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bound less Fabio de Almeida Prado Cristini

bound less

Chelsea College of Arts and Design MA Interior and Spatial Design 2011

Fabio de Almeida Prado Cristini

boundless adj endless, everlasting, immeasurable, incalculable, inexhaustible, infinite, limitless, unbounded, unconfined, unflagging, unlimited, unrestricted, untold.

Ce grand malheur, de ne pouvoir être seul. Such a great misfortune, not to be able to be alone.

L a

B r u y è r e

from Man of the Crowd by Edgar Allan Poe

para vovó, pai e mãe.

prologue People live in the most diverse environments and climates, from our most primitive predecessors until today in the contemporary city we have always dwelled somewhere. Despite all various circumstances and scenarios we have always urged for a ‘roof over our heads’; where we dwell is where we call home, where we are protected from the weather, un-intimidated and feel safe. The home is the basis of all societies, allowing the cities to take shape and function, organizing an urban hierarchy, creating clusters of commerce and industries. To explore the city through its dwellings is in reality to question how the latter is perceived, seen and treated by the city’s inhabitants. If we were to break down housing into groups these would be: privately-owned and government-owned. The first would consist of any dwelling that was privately developed, while the second was a government development. For the purpose of this project, it was decided to focus on the government developments or simply, social housing projects. These are usually made up of large estates where thousands of families are standardised into the same unit space, piled on top of each other, and as a consequence this turns into a sense of shame, of being in a project, that is not easily overlooked by its inhabitants or its neighbours, creating ghettos of the less fortunate. It seems like social housing is seen as a necessary burden, an eyesore that we look away from but cannot ignore its existence. I have a personal will to de-stigmatise, show the hidden beauties, untold stories and overlooked details within these housing estates.

The city, similarly to any natural environment, is embodied by the law of cause and effect. No happening comes without a consequence, whether of a positive or of a negative outcome. While a transformation happens in one area, some wither into oblivion, and others live off others, either in symbiosis with its host or leaching off like a parasite would. The 21st century westernised cities expand and retract at such an astonishing pace that it becomes nearly impossible to notice how the consequences of these happenings shape the way we inhabit it and how our dwellings are placed in relation to city and time. Its thoroughfares are filled with fast moving cars, underground networks, airplanes, helicopters, buses, bicycles. Within them, their only similarity: the people. These are consisted of individuals whom have reached this particular destination to live permanently, temporarily or momentarily. Humanity is in fact the only to blame and paradoxically, the sole benefactors in the creation, re-creation, separation and destruction of their urban spaces. The city reflects their inhabitants, and at the same time, the inhabitants reflect their city. My practice’s focus is placed on analysing our perceptions of housing estates, based on the notion of being in a boundless journey: an unconfined exploration unrestricted to standards and pre-established values. The notoriously famous council estate in South London, the Heygate Estate, is currently emptied and due for demolition and became the location where my journeys took place. These were recorded and also revealed as light trails, a metaphorical depiction of my own explorations and presence in the barren site, where once thousands lived and called it home. The Swiss art curator Hans Ulrich Obrist interestingly argues that “the issue is not the borders, but how we navigate the borderlines.� Boundaries can be physical, imaginary, and representational, like the Prime Meridian line that divides the world in half, and makes one wonder whether in fact it actually represents anything. At times, boundaries can have an implicit quality, like the separation of public and private in certain un-gated properties. All these boundaries delineate the city and its citizens and how one perceives the other. Bearing in mind the notion of navigating the borderlines, how can this be expressed and experienced in art form? The answer comes from this experimentation using film and photography in a journey of discovery and questions.


recording movements and paths


becoming the wanderer

analysis To observe the city from a distance, like a psychologist or even a physiognomist, is in reality to act like the flâneur. Benjamin describes this character as the inhabitant of the Parisian arcades in the 19th century, where the outside and the inside coexist in synchrony, who is also somewhat disinterested in human interaction and social issues, while “botanising on the asphalt” . He takes notes on his environment and appreciates it solely as a spectator. Bachelard argues that “outside and inside form a dialectic of division, the obvious geometry of which blinds us as soon as we bring it into play in metaphorical domains. It has the sharpness of the dialectics of yes and no, which decides everything.” However, one could argue that the relationship between private and public spaces form a similar dialectic. In the same way, either one is inside or outside the public or private space, and this division at times can be as clear as the walls that separate one’s bedroom to the exterior, or as unclear like in large housing estates, where that line is not clearly defined. Therefore, for the first part of the project, I stepped back and observed the city focusing on housing estates by bringing Baudelaire’s and Benjamin’s flâneur to the 21st century as the wanderer. To achieve that I had to first of all understand the context, concerns and the language in which these observations were made, which on top of being centuries apart, are also observations made by people from very distinct backgrounds. The wanderer has a more

engaged participation with the city and his perceptions of it than the flâneur. There is an interest in social issues and an attempt to comprehend the fate of the city, its dwellings and dwellers. The observations were still made from a distance, however now taking into consideration the rhythm of the city. To follow this rhythm is also a paradox on its own. To understand, even to notice, the fast-paced transformation, one must slow down his own pace to see and “to read what was never written”. Also, to make a complete analysis I had to experience the housing estates during both day and night times, being constantly aware of the fact that I was being observed and my actions judged, which put me in the rather vulnerable position that I was no longer the only one to make observations and assumptions of my surroundings, a benefit that the flâneur enjoyed. Translating the figure of the wanderer into my practice was in fact to approach it as a performative act. Differently from a performance which envisages the presence of an audience, the performative act or simply the enactment does not expect that. The audience in reality is the camera and later those who see the final work. Hence, the wanderer became the personification of me and of my concerns, perceptions and values. Fortunately, I have been able to live a rather nomadic life for the past ten years in four distinct countries, nonetheless it does have its downsides. The issue of housing, for example, has been a constant. The lack of a place to call ‘home’ is what motivated me to look into how we appraise housing.

To document my process, I first set myself the role of the director and of the wanderer (personified by the figure in the documentation) and identified similarities and differences in the housing estates through my exploration of the city what I called the ‘state of the city’. The observations from the identification process led to categorise the states into three groups: ruination, appropriation, transformation. Ruination was used to classify dwellings that did not fulfil its purpose so to speak, meaning buildings that are poorly kept and/or emptied. Appropriation was used to describe homes that were appropriating themselves of a building that served previously a different purpose. Finally the state of transformation where there is a sense of pride, like having different colour painted doors and carefully groomed lawns and gardens. Thus, the second part of the analysis was done through film. I found three different dwellings to apply my observations and categorisation of the ‘states of the city’, all located in southeast London. These states are represented in film as colour-coded tags. The action of tagging was also documented. The character of the 21st century flâneur, or the wanderer, is a man who walks instead of driving or using the transport system. I felt that if I slowed down I could appreciate more and even make discoveries, about the stories and secrets of these dwellings. Characterising the wanderer in the films became necessary in order to create a recognizable figure throughout the different locations. The character wears an aubergine rain coat and a green hat. Underneath that first layer, he has comfortable clothes and shoes. He embodies the city in his dress code; at first there is a thicker exterior, like a brick-clad building, only to reveal a softer, even delicate, interior.






Stills from video documentation (2011)

page’s walk bermondsey


Stills from video documentation (2011)

lucey way estate south bermondsey


Stills from video documentation (2011)

heygate estate elephant and castle



heygate estate

heygate estate The Heygate Estate in Elephant and Castle was chosen for its infamous reputation and size. The site plan is organised by four eleven-storey buildings along the edges towering over the three-storey maisonettes in the centre containing in total 1212 housing units. This organisation and the architectural ideal I believe to be one of the main reasons why these forty-year-old buildings flawed. The large buildings feel oppressive and impersonal, standardising countless families and homes. The entire complex and vicinities can be accessed by suspended walkways referred to at the time of its proposal as “walkways in the sky”, a failed architectural dream of the 1960’s-70. The Estate today feels like a scene from apocalyptical times, where humanity was extinguished from the face of the earth and nature has started to claim back its losses. Before it was emptied, it housed different nationalities, ethnic minorities, age groups; there soon were ghettos within a ghetto. The Heygate was in addition associated with gangs and drug related crimes. Nonetheless, the Estate was also home to elderly people who had their first ‘modern home’ there, with heating and toilets. The areas that I was able to gain access to in the Heygate Estate have changed drastically in the course of the past year. Every time I went there it seemed that I was being shut off a new part. As time passed by the demolition process was picked up again, shortly followed by the increase in restrictions of my wanderings. The first time I was allowed to go to all the common areas of the Estate, being solely restricted to access the external hallways of the flats as well as their interior. The walkways were all accessible and allowed an initial study of the site from

a different perspective, serving as a viewing point where observations were made. From the walkways, one can enter the second floor of the buildings reaching one of the many staircases where I could only go up or down since the hallways were welded shut with metal plates. As time went on these walkways, one of the keystones of this architectural ideal, gradually were fenced off, as well as the staircases, therefore I was constantly finding myself restrained from fully exploring the Estate. On the other hand, this made me realise why I was being restricted. The Estate’s size obviously proved to be a challenge to have under control, even now nearly emptied where a human presence feels as alien as a man on the moon. At the same time, one could easily think that the very absence of people would have meant that it would be easier to spot the occasional passer-by or drug lord. However the walkways and external staircases created countless hiding places and for that reason, it became clear why and how quickly these buildings were associated with crime and gangs. Consequently this emphasises that the policy of standardising and cramming the largest amount of people possible is expensive and inefficient, especially when considering the long term effects. The fact is that the Heygate Estate was home to countless families but there was no sense of community. There were diverse nationalities, creeds and races that associated with low income created an abyss between these distinct people, rather than bridge them as the architecture would have desired. The community that could have sprung was oppressed by its impersonality and intimidating size and character. It is a failure, in a state of ruination, which seems like a contradiction considering the amount of space it takes up in the urban tissue and above all its prime location in relation to the centre of London. This experiment with social housing in London led me to discover my own desires as a designer and as an artist, but above all as a citizen. To propose any building and not take into consideration how the future inhabitants will perceive and make use of it is to start off in the wrong foot. Nonetheless, these failed architectural attempts have within them a beauty that is still visible, despite their dilapidated state. They bear the marks of the people and of their stories that played out there and had the Estate as a setting. To comprehend why a building failed to work is as important as understating why others prevail.

special thanks Fefo, sem sua ajuda meu ano não teria saído do lugar, você foi indispensável! Sof, por todas conversas e discusões que sempre me fazem pensar. Thank you! Vó, obrigado pela oportunidade! Eduardo e Mônica, obrigado por TUDO! Amo vocês.