FABLES IN OPEN SPACE
grid Once upon a time in the near past, a pseudo Georgian estate was built on the banks of the Lee River. This estate reﬂected the occidental obsession with a nostalgic construct of an unidentiﬁed moment near the beginning of the industrial revolution. A time when right was right, wrong was wrong and people knew their place within society. The inhabitants of this estate were sold a dream of quiet crescents overlooking a perfectly deﬁned Capability Brown landscape. Over the next few years what materialised was quite the opposite of their aspirations and hopes. A land/city/suburbscape that reﬂected the complexities of our post-modern multilayered ethnically dispersed and diverse culture. The park that grew to the South, part sanctuary, part wilderness, part power plant, part landform had a certain austere charm, more at home with the sublime than the picturesque. To the north emerged a warehouse, the largest in Europe, providing a battle grey backdrop to the estate, which radically shifted the scale of the Georgian houses, creating a ﬁlm set waiting for the next soap opera. Peculiar things began to happen. An artist laid a barely perceptible grid in the ground. This extension of the principles of the meridian line that dissects Gunpowder Park began to become infected with small dwellings. These structures found a comfortable habitat at each of the grid’s intersections. Though smaller than their Georgian neighbours, these houses matched exactly the carefully tailored appearance of their counterparts. These viral homes drew their power directly from the electricity pylons that marched down the Lee Valley. Slowly over the years each square in the grid became populated with these dwellings. Within each, a different cultural activity developed. Artists from all over the world lived and worked in a setting that overlaid the natural with the geometric. People from the neighbouring estates, while jogging or walking their dog would ﬁnd a home mirroring their own, with unexpected activities happing within. Then one morning, as a reluctant sun cleared the mist that hung heavily to the park, a space was revealed. Open Space. Space without habitation. S p a c e.
gated Not far from the pseudo Georgian estate, was a set of streets resembling in many ways a small village except from one key difference. At the apex of each street was an impressive Victorian gate, painted in black and electronically opened. The pavements on these streets were mere decoration, never populated, as the only means of access was from a car with a remote control, which would allow access to each mini-utopia. The rare passer-by could look at, but certainly not touch, this world within a world. Facing these streets, an avenue of elegant trees perched above the Lee River close to, but divorced from, their neighbouring dwellings. One day a small utility van arrived and distributed leaďŹ‚ets through the post boxes of each gated street. A small family run business was offering, for a fee, to remove these barriers, which separated these habitants from the rest of world. At ďŹ rst these people were angered by the proposal, but as they read through the publicity their minds started to change. What would they loose? Safety? These fences are easy to climb and once in who is trapped, the persecutor or the victim? What would they gain? Easy access to their neighbours, the chance encounter, watching the boats drifting down the Lee River. Slowly, ever so slowly, the gates started to be culled and communities were joined for the ďŹ rst time. These gates were re-planted in the park, as a memorial to earlier divided times and as a reminder lest these times return again. They opened and shut, quite by themselves, letting wanderers pass through to imaginary spaces with no walls, no streets and no hierarchy.
inflation Open Space, shared space, fragile space. Space threatened by capital and politics, but also as space threatened by its own history. Below Gunpowder Park’s quiet, semi-wilderness is a warren of caves and tunnels. This underworld used to be home to mountains of highly explosive and volatile gunpowder. For years these empty cavities lay dormant, letting dog walkers and nature lovers forget the area’s violent past, but then mouths started to open in the ground, exposing deep holes in seemingly random places. Hidden behind trees, bushes and shrubs these gapping oriﬁces threatened to eat the innocent wanderer. Over the years the gunpowder transformed into seeds, and from these seeds striped orange and maroon forms started to emerge through these holes. Somewhat like ﬁre, but soft, cool and full of air these strange inﬂatable beings inhabited these voids cushioning any fall and marking any points of danger. Once again people could play, run and walk in a space they knew was safe, without fear of losing their friends and family.
local Going back now a few generations, Lee Valley was London’s kitchen garden growing rows upon row of delicious vegetables and fruit to temp the hungry soul. This little oasis of sustenance remains no more, having been replaced by an immense grey warehouse. Within this temperature controlled, robotic world, much of London’s food sits ready to be delivered and eaten. This food has travelled around the world to converge on this spot, yet there are no windows for the frozen meats, or the line-caught tuna to see outside across the pseudo Georgian estate to the park. There is no shop window or welcoming door to allow local’s to slip in and buy their morning pint of milk or warm bread. This food is destined for other districts. Each morning the lorries roll out on to the M25 delivering their goods to ‘Local’s’ across London. Sainbury’s Locals. Each Local resembling the other. Each Local with the same products. Each locality served by the same supermarket. Each forager searches for their morning croissant, forgetting where they are. Each neighbourhood’s difference being slightly eroded. The local becomes the universal. An artist makes an epic journey documenting in great detail the façade of each Local, framing them from exactly the same perspective. He blends each location, one after another to produce a hypnotic eulogy to sameness. With this ﬁlm projected on the vast façade of the Sainsbury’s warehouse, at long last the inhabitants of the pseudo Georgian village can see where their Local or Locals really are.
personal Luggage, nobody likes it, but everyone needs it. What a joy when you can leave it somewhere and walk on, unencumbered, to enjoy the nature or the city as freely as a butterďŹ‚y. In the times of old, perhaps you could have left your bag with a stranger, or left it supporting a bench, but now a bag means danger. Danger for your bag and danger from your bag. Perhaps the ďŹ rst moment you turn away, a wicked thief will nimbly whisk away your precious possessions or perhaps a quick response unit will be called and you will return to witness your favourite accessory being dismantled and destroyed by a remote control robot. The park keeper pondered this dilemma and decided to construct a mobile luggage concierge. The grid of shelves holding each bag was open on either side, protected with clear glass. On busy days she would wheel out her contraption to the highest hill in the park so people could see their own bags from any part of their walk. Soon this new park facility was hectic, the keeper barely keeping up with many items she was storing. The nature of the objects she received started to become stranger and stranger and the visitors where becoming more and more particular about where these objects should be stored. She started to become aware that people wanted to show off their latest paintings or to spell out slogans visible for miles around. People came to view the storage facility itself and forgot about the park and the delights of its wildlife.
passage Sometime after the wilting of the Gunpowder’s inﬂatable plants, the holes in the park reappeared, concerning all the park’s many users. Hastily high barriers were erected. Though huge areas of the park were no longer accessible to the nature loving human being, they were still accessible to nature itself, in its many forms from plant-life to animals. These areas of human exclusion blossomed. The park keeper considered these merits of open space against the merits of ﬂourishing wildlife. She decided on a plan. Week by week a new barrier was introduced, preventing access to more and more of the park. Meanwhile passages were created cutting through these prohibited zones. The park visitor could closely study this new evolving nature from behind bars. This process continued without any great objection, until ﬁnally there was no open space. Well, there was a huge amount of open space, just not open space available to people. Enough became enough and eventually the dog walkers, the wanderers and the joggers protested and the barriers were removed. Now what remains are the scars on the land where people were forced to walk. Dark lines criss-crossing the green terrain, constructing sentences in a language no-one can read.
Sale One day a crowd of suited men could be seen on the horizon. They looked out of place with their polished shoes and silk ties. They surveyed the land and drew up the paper work to slice the land like a cake they all wanted to eat. One by one signs were erected, the names of each estate agent populating the park like trees in the forest. Red, green, blue, Times, Helvetica, Gil Sans, friendly, austere, contemporary, classical, each sign imbued each plot of land in a different light. With excitement, property prospectors came from far and wide to partake in this unique investment. Each section was to be auctioned, but on the conditions that: No walls could be built to separate the plots, No buildings could be built on the land, All nature existing on the land must remain, That any wanderer could sit, play or walk across the land. Strangely, none of the investors were interested in land that came with such conditions. So the park was left as it was and the sad suited men returned to take away their proud signs.
power In a certain park, near the centre of the great metropolis London, was a walled enclosure. Many years ago within these walls electricity was transformed for a school next door. When the politicians decided this school was surplus to requirement, the school was demolished leaving only a sad corral. Some years later, buildings started to ﬁll the area and the greater powers had again money in their pockets. ‘Lets build’ they cried, we need houses, we need youth facilities, we need workshops. ‘Why build’, the residents protested, ‘for years we have been building ﬂats and houses with more and more people living in our area. What we need now is open space. Space we can all share, meet each other and enjoy the sunshine.’ But this park was not just anywhere; it was in a huge city, which was always ﬁghting for space. Space is money. So when due process was passed the building began, nibbling at the corner of the park, making the city dwellers life a little bit noisier, a little bit dirtier, a little bit darker and a little bit lonelier.
Published on Jan 19, 2012
Open spaces surrounded by urban spaces, such as inner city parks, have an equilibrium entirely different from urban space, surrounded by ope...