailing about in the hope that they might access an ideal in the rose-tinted past.

1

Mark Kurlansky. Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World. (London: Vintage, 1999) p. 81-2

2

Bell hooks. Black Looks: Race and Representation. (South End Press, 1992) p. 21

3

Paul Gilroy. After Empire: Melancholia Or Convivial Culture? (London: Routledge, 2004)

4

Svetlana Bohm, The Future of Nostalgia. (Basic Books, 2001) p. 75-6

5

Bohm, p.10

6

Elizabeth Wilson in (1997). ‘Looking Backward, Nostalgia and the City’ in Imagining Cities: Scripts, Signs and Memories ed. Sallie Westwood & John Williams (Routledge, 2004) p. 127-39

7

Walter Benjamin, ‘Art in the age of mechanical reproduction’ in Illuminations. (Random House, 1999)

8

Marshall Berman. The Politics of Authenticity : Radical Individualism and the Emergence of Modern Society. (Allen and Unwin, 1971)

9

Jon Moses wrote a good piece about this for Open Democracy https://www.opendemocracy. net/ourkingdom/jonathan-moses/byronbrewdog-and-recuperation-of-radical-aesthetics

10

Edourad Glissant, Black Salt. Trans. Betsy Wing (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. 1998)

11

Paul Gilroy, The Black Atlantic. (London: Verso, 1993)

12

Jeremy Till, ‘Angels with dirty faces’, Scoope No.7 (Cambridge: University of Cambridge, 1995) p. 5-12

13

Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project, d. Rolf, Tiederman. Trans. Howard Eiland and Keving McLaughline. Harvard University Press. 1999.

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Profile Ordinary Architecture

02


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Profile Ordinary Architecture

We all know the HOLLYWOOD sign, the lettering on the hillside remains as geographically inaccessible to the most of us as the fame it represents. But in the rugged hinterland of the sign those that make the journey on foot will happen upon something quite out of the ordinary. Scattered along the roadside magnifying glasses offer an enlarged view of the original landmark but on closer inspection something appears to be missing. The letters that the lenses steal from view materialise along the roadside. Spectators delight in their discovery, children rush to climb


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Profile Ordinary Architecture

through the 'O' and over the 'L', relishing the opportunity to play amongst the abandoned runes. There is a sense of mischief to the installation that the public become party too and this makes the installation all the more enjoyable. The design of the 'Falling Icon(s)' by 'Ordinary Architecture' form part of the 'On The Road Project' currently being undertaken in Los Angeles. We hope this hillside project is just the beginning of more extraOrdinary things to come.


42

Jim Stephenson Paveys upon Pillars Studio Weave Architects


43

Jim Stephenson Paveys upon Pillars Studio Weave Architects


44

Kate Jefferies Ditchling Museum


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The Ditchling Museum located in Sussex stands before us as an eye opening gentle set of architectural volumes. Aligning new with old, Kate Jefferies photographed the buildings as a journey selecting moments that reveal the honest truths and future connections of the building.



48

Per Square Foot

Ben Cox

It was August this year that an opportunity presented itself; to spend several weeks with Guy Mossman; a Cinematographer specializing in documentary film making based beyond Downtown Los Angeles. Acting at times a runner and with a brief interludes as a secondary camera man, my main role would be to take production stills for Guy, documenting the projects he was working on and so with camera bag in tow, I flew out to the States.

Driving east out of LA, it is almost impossible not to gawp in wonder at the seemingly endless suburban sprawl. The aptly named Inland Empire is one of the most populated metropolitan areas of the United States. Although the housing complexes, swimming pools and strip malls that line the freeway suggest affluence and security, for one of my companions, Giorgio Angelini, this diaspora of LA should be viewed through more cynical eyes. Angelini is a practising architect and designer for Schaum/Shieh Architecture in New York. Over the past year, Angelini has turned his attention to directing a feature length documentary on the condition of the American housing market. Entitled Cost Per Square Foot the film explores the commodification of American housing over the past half-century and the problems this presents for the future of property development. Angelini has employed Guy Mossman to shoot the principle photography which will illustrate the central themes presented by the various key players within the housing market which include scholars, realtors and local experts. For Angelini the Inland Empire and other areas of Southern California are a perfect example of commodification. Once famed for their oranges, over the last 50 years these areas have seen a transition from agricultural economies to residential areas. In Riverside County, on the fringes of the Inland Empire, this contrast is clearly visible as burnt orange groves sit adjacent to large new complexes of neat, uniform houses. For Angelini this juxtaposition makes up a key sequence of shots in the documentary and we spend a lot of time with cinematographer Guy Mossman framing and capturing the surreal landscape.


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Ben Cox Per Square Foot

On the drive back into LA our route takes us through one of the Riverside housing complexes. To my surprise, many of the houses lay empty, foreclosure notices nailed to doors and gates. We drive on and Angelini begins to talk in more detail about the problems that face the American housing market. Angelini explains, “the post [world] war era was an exciting time for modern architects as prefabrication and mass production were big tenants of modernism. There was a social mission to these early ideas of housing and I guess that my argument in the film is that this social mission has fallen by the wayside.” He suggests that various actors within the housing market have driven the idea of the house away from being one of protective shelter or a social incubator to a house as an asset or commodity. Angelini is careful not to blame one single party, instead looking towards the complex set of relationships that exist between the financial system, government action and the wider population. He explains that this has become apparent both from his research and from the testimony of the experts and scholars he has interviewed for the purposes of the documentary. “I went into this project demonizing banking, which is easy to do and definitely valid. However my understanding of the government’s role in the crisis and the commoditisation of housing is far more insidious”. This is because in the last 50 years the idea of home ownership has become increasingly central to ideas of the American Dream. As a result, home ownership has become an important part of government policy, which can be seen in support and subsidisation given to buyers. What started off as getting people into homes then became a system that could be manipulated by poorly regulated financial actors. In the run-up to the crash in 2008 governments were allowing banks to reduce the barriers to receive a mortgage. The housing crisis that followed was the result of nationwide foreclosures as individuals defaulted on contracts they were unable to afford. Although encouraged by the banks and successive administrations, Angelini goes on to argue, home buyers must also accept some responsibility for the transition and be encouraged to change their behaviour. There needs to be a move away from the perception of the home as a site of investment, speculation and saving towards building for a permanent and lasting future. This fact was made clear to me over the following days as we shadowed one of the main subjects of the film, San Diego realtor Jim Klinge. With each client he would discuss, in detail, how if they purchased the property, they might increase its value for eventual sale. With this vision of a final sale in mind the American market has stumbled


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Ben Cox Per Square Foot


51

further into houses being viewed as commodities but also into a distinct uniformity. When viewed, as assets buyers prefer houses that will appeal to the most potential buyers when they themselves put the house on the market. The houses of the Inland Empire are only part of a greater problem that affects the whole of the US. Its houses are the physical manifestations of a system haunted by poor foundations; the cracked veneers and cheap interiors hint at the greater issues facing America. There is of course no one solution to this problem and actions such as financial regulation can only go so far. ”We need to break people away from the idea that the home is a tradable good” not only changing the market infrastructure but its very culture. Angelini highlights that there are many projects both historical and modern that represent a better and more sustainable approach to living. On our return to LA we visit Mar Vista, an area of LA that has been designated as a historic preservation overlay zone because of its unique architecture and social planning. Designed in the 1950’s by architect Gregory Ains the neighbourhood is made up of one-storey single-family residential houses that provided low to medium income families with affordable housing. Ains worked closely with landscape architect Garrent Eckbo to integrate the houses into the neighbourhood using sculpted social spaces, creating an almost park-like atmosphere within the development. Areas such as Mar Vista should be accessed as part of a sustainable future for the American housing market, where homes are built to last and to be lived in, with a sense of community and purpose. Angelini’s project is well under way as he has filmed many of the interviews needed for the story’s development, with Guy Mossman’s help he aims to complete principle photography by the end of the year. Although by no means the first to explore the topic, Angelini hopes the film will help catalyse a greater movement towards a sustainable housing market, one with a social, rather than financial mission.

Ben Cox Per Square Foot

the film will help catalyse a greater movement towards a sustainable housing market, one with a social, rather than financial mission.


INSPIRE. CHANGE.


Founder & Commissioning Editor & Art Direction Grant Shepherd is a Designer, Architect, Educator and Writer. Founder of the contemporary design practice Bureau Architecture in 2012 his work focuses on the details of everyday and larger sociocultural alterations in the built environment. Shepherd is fascinated by urban change and how powers at play initiate and perpetuate shifts that manipulate our very reality. With an interest in cultural evolution in the production of cities, Shepherd seeks to broaden design audiences to facilitate a diversification of the world of architecture.

Published and conceived in Brighton, UK. All views expressed in articles appearing in Alter Periodical are those of the authors and not necessarily shared by the publisher.

Founder, Commissioning & Copy Editor Elizabeth Blundell is a practicing Architect, Educator and Writer. Having worked in the healthcare sector for a number of years her work and research continues to explore vulnerability within the built environment. Her practice aims to bring about a change in the design and production of architecture by encouraging multi-sensory body centred design. Now exploring vulnerability at a domestic scale, one of her ambitions is to empower people to raise their expectations, make demands and take control of the places they inhabit. Creative Director William Lyall is an enthusiastic designer searching to create stimulating and provocative work. He enjoys working within the traditional boundaries of graphic design to create new and exciting projects. Art Direction

Photography

Clare Shepherd is a print designer with a passion for Typography, Photography, Art Direction and Illustration.

Kate Jefferies Jim Stephenson Adam Dunnett

Copy Editor

Illustration

Joris Roulleau

Katherine McConell Joe McCrae


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