â€” monumentalizing the urban everyday â€”
Prachi Khandekar MA Design Writing Criticism London College of Communication University of the Arts 2010-2011
Some things are more prone to erasure than others. Urban architectural history chronicles the conception of panoramas afforded by svelte towers,
of masterplans streamlining motion,
of other spectacular monuments.
is imperative to being remembered.
They live on in memory despite natural calamities, earthquakes, and tsunamis,
despite the urban forces of gentrification and redevelopment.
Preserved and commemorated through a language robust with visuals and text. Remaining alive and ineffaceable â€“
through words, maps, collages, sketches â€“
referenced again and again.
This catalogue is not about them.
It is dedicated to urban architecture as an everyday object. By enunciating the mute configurations of a site,
the bottom-up view from the base of that svelte tower,
the movements that evade the logic of streamlining,
the microscopic nuances that entwine landmarks,
this catalogue wants to monumentalize the urban everyday.
To make it ineffaceable â€“ through words, maps, collages, sketches â€“
to be referenced again and again,
alongside panoramas and masterplans.
"... the more a city is projected through the visual means
drawings and conventional city plans, the more its
representation which graphic means convey. The city thus becomes in these images, a fantasy."
- Henri Lefebvre in The Production of Space (1991)
In 1999, the Southwark Council called for proposals from developers to regenerate Elephant and Castle [E&C]1 - the area surrounding the busy traffic junction in South London. Since then, the project has developed into a £1.5 billion venture, set to unfold over 15 years under the influence of multiple agents.2,3
The regeneration scheme has identified immense
potential in E&C because of its apt location, accessibility and cultural diversity. It has been tagged an ‘opportunity area,’ able to receive the southward commercial drift from the redevelopment of London’s Southbank.4 Once an industrial wasteland, the Southbank has proved that with regeneration even the most derelict sites can become home to an impressive array of commerce and culture. It set the precedent and encouraged the council to invest heavily further south, in E&C.5 The pages that follow invite you to stand still at a
At present the region represents the failure of
gateway. Let me state upfront that this offers no
revolutionary approaches to urbanism espoused
scenic vistas, no unusual constructions to photograph
in the 1960s. In that era of unbridled automotive
or for that matter any such conventional thrills of
enthusiasm,6 the damage from the blitz was seen as
urban exploration. What it does offer, however, is a
an opportunity borne out of catastrophe. Planners
unique portrait of a site, briefly paused before it will
could finally implement progressive strategies that
were being discussed in their circles without having to
negotiate around the existing fabric of the site.7
and uplift its residents from the problems it had set
Their considerations were reminiscent of the theories
out to eradicate.13
of Le Corbusier, who suggested that cities should
mimic machines designed for habitation.8 As a
from top-down and experienced from bottom-up is
consequence of post-war redevelopment, planners
crucial. As demonstrated by the example of E&C,
were allowed to recreate E&C as a holistic system.
analyses generated in the process of spatial planning
tend to convert the site into an abstraction.14
The culmination of these modernist principles
This difference in the way sites are conceived
is the masterplan that stands today. Among its key
The bottom-up lived experience, on the other hand,
features are the Faraday Memorial substation at
is an ongoing accumulation of real conditions on
the heart of the northern roundabout, an American
site.15 Unfortunately, very few attempts are made at
style shopping centre and an impressive system of
collecting and displaying the latter while the former
interlinked motorways. All in all, it was to be a
is continuously reinforced through photographs,
modern utopia with efficient circulation and
renderings, satellite imaging, reports and other
records produced and reproduced within planning and
A few decades later, the lived reality of the
site indicates that these ideas did not translate
into practice. The grand scope of the scheme
sophisticated graphic and textual language.16
evokes feelings of alienation on a human scale.
This not only works to communicate with audiences
The pedestrian subway, which was first introduced
but also serves to carry this account into the design
in 191110 and later absorbed into the masterplan,
history cannon. It is therefore archived automatically,
disconnects and disorients users.11 The glorious
as reference material for the future.
shopping centre fell short of inviting the predicted
volume of investment.12 Even the neo-brutalist
the top-down narrative eventually results in a layering
Heygate Estate, built in 1974, failed to provide safety
effect, transforming it into the dominant account
Moreover, top-down narratives use a distinct
The accessibility and hence constant referral to
of history. Like a robust monument it becomes so
the complexity of forces at play on the ground. Each
spectacular that alternative narratives can hardly
vignette bears a distinct, everyday reading of the site.
compete in both accessibility as well as impact.
Each vignette stands for itself, as well as a prompt
This flaw in archiving practices poses a serious
for other such mute configurations waiting to be
risk to the accurate portrayal of sites in history.
discovered. The catalogue could continue forever for
Without bottom-up narratives, consisting of the urban
any site is a bricolage of several million vignettes.
everyday, any spatial representation remains biased and incomplete for future audiences. Historians,
In turning these pages, keep in mind that this is not
designers, cultural critics and other academics should
a seamless story. Our protagonist is not the awe-
have access to a variety of perspectives to infer and
inspiring flux passing through a gateway but instead
reinterpret E&C as it stands today.
the discreet moments that come together to assemble
Out of Site, Out of Mind was created in recognition
of the fact that the process of regeneration makes this issue of canonizing bottom-up narratives even more acute. The ephemeral nature of the everyday situation makes it not only difficult to stand out but also vulnerable to erasure. So it follows, that if the representation of the E&C is allowed to retain a gap, it will be a gap that remains indefinitely. In this vein, I present a catalogue of disparate experiences that shape my everyday in E&C. I have used design writing as a method to monumentalize these invisible forces at play within the site. Making them visible as a series of five vignettes showcases
Lend Lease, 2011. Regeneration and
Change: Southwark Land Regeneration
Partnership. Available at: <http://www.
Opportunities. Available at: < http://www.
7 Althorpe, M. (2008) The Car and the
Elephant: The Elephant in Context. Available
change/0/elephant_castle.html> [Accessed 18
castle/31/opportunities.html> [Accessed 18
[Accessed 24 July, 2011]
BBC, 2010. Elephant and Castle
Lend Lease, 2011. Elephant and Castle:
Southwark Council, 2011. Latest News.
Le Corbusier. (1986) Vers une architecture.
regeneration plan given go-ahead. BBC
Available at: < http://www.southwark.gov.uk/
[Online]. 7 July. Available at: <http://www.bbc.
co.uk/news/10548027> [Accessed 22 July, 2011]
top_london_business_district > [Accessed 2
County of London Plan, Macmillan & Co Ltd.
Whoâ€™s Who in the Elephant & Castle? Available
10 Althorpe, M. (2008) The Car & the
Intellectual History of Urban Planning and
Elephant: The Elephant in Context. Available
Design in the Twentieth Century, Third Edition.
at: <http://thecarandtheelephant.com/ >
castle_.html > [Accessed 18 July, 2011]
Oxford, Blackwell Publishing.
[Accessed 24 July, 2011]
NY: Dover Publications.
Forshaw, J.H. & Abercrombie, P. (1943)
Lend Lease, 2011. Elephant and Castle: Hall, P. (2002) Cities of Tomorrow: An
BBC. (2011) Elephant and Castle's
'intimidating' subways closed. BBC [Online], 12 January. Available at: < http://www.bbc.
Heygate Estate is demolished. BBC [Online],
15 Chase, J. L. , Crawford, M. , Kaliski, J. (2008).
[Accessed 22 July, 2011]
15 April. Available at: <http://www.bbc.
Everyday Urbanism: Introduction and Preface by
Margret Crawford. The Monacelli Press.
Althorpe, M. (2008) The Car and the
Moore, K. (2011) Muggers' paradise' the
[Accessed 22 July, 2011] 16 Meeda, B., Parkyn, N., Walton, D.S, Bayne,
Elephant: The Elephant in Context. Available at: http://thecarandtheelephant.com/
[Accessed 22 July, 2011]
in Geography): The Everyday City. Routledge.
Hubbard, P. (2006) The City (Key Ideas
A. (2007) Graphics for Urban Design. London : Thomas Telford.
regeneration brochure for elephant and castle
c aged and c r um bl i ng
x m ar k s an abs enc e
2 4 5
ki tsch y cu ri o si ti e s
smel l sca p e e sca pe
re p o s e w i th i n a w hi rl
aiting at the bus stop
is like being trapped in jello. Buses come and go,
wobbling up your composure, never flashing the right numbers for your escape. You sit down in protest, trying to neglect this treacherous game, gaze affixed at some obscure point. Your revolt strengthens
You only need to see it once, this erosive force, trying to humiliate architecture by stripping it down. You only need to see it once before it adjusts itself as a filter to your vision. All around you are marks of decay, a thousand bruises and sores
the harder you stare,
sported by magnificent structures. All around; the untended, frayed edges sported
the more you squint,
bare. All aroundâ€Ś
until the paint flaking off a lamppost is in focus.
until youâ€™re engulfed in dilapidation.
The revelation is not
As you glide along the motorway, the window soothes and blurs these granular
exactly comforting, but
details. In that smooth curtain you make a new discovery: a series of linear
at least you triumph in
strokes, playing out in sequence. You pass them in groups, and one by one. They
your protest â€“ the bus
have been strapped around like duct tape, a haphazard cage keeping the site from
with the right numbers
crumbling. All around: bands extending out from window panes, the parallel rods
comes along almost
of gates and grills, I-beams extending skywards along the face of the shopping
centre. They too are all around.
Inside, the absence of oddity keeps your gaze leveled with the ground. Each element mimics expectation in this docile interior.
Store fronts arrange themselves neatly along a long corridor, which disappears sharply at a corner. In the middle, the usual scene of an escalator, systematically spurting a metallic cascade. ou enter this cabinet, but not out of
curiosity. A single, silent swish of its sliding doors reveals a seemingly familiar landscape within.
This is just another solemn reiteration of a shopping mall, until you disturb that leveled gaze.
and you are greeted by the instruments of curiosity within this cabinet. A sea of signage, a cacophonic assemblage, hovers with garish distinction over compliant storefronts. These signs donâ€™t hush themselves into familiarity, but stand decked out against it. Rejecting the codes of good design, they are adorned with ample kitsch and gaud. The busy buyers below exhibit a sundry of fleeting reactions: sometimes signifying disgust, sometimes wonder. This continues endlessly until the estranged marketplace is animated simply by the impudence of these signs.
very clue breeds an expectation.
A name paints a picture, a picture is extrapolated into prototypes â€Ś
are bound to one another by an interminable cycle.
The site too, offers up a slew of beguiling clues, breeding myriad assumptions.
Read its name and you will be transported to a place
You envision this heart of transport in South London.
Below the ground too, an absence dictates the vista.
of regal exoticism. But step in through one of its
But on site you see that a metallic ribcage pumps this
On the walls of its subterranean tunnels, the site
countless doors and your expectations are met with
system of circulation. The impenetrable box gives off
exhibits scenes that it has extinguished. The fauna,
an astute absence: no elephant, no castle.
a steely coolness that could only mark the absence of
the lush greens and deep hues of water, all controlled
and held off by the new jungle of concrete and glass above.
familiar whiff is the most potent trigger for memory. And so, a trip to the shopping centre is never just a trip to the shopping centre. Within it are trajectories of other journeys, that only a familiar smell can bring to fruition.
In passing through the site you are assaulted by a panoply of odours. Some are a delight, most make you recoil.
The lady in garish costume pulsates an odour to match, she has doused herself in perfume today. You dread approaching the tube station, always running up those stairs as fast as legs can carry. Itâ€™s as if they smell of urine to act as persistent reminders of the convenience afforded by modern sanitation. At street level, you smell the waste excreted by engines as you inhale the air at this traffic juncture.
One day as you walk along, you notice the incredible property that binds these smells together. Pleasant or unpleasant, each scent is recognized in a flash. Recognized and categorized; categorized based on earlier accounts. (accounts tucked away in memory)
11 OSWIN STREET
The Marketplace The Smell of Frankincense
I am taken back to the holidays spent scaling impossibly high sand dunes in the Arabian Desert. At dusk our tired bodies would come home to plummet in sheets laced with the woody essence of frankincense... The Pedestrian Subway The Smell of Perfume
"Calvin Klein Obsession" she said in answer to my question. We were sitting facing a purple sunset on the NYC pier. As our last night drew to an end, I encoded this scent lingering around my new friend. It had followed us everywhere: the dingy room we had rented for $25 a night, the staircases we painstakingly climbed and the streets we cautiously crossed...
Ramp to the Pedestrian Subway The Smell of Urine
The image of my dog swells up in front of me. Lucy was a creature of an obstinately callous temperament. We were forced to shut all doors before leaving the house to her devices. Still, on days when the rush caused us to forget, we'd come home to a soiled carpet pulsing the distinct smell of urea...
Along London College of Communication Smell of Smoke
A precise reminder of the ambience inside 184 Brick Lane, where I left my black jumper last week. It has probably soaked up the musty odour of that loft, curled up in a corner. Perhaps it has been nicked and clings to the body of someone who came around...
o o v
have been installed on the site,
sweeping up bodies that enter into a dizzying whirl. They are connected, spinning with a fervor that sucks and dispels, so that arrival and departure conjoin into a seamless action.
You approach the gyres knowing that itâ€™s futile to resist their force. From outside, it is a scene peppered with objects frozen in transit. The bustle of the marketplace, the changing colours of streetlights, the constant motion-blur skating along the motorway â€“ they all whisper the same message:
keep on moving.
You take that first step into the vortex, focused on the moment of your dispatch. Once inside, the scene is quite different. Your concentration is broken as you see bodies at rest within. They maintain their repose, resisting the urge to be expelled. You learn that vortices contain a menagerie of restful stances; of bodies resting, thinking, reading, waiting. They hold off against the inevitable, to catch a glimpse of tranquility nestled within wh i r l s .
â€œthe city does not tell its past, but contains it like the lines of a hand, written in the corners of the streets, the gratings of the windows, the banisters of the steps, the antennae of the lightning rods, the poles of the flags, every segment marked in turn with scratches, indentations, scrolls." - Italo Calvino in Invisible Cities (1972)
shopping centre faraday memorial
metropolitan tabernacle london college of communication
repose within a whirl
caged and crumbling
x marks an absence
w w w. d e s i g n w r i t i n g c r i t i c i s m . c o . u k w w w. c a r g o c o l l e c t i v e . c o m / d x p
Thesis for MA Design Writing Criticism. A catalogue that uses design writing as a method to curate and preserve everyday experiences withing...