Friday, 23 November 2012

Jessica Kelly: Doing the Lansbury Walk

Middlesex PhD student Jessica Kelly is our guest blogger this week.  Jessica is working on the JM Richards collection held at MoDA, looking in particular at the journal Architectural Review, (edited by Richards between 1935 and 1971), within the wider context of public discussions about architecture.  So, she's interested in all aspects of architecture and the build environment, and particularly the gap between how places are imagined by architects, and how they are experienced by those who live in them.

Jessica takes up the story:

In July this year BBC Two aired a series called The Secret Histories of Our Streets, which looked at how London’s streets have changed since Charles Booth’s 1886 survey of social conditions in the city. The first episode, on Deptford High Street in South London, looked at slum clearance and re-housing after the Second World War. Although reconstruction was intended to improve people’s living conditions the programme showed that many people, who were moved out of their homes into modern flats or New Towns, felt angry at the lack of consultation with the architects and planners.

map at the entrance of the estate today

This really resonated with my research into the Live Architecture Exhibition at the Festival of Britain. JM Richards was a member of the organizing committee for the exhibition which, as the name suggests, was more than a traditional exhibition of architecture.  It was a real housing estate, funded by the London County Council and used to re-house local residents whose houses were destroyed by bombing or demolished in slum clearance projects. 

the Festival Inn pub, completed for the exhibition
The Lansbury Estate (named after the late George Lansbury, former Labour MP and Mayor of Poplar) was intended to act as a model for new post-war urban communities. The design of Live Architecture Exhibition reveals the roots of this problem of poor communication between architects and the general public. The houses, flats, schools and public spaces that made up the exhibition were designed on architects' ideas about how people should live, rather than evidence of how people did live. JM Richards and his colleagues at the Live Architecture exhibition were so preoccupied with persuading the public to appreciate modern architecture that they left space no for the public to voice their own ideas. 

Market Square, completed for the exhibition

Houses and flats on the estate, completed for the exhibition

This lack of real participation had a lot to do with social class – architects and architectural critics of Richards’ generation had little knowledge or experience of the lives of the people they were re-housing. For example, when he was asked in an interview about the houses and flats he had designed in the 1950s, Lionel Escher, the architect of Hatfield New Town, said that he had failed to understand that ‘ordinary English people’ wanted ‘to paint their house any colour they like’. This lack of understanding between architects and their public is really at the heart of the ongoing problems of urban housing today.

Clock Tower at Market Square.
During the exhibition it could be used as a viewing tower for  views across the estate.

You can find out more about Jessica's research on JM Richards on her own blog, Ardour of the Layman.  

No comments:

Post a Comment