A PLACE CALLED HOME
A PLACE CALLED HOME Corinna Kern
A PLACE CALLED HOME Corinna Kern
What does home mean to you? To what extent is the
physical entity but an orientation to the fundamental values –
experience of home related to a place or a feeling? How
gathering together into “one fundamental value” the myriad
does this experience manifest in a life of constant transition?
“intimate value of inside space” – with which a home, as an intimate space in the universe, is linked to human nature’.
In ‘A Place Called Home’ I embark on a personal journey
through London’s squatting scene, exploring how it connects
During my journey I discovered that the definition of ‘home’
to the idea of home. What might commonly be perceived
can extend far beyond a physical existence. After squatting
as a shelter for the homeless or poor is often a conscious
of residential buildings was rendered illegal in September
choice of an alternative and communal way of living. The
2012, squatters’ homes are now often housed in unusual
squatting lifestyle attracts many individuals on their search
premises, only unfolding through the intersection of human
for adventure, freedom, friendship and self-discovery. Yet,
interaction. From derelict warehouses to design studios,
it demands sacrifices and the ability to change and adapt.
from garden centres to fabric storehouses, each place has
The prospect of evictions renders ‘places to call home’
been infused with its own particular spirit. They are places of
temporary and the attachment to possessions can become
infinite possibilities enabling their inhabitants to create their
a burden. ‘The less you demand or possess, the happier you
own sacred world inside them – a space of creativity and self-
are’ is a phrase I have heard many times and something I
expression, of refuge and safety, of human encounters and
have come to learn personally. It is an attitude that refocuses
shared moments, of compromises and surprises and lastly
your attention away from materialism back to humanism and
a space to retract themselves from the outside world and
your fundamental values.
dream. As Gaston Bachelard said: ‘The house shelters daydreaming, the house protects the dreamer, the house allows
I have come to discover that, in order to be rewarded by
one to dream in peace’.
squatting, I have had to step outside of my comfort zone. You may not have a shower but you may gain the most amazing
This book is the beginning of my journey and a summary of
rooftop views. You may have to share your room with seven
my first three months living with a squatting community of
other people but you may share your happiest moments with
30 people – a community that extends to a large network of
them. You may have to move ten times a year but the diverse
squatters all over London in that everyone seems to know
places and people you meet become an integral part of your
everyone – at least by sight. I have been to seven different
journey through life, turning it into anything but ordinary. I
squats, which allowed me to find familiar faces in fresh
have lived with individuals from all over the world that have
squats and new people in established ones. These people
become my family and thus part of my home. Even if places
have not only enriched my project but also my life. With ‘A
and faces change, the experience endures.
Place Called Home’ I aim to share the beautiful and intimate moments I witnessed, which convey a sense of being at
‘Wherever I am, I make it my home’, is an attitude that is
home – moments that may be recognised by you or that
shared by most squatters, hence detaching the idea of
may make you rethink your definition of home. For myself,
home from a permanent physical location. As defined by
I realised that – as with most aspects in life – it is about how
French philosopher Gaston Bachelard, ‘A home is not a
you look at things and where you focus your attention on.
Many times in European cities I have come across warehouses converted into spaces for exhibitions, raves or photo shoots. However, through ‘The Castle’ I experienced how commercial space can be transformed into a home, detaching architecture from its original intended purpose. What once was a five-storey office block started a new life as an accommodation for 30 residents – a number that rose to 100 within three months of the squat opening. With its sustained influx of new residents and guests, the Castle became a crossing point for a variety of individuals – too many to get to know in person but more than enough for interesting encounters and small adventures. The Castle’s beauty and vastness lent it its name. The wide hallways, high ceilings and large window fronts gave it a magnificent appearance. When it was first occupied it looked like ‘it had just been built’, Song, one of the residents, tells me. ‘It had this wow-effect.’
Yet, on my first visit its appearance was quite different. Graffiti already covered the walls, loud techno music filled the air while hundreds of people gathered and danced. A rave was held on this Saturday night morphing the building into nothing that resembled a living space – at least at first glance. Apart from the ground floor – the ‘party floor’ – the other storeys were designated for living. They, too, had lost their cleanliness through the multitude of human encounters that had left behind their signatures through paintings and writings as well as a taste of human presence of a different generation. The space had gained its own vibe of the people and their lifestyle – a sense of freedom that unfolds in its entirety on the high rooftop overlooking London’s cityscape. For my friend who knew the building as her old work place, the experience was all the more surprising: ‘It was strange to see how something that used to be such a professional and formal environment could transform into something so free flowing’, she told me. ‘At first I found it disrespectful how they treated the space but the more time we spent there, I saw that they had just made it their own, just like we had done before them.’
BOROUGH HIGH STREET
When I first entered the squat on Borough High Street I was struck by its grand appearance. Not only does its architectural value put this grade II listed building under law of protection but it also made it a place that shook my notions of what a squat should resemble. The living-room is immersed in soft sunlight shining through
BOROUGH HIGH STREET
the large windows. At night, it is replaced by warm street lighting, endowing the room with a golden tint. The warmth of the crew is no less striking – it is a sense of family that conveys feelings of belonging and homliness. This sensation will live on after the short period of five weeks that the owner allowed the crew to stay before the house is transformed back into offices. Alessandro confirms, ‘With these people I always feel at home, wherever the place may be’.
THE FABRIC STOREHOUSE
When I first entered the fabric storehouse something took hold of me â€“ a fascination about the other world vaguely remembered by its remnants while leaving the rest to the imagination. In the fabric storehouse these remnants consist of hundreds of fabric rolls patiently waiting for their turn to be transformed into something new. They
THE FABRIC STOREHOUSE
become a means of creativity and private sphere in a home of about 30 residents. As bed sheets and pillows, decorations for ceilings and walls and to section rooms and set up little tents, they construct a world of colours and character. People sit and talk or quietly dream, others paint or draw, while from time to time someone picks up a guitar to play a few chords. With every visit I came to experience something new â€“ a new space, a new face, a new use for the old or a new colour.
THE GARDEN CENTRE
Hidden between North London’s busy streets lies a peaceful place where the fast pace of city life seems to have come to a halt. ‘When I come back home from work I always feel like I’m on vacation’, Alfonso tells me. The enchanting atmosphere of the ‘Garden Centre’ also invites me to indulge in my peace of mind for a couple of hours. The former greenhouse now serves as a vast but cosy living area with a kitchen and milky glass walls dispersing warm sunlight. Other greenhouses silently keep treasures from their
THE GARDEN CENTRE
time as a garden nursery, of which some will find a new purpose or an old one in a new time. The variety of plant pots will become home to vegetables and spices while a clay oven and other practicalities are being built. It feels like the place is becoming a small self-sufficient community for the crew of 12 people who hope that an agreement with the owner will allow them to keep the place long-term. Two pregnant women and their partners live here, adding to the sense of settling down, to the feel of a squat that could become an arrival point rather than just a step in life.
From outside, iron letters hidden and overgrown by plants remind us of ‘Downtown Restaurant’. Listening to the sounds of seagulls and breaking waves, I feel like I am sitting on the beach while the view of Canary Wharf’s skyscrapers reminds me that I am still in London, on a terrace overlooking the Thames. Where once restaurant guests dined, I am now daydreaming on a pair of detached car seats while a young couple is taking bucket showers on a hot summer’s day. It is a feeling of freedom and peace that the crew will be able to indulge in for at least two more months – a time that will bring many changes and colours to Downtown Restaurant before it gets sold and most likely demolished to give way
for a footpath along the Thames. Until then, a large octopus is coming to life, showing off its vibrant pink colour that matches its painter’s hair. Stretching its tentacles across the outside wall, it mirrors the extravagant inside bar spreading its wooden beams along the ceiling. The dramatic interior still gives the feel of a cabaret restaurant that is slowly transformed into a home, letting its inhabitants just be themselves. If running around naked or in pyjamas, if 20 years of age or 50, the people here are ‘alive’. Belonging to the older generation, Tara, who has squatted many years herself, now regularly visits the crew of ‘Downtown Restaurant’ to absorb the invigorating energy of the squatting lifestyle – ‘something that you usually can’t find in flat-shares‘, as she rightfully says.
‘Sometimes I take a shower in the rain on the balcony’ Vito tells me with a smile. The simple things in life still remain pleasures in his home, the ‘Blackfriars Squat’. The run-down building without water facilities shifts your attention back to your roots and fundamental values. Hence, it becomes more than a shelter or a roof over your head but a space where necessity stirs creativity, where humanism replaces materialism and where the present moment seems
to count more than the fear of tomorrow. It is a different pace of life, one that invites you to lean back – if you can find a chair – let your mind wander, listen to conversations or someone playing the guitar, or fight soap-bubbles soaring through the air. Cloths that once belonged to the fabric storehouse vaguely but certainly keep alive that space’s spirit, now sectioning the rooms of the ‘Blackfriars Squat’. I am surprised how many familiar faces I encounter. Most of them, too, have I seen at ‘The Fabric Storehouse’, the rest probably at some other squat – and I am sure I will see them again, at some point, somewhere.
‘When I entered the place I thought ‘Wow is that really a squat’’ – The charm of the ‘Kentish Town Squat’ fascinates many of its visitors and I was lucky to be accepted to the crew. Living in a squat myself I experienced all parts of this wonderful, sociable and adventurous but also chaotic and difficult lifestyle. Not having lived with more than five people at once before, it was quite a change for me to now share a house with 30 people and three dogs. Squatting became all the more about the sensation of home than about the space that we were making our own, about the community that
becomes your family, in that everyone plays their part and contributes to the good of all. Communal cooking, collective dinners and sociable evenings with friends build up strong bonds, while regular meetings and a rota to organise daily duties preserve a common sense of responsibility, making the community function as a whole. People engage in screen printing, painting and drawing while others are building and repairing practicalities. I experienced how everyone’s caring is reflected in the transformation of the space, turning the former design studios into a place of security, warmth, art and creation – and the first squat I started to call my home.
Home is sometimes a state of mind - Edmund Bunkše
When I came to London for my Master degree, my objective was not only to pursue a career in my passion photography but, more importantly, to broaden my horizons through new experiences. This project enabled me to fuse these two aspects and thus constituted a very important phase of self-experience for my life.
I would like to thank all the amazing people that I met throughout my journey, without whom this documentary would not have been possible. Special thanks goes to every single person of the wonderful crew I have been living with for the last three months. I am grateful to have become part of your community. Thank you for your welcoming acceptance, for your trust in me, and your support. Not only have you become an enriching part of my project but also my friends â€“ and my home.
ÂŠ 2013 Corinna Kern