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August 16 2012

Gerry Vaughan obituary

My husband Gerry Vaughan, who has died of prostate cancer aged 77, was an 11-plus failure who went on to work as painter, teacher, lecturer and education adviser for Derbyshire county council.

Born in Gravesend, Kent, he went to the town's Gordon school for boys, where his artistic talent was nurtured initially, and then from the age of 14 to Gravesend School of Art. After national service, he was accepted into the painting school at the Royal College of Art. He left in 1959, having been awarded the RCA life-painting prize.

His idealism and belief in education initially inspired him to teach, and he joined the staff at Gordano school in Portishead, Somerset. Two years later, in 1961, he went to Chesterfield College of Art as lecturer in fine art. He was appointed as teacher adviser for art by Derbyshire county council in 1969 and remained in the post until 1985. During those years he was responsible for much of the art education in Derbyshire. He was an early member of the Art Advisers Association and worked closely with colleagues from other counties and areas.

We moved to Wirksworth, Derbyshire, in 1963, where local concern for a very run-down, neglected small town caused Gerry to become a founder-member of Wirksworth Civic Society in 1969. When the Wirksworth Project to regenerate the town was established in the late 70s, Gerry's interest in the built environment came into its own. He was charged with liaison with the local schools and encouraged them to be fully involved with the project. He ran courses for teachers and children, organised a study of art in the built environment and staged major exhibitions of the young people's work. The project was widely reported in the national press and had a worldwide influence on regeneration.

His early retirement, as a result of illness, enabled Gerry to take up his own painting once more. His sense of colour, able draughtsmanship and love of water – especially the Thames estuary and the Greek islands – resulted in a body of work that earned considerable respect. He exhibited in various venues in the UK and Greece. He supported the Wirksworth festival from its inception, both exhibiting and participating in the selection panel from time to time.

Gerry was painting until the end, through sleepless nights and long days, his work still full of vibrancy and colour.

He is survived by me, our children Simon, Jane and David, and seven grandchildren.


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August 08 2012

Bluewater thrives by not alarming shoppers with anything new or strange | Owen Hatherley

The expanding mall is a kind of undemocratic city, with levels of planning and security that almost guarantee 'no riots here'

Bluewater, the enormous north Kent shopping mall, is planning an extension. About 1,500 "private sector jobs" will arrive in a deindustrialising area, as if to answer the coalition's increasingly desperate prayers, but the continued success and expansion of a shopping centre during a double-dip recession might seem unexpected. Its co-owner, Lend Lease, has recently been better known for closing down high-profile projects – as in the chaos of its redevelopment of Elephant and Castle, or the demise of the Tithebarn "mall without walls" in Preston. Somehow, Bluewater endures and grows. How can an out-of-town mall manage to become more successful during an apparent decline in retail spending? Why are people going there to nose around chain stores, when we're all apparently buying on Amazon or going to farmers' markets and niche high street shops? What exactly is Bluewater's secret?

The first thing you need to know about Bluewater is that it's not merely a shopping mall, but something much more ambitious. I know the place very well, having regular appointments at the nearby, contiguous PFI-built Darent Valley hospital. As the crow flies, the two are about a quarter of a mile apart, but you couldn't walk it – buses have to loop for some time around the massively over-engineered motorways that feed the mall. But when you finally do arrive, the entrance is exceptionally well defined. Neoclassical gateways and signs make the distinction from straggling north Kent subtopia apparent. Even the flyovers here have their concrete decorated to make it clear you're somewhere different. There is a reason for this – a reason for everything in Bluewater.

According to its architect Eric Kuhne, head designer at the multinational firm CivicArts, Bluewater is "a city rather than a retail destination". Its design and planning are intended, he said in a 2008 interview, to "dignify the heroic routine of everyday life that drives you to produce a better world for yourself and your kids".

What this means in practice is that Bluewater is not solely a retail hangar, in the vein that runs from the Arndale Centres to Westfields. It's the same typology, a heavily patrolled and surveilled series of shops and restaurants in a big enclosed box, but it takes some of those spaces' innovations much further. Not just private security, but an entire code of conduct for entry, not to mention a dress code. No hoods, no baseball caps, no swearing, even.

If Bluewater is a city, then it's obviously not a democratic one. Kuhne wouldn't have it any other way – in the same interview, he pointed out that "democracy has a pretty poor track record of building great cities. The great cities of the world that we travel to see were built by benevolent despots".

Like any other city, Bluewater has its periphery. Ebbsfleet, the exurban new "town" that boasts its own line to Paris, is effectively its suburb. Its cul-de-sacs and wood-clad flats abut wide motorways and retail parks, discouraging any civic or public life in anything but the mall itself. The Thames Gateway, the unofficial eastward expansion of London, has no centre, no real public space – for that it has Bluewater, and its older, gawkier north-of-the-river cousin Lakeside. Also, like a city, it has its slums. Nearby towns such as Chatham or Northfleet are as stricken as Barrow-in-Furness or Merthyr Tydfil. Their former centres are practically decimated by Bluewater.

Yet to discover Bluewater's secret you have to go inside. Its architecture is so didactic it sometimes evokes Stalin's pet projects, like the Moscow Metro or the Exhibition of Economic Achievements. Sculptures and slogans urging jollity, exhorting commerce, singing the beauty of nature and stressing historical continuity are in every corner. Many depict the trades that people once practised in north Kent, appropriately for this mall scraped out of a chalk quarry. Cutlers, Tanners, Fletchers, Bowyers, Chandlers, Glaziers and others are all immortalised by little statues in niches on the mall's upper levels.

From a distance, the big box's glass extrusions resemble Kentish oasthouses. Bluewater tears the heart out of older towns, and replaces – partially and inadequately – older jobs, but it immortalises them as it does so. It is, in Kodwo Eshun's phrase, a "future shock absorber", a new and destructive landscape that strains every sinew to reassure, to make the shopper feel secure and at ease, to eliminate anything alarming or obviously new and strange. It boasts levels of planning and security that practically guarantee "no riots here".

Bluewater's architects are right – its success is not merely about shopping, but about the production of a particular kind of place. The successful city, as represented by Bluewater, is clean, corporate, homogeneous, authoritarian, and, should anything unexpected occur, easily sealed off. The worse things get, the more it will thrive.


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July 26 2012

Will you ring Martin Creed's bell?

Artist Martin Creed has asked us all to ring a bell on the first day of the Olympics. Creed believes in public art of the collective, but what does it really mean if we all ring a bell at once?

Everything is going to be alright. Those are the words Martin Creed wrote in neon in one of his public artworks. This white-light message has been seen on buildings all over the world. I have read it in Hackney, in Milan. Maybe it should have been written around the Olympic stadium to reflect the hope that, as one of Europe's most struggling economies hosts the world's biggest sporting event, this will boost us, save us, put some Olympic fire in our finances.

Instead, Creed is asking everyone in Britain to ring a bell tomorrow morning at 8.12am to mark the first day of the 2012 Olympiad. Even Big Ben will be chiming in. But what's it all about?

I have to confess I am still not sure if I will be ringing a bell. Something in me resists it – but at least the resistance is making me aware of the meaning of Creed's public art. He loves community. He believes in the collective. That message he put up high – Everything is going to be alright – is a message for everyone, encouraging and embracing. His roomful of balloons is similarly a work to share. And his marble staircase in Edinburgh is a throwaway luxury for everyone.

A lot of works by Creed are unnerving. The lights go on and off. His songs insist on the reality of nothing. An artist who worries about nothingness and darkness reassures himself and us by promoting the wisdom of crowds.

Will the big bell-ring work? It has plenty of institutional support. In Edinburgh, a bell-ringing session will take place on Creed's Scotsman Steps. So why am I feeling resistant?

The collective is not a straightforward ideal. It means conformity as well as community. I want to know more about what Creed means by his glorification of collective acts. What does it mean to all ring bells in unison, and what does he want it to mean? Is it a glib gesture or something deeper – and if it is deeper, what is it seriously saying?

Of course, I might find this out by ringing a bell. And that may actually be the best reason for doing so.

• If you'd like to ring in the Olympics, you can select a sound from our bell-ringing interactive


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June 20 2012

Zaha Hadid says austerity is not an excuse for low-quality housing

Iraqi-born architect says use of the word austerity is a cliche and could be disastrous for the public

Zaha Hadid, the Iraqi-born architect who designed the Olympic Park aquatic centre, has called on the government not to use the climate of austerity as an excuse for slashing budgets and building low-quality housing and hospitals.

Hadid, speaking in an interview at the Cannes International Festival of Advertising on Wednesday, said the use of the word austerity was a cliche to hide behind which would end up being disastrous for the public.

"I think that [austerity] is used as a cliche because people don't have ideas, they want to crib [old ones] to do bad stuff," she said, in a Q and A session with Guardian deputy editor Kath Viner. "Schools, housing, hospitals – I think the government should invest in good housing."

She added that the skyline of many of the UK's cities were "made horrible" by developments in the 1960s because they government "wanted to be cheap".

"There needs to be investment. We need some sort of quality," Hadid said. "All the privileged can travel, see different worlds, not everyone can. I think it is important for people to have an interesting locale nearby. [Buildings] need to do another job, enlighten people, space enlightens the same way as music art and technology."

Hadid was also asked about the cost of her projects. The Olympic aquatics centre was originally budgeted at £75m but has run to more than £250m.

"My buildings are not particularly expensive," she said. "It is not a tin shed. If you want a tinny car you pay for that."

I don't think it is just fashionable [to want a civic space], I think [buildings] do need that," she said. "The ground as public domain, no longer a perimeter or fortress where you cannot penetrate."


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June 19 2012

The regeneration Games: why the Olympic Park can revive east London

We may not be living in boom times but cultural regeneration can still work. Just look at how Liverpool's city centre has been transformed into a true civic space

Can art and architecture regenerate cities? It is a totemic belief of recent decades that they can. So much money was put into cultural projects in the boom times, and it was all justified as a means of spreading wealth to cities and regions left behind by the decline of industry and the rise of global markets.

Now that every economic assumption of our time has been shattered, now that serious experts seem to be losing hope of growth in the foreseeable future, where does that leave the idea of cultural regeneration?

You can see a new cynicism at work around the legacy of the London Olympics. Organisers claim that the Olympic Park in east London with its spiralling Orbit sculpture will bring renewed life to a deprived urban area. Some residents seem sceptical, while fashionable writers see the Games as destroying the precious impoverishment of London's eastern lands.

But this week, I visited Liverpool and saw how regeneration has finally started to work for one of Britain's least affluent cities. Liverpool got its first effort at regeneration in the 1980s with the opening of Tate Liverpool. It has since had biennials and hosted a Turner prize – just to cite the artistic cream on a huge cake of investment. Has it worked? At last, the answer is yes. This city has a transformed centre that now feels, after years of squalor, like a true civic space.

Does that abolish poverty or bring jobs? Well it must bring some jobs. And if it does not solve every problem, it solves some. It gives Liverpool the look and atmosphere of the world city it always was. That must attract business.

If business survives the years of austerity.

Given the situation in Europe now, it might seem that Liverpool is dressed up for a party that has been cancelled. But it feels better than that. In these times, a visit to Merseyside seemed full of underlying hope. It would certainly be hard to argue that anything has been lost. What did Liverpool lose when its historic Albert Dock was sensitively converted into a cultural centre? What has it lost by the more recent creation of the Museum of Liverpool nearby? This city celebrates its past even as it builds a future. Residents of east London will not lose by having a spacious, attractive Olympic site with its green spaces and centres of sporting and cultural fun. It's absurd to think so, like wishing for Liverpool to have left its docks bereft and desolate.


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June 13 2012

London 2012 legacy: the battle begins on a Newham estate

For some, the aftermath of the Olympic Games could bring eviction and disruption, for others, it is a chance to transform their lives and businesses

Competing views about East End life after London 2012 are sharply crystalised amid the public housing architecture of the Carpenters estate in Stratford, which stands on the fringe of the Olympic Park, overlooked by the red spirals of the Orbit tower.

The vision of the planners, led by Newham council's ebullient Labour executive mayor, Sir Robin Wales, is for the Carpenters to make way for a new campus for University College London (UCL), enhancing the life prospects of the neighbourhood and enriching hard-up Newham as a whole.

An estate resident, Mary Finch, takes a bleaker line: "I think that the Olympics has lost me my home." She has lived on the Carpenters for 40 years and is disinclined to depart quietly. "I think they're gonna have to come in here and drag me out. Why should somebody be able to force you out of your home? A home that's got nothing wrong with it, that's standing solid? I do not want to go."

Slow dispersal of the estate's residents, mostly to alternative dwellings nearby, has been in progress for some time. This has been justified for Wales by the need to embrace a host of development opportunities created not only by the draw of the Games and the park but also, just as importantly, by the economic arteries formed by the improved transport hub at Stratford station. Already, the giant Westfield Stratford City shopping centre has been a hit."It's always a balance if you want to do something for an area," Wales says. "What is the wider community getting at the expense of the inconvenience caused to local residents? People in Carpenters are concerned. I would be too. I completely understand that. But with UCL we would get an amazing, top university coming to the area. Our vision is for science and hi-tech providing jobs and skills. It would be such a good offer from the point of view of our kids."

Finch is not alone in being unenthusiastic. Two younger residents, Joe Alexander and Osita Madu, are driving forces in the campaign group Carp – Carpenters Against Regeneration Plan – which has been quarrelling with Wales's pledges to treat residents properly, bombarding him with questions at public meetings. They reason that the Carpenters works well as a community, so why dismantle it? "We're not some kind of social ill or blight on the landscape that needs help," says Maduu. "Somehow Newham council thinks we're a social problem that needs to be addressed."

"We voted for a mayor and got a dictator," adds Alexander.

It is, in many ways, an archetypal urban regeneration conflict between local authorities on a mission to improve, and those on their patch who fear they only stand to lose. Strife also marked the clearance of the Olympic Park site, when a twilit labyrinth of small industrial concerns was removed from the land on which the array of sports venues now awaits the world's athletic elite.

Among them was H Forman and Son, a family salmon-smoking business founded in east London by a Jewish migrant from Odessa in 1905. The proprietor, Harry Forman's great-grandson Lance, had his premises where the Olympic stadium now is. He fought a long compensation battle and celebrated victory with an email to the Games organiser Lord Coe, a former Olympic champion whom he'd been due to cross-examine at a public inquiry. The email said: "You can run, but you can't hide."

The upshot is a handsome, salmon-pink building on a bank of the river Lea, containing not only a smokery, but also a restaurant and an art gallery in a location long called, with glorious suitability, Fish Island. Olympic dignitaries and others now congregate there. The stadium looms across the water. Forman will soon erect a pop-up corporate hospitality venue on a piece of adjoining land he owns, complete with recreational beach volleyball court. Speedo was the first big name to take space in this Fish Island Riviera, and Forman is finalising discussions with others.

"We're going to have some luxury yachts along the riverfront," he enthuses. "Sixty palm trees are being shipped in. We're going to have this beach club that turns into a nightclub."

Forman hopes to emerge a winner from the Games, but says business is still recovering from the disruption caused by compulsory purchase. He hopes to be part of long-term rejuvenation by developing the land his Riviera will briefly occupy, perhaps with a mixture of homes and boutiques, and facilities for the arts community that has flourished in recent years in former warehouses along the towpath in Hackney Wick. Forging links, he invited a graffiti artist to enhance his restaurant's toilets. In the gents, fine silver fish leap skywards above the urinals.

"I think the area was regenerating anyway," Forman says, looking across at the stadium. "But the existence of the park ought to help. I think when people come here they're amazed at how impressive it already is and how easy to get to."

London's outgoing Olympic legacy chief, Margaret Ford, also gives an upbeat assessment of the post-Games future of the 200-hectare park and its immediate surroundings, although she warns that expecting it to be "the catalyst for the regeneration of the whole of east London", has "never been entirely realistic". Citing prior experience with renewing England's coalfield communities, she stressed the need for "continued investment and belief over a long period".

Ford steps down as chair of the London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC) this month, having led it and its predecessor, the Olympic Park Legacy Company, since May 2009. She says the park should be an example of how you "change the psychology" about an area. "You're hoping that the whole view of investing in east London changes by persuading people that it is a fabulous place to come to and do business and invest."

She accepts that a great fear with large regeneration projects is that the wealth they attract fails to benefit existing residents, many of whom are in pressing need. Canary Wharf, whose glass towers pierce the skyline a short distance away, is often condemned as the ultimate example. "The concern is that the park will become a sort of golden city on a hill surrounded by a sea of poverty," says John Biggs, a former City analyst and senior Labour member of the London Assembly, who represents three of the six Olympic boroughs – Tower Hamlets, Newham and Barking and Dagenham.

Ford, a Labour peer held in high regard across the political spectrum, says she and her board have been "utterly preoccupied from day one" with ensuring that local people derive the maximum value from the post-Games plans, and with facilitating the Olympic boroughs' goal of economic convergence with the richer west and centre of London. She is proud of creating training and schemes and close links with local schools. "The big game-changers will be jobs and changes in educational attainment and aspiration for a lot of families in east London," she says.

Ford will depart with most of the arrangements made for putting the permanent sporting venues and other attractions to post-Games community use, and with decisions in the pipeline for the three big jigsaw pieces not yet in place:

• The commercial occupants, either a fashion hub or digital "innovation city", for the two buildings the media will use during the Games.

• The long-running search for tenants for the main stadium, very likely to include a football club.

• The determination of planning applications for the future development of the park as a residential area and visitor destination.

Five neighbourhoods will form within the boundaries of the park over the next 20 years, with the first, Chobham Manor, due to be completed at the end of 2014. Ford emphasised the importance of including sufficient genuinely affordable housing. "I think we need to remember there was quite a big promise made to the communities in east London about the houses being affordable – either affordable to rent or affordable to buy. I think it's one they are not going to forget."

While pointing out that the LLDC remains committed to 35% of the up to 8,000 homes it plans to see built on the park being affordable – in addition to 3,000 that the Athletes' Village will be converted into – she felt it was a matter for regret for London as a whole that the government's new funding approach means "affordable" rent can now be up to 80% of local market rates, which even in poorer parts of London are high compared with the rest of the country.

"I think Londoners are desperately short of affordable housing. It's definitely short of good-quality social housing [which has far lower rents]. If we mean what we say about needing to house all of our key workers, we need to house lots of people in lower-paid jobs who make this city work then, yes, I would say moving to 80% of market rents will cause some of those people not to be able to afford properties."

Another Olympic borough mayor, Tower Hamlets' independent Lutfur Rahman, who, like Wales, is a member of the LLDC board, has called for more homes for social rent among the 800 housing units proposed for the Olympic Park neighbourhood to be called Sweetwater, which will fall within his boundaries.

Ford, who has 33 years' experience of delivering regeneration programmes under both Labour and Conservative governments, is to be replaced by the Conservative politician Daniel Moylan, the appointee of London's mayor, Boris Johnson, to whom the LLDC is accountable. The selection of Moylan, an experienced councillor in Royal Kensington and Chelsea whom Johnson made his deputy as chair of Transport for London two years ago, has caused some disquiet among political opponents.

Biggs says that although he likes the urbane Moylan – "he's fun to talk to" – he worries that he is not equipped to follow someone with Ford's track record. "The truth is, he doesn't know anything about regeneration." There's an ideological issue too. "The point of bodies like the development corporation is to do the things the market can't or won't, and Daniel is the sort of politician who thinks red-in-tooth-and-claw market forces will take care of everything."

Ford, though, says she's confident Johnson has made a good choice and praises him for allowing her and her chief executive, Andrew Altman, to produce a new masterplan for the park. The one she'd inherited, she says, "pretty much had the place populated by high rise buildings. Why would you stuff it full of flats when it's an obvious family housing neighbourhood, given the green space and the venues? We didn't want to create some pastiche of the Old Curiosity Shop, but a place that had squares and crescents and little pocket parks – the kinds of things that make London quite higgledy piggledy but recognisably London. Boris was hugely encouraging."

She gathered intelligence for the masterplan on "mystery shopping" excursions – chatting to people in cafes and the old Stratford shopping centre. "They wanted front gardens, back gardens for their kids to play in, really good lighting, lots of storage space, nice green spaces, somewhere they can afford and a decent school – it's not bloody rocket science."

When the park begins to reopen for the public next July, its name will change to the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. Ford believes the royal touch will enhance local attachment: "It's about creating a different feel about the place. It's about people having a pride in it."

Even so, while Olympic borough schools gear up for the excitement of the summer, renaming their classes Helsinki, Tokyo and Beijing, parents express a mix of views about the value of the changes underway. Martin Sadler, a resident of Hackney who works in education and lives with his wife and two daughters not far from the park, foresees a good and a bad side.

"I think this part of Hackney will start feeling a bit more like central London and less like east London," he says. "I've lived here for over 20 years, and it's always been a traditional East End sort of place – a real mixture of people, plenty of cheap accommodation. It's already becoming more affluent, partly because the schools have improved. That brings good things with it, but there are worries too. I think London could be getting more like Paris – that doughnut effect, with the poorer people having to move out of the centre."

That is not the outcome legacy idealists say they have in mind. Time will tell if they manage to avoid it.


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June 07 2012

Red Road demolition ends Glasgow tower blocks' high art

Housing scheme became a byword for urban decay, but literature, photography and film flourished there

The demolition of a tower block on the Red Road estate in Glasgow on 10 June will mark the beginning of the end of one of Britain's most controversial housing developments.

Yet though the imposing high-rises became a byword for violence, alienation and crime, they will be missed by the many artists, writers and filmmakers who made it the subject of their work.

The most spectacular was a 2007 project organised by Artangel, in which artist Catherine Yass filmed and photographed tightrope walker Didier Pasquette attempting to cross the 45-metre (150ft) gap between the two tower blocks, which are 89m tall. High winds meant Pasquette had to turn back soon after starting his attempt.

The year before, director Andrea Arnold made her feature film debut with Red Road, a thriller about a female CCTV security operator who is haunted by a man from her past who appears on her monitors.

Arnold said of the buildings: "When I was driving about Glasgow I was very struck by them, they were an amazing sight. The filmmaker Tarkovsky said if you like a location and it really speaks to you then just use it and certainly the Red Road flats spoke to me."

Red Road was part of a huge programme of tower-block construction in 60s Glasgow as the city embraced high-rise living in order to find a quick and cost-effective solution to its housing crisis.

Designed by architect Sam Bunton, the estate was completed in 1969, by which time it was home to more than 4,700 people. The six grey tower blocks, combined with the estate's two 100m-wide sand-coloured slab blocks, give the impression of an almost impenetrable wall of concrete. The towers were the highest residential structures in Europe at the time.

Residents were initially enthusiastic but, like many similar schemes, the estate started to gain a reputation for antisocial behaviour. This ranged from disaffected youths throwing objects from the roofs to frequent burglaries, often carried out by drug addicts. In 1977 a 12-year-old boy died in a 23rd-floor fire. About 100 families had to be evacuated and many refused to return.

As people moved out, some flats were earmarked for use by students and then asylum seekers, who started to arrive in 2000. The suicide of three members of a Russian family who leapt from the 15th floor of one of the blocks in 2010 still weighs heavily on many residents.

Photographer Iseult Timmermans, one of the first artists to work at Red Road, initially came to the estate when taking home a young Kosovan asylum seeker who had been involved in one of her projects. "It was early evening and all the rubbish seemed to be swirling around and I remember looking up and feeling completely disorientated," Timmermans said. "It felt like being in a foreign landscape. I thought what does it feel like for someone who is coming from a completely different culture, often arriving at night, to be landed somewhere like this? It must have been unbelievable."

Timmermans started working at Red Road in 2004, developing photography projects that helped asylum seekers settle into their new surroundings. She was later joined by others such as Alison Irvine, whose novel This Road is Red was based on interviews with residents.

"The buildings are eye-poppingly mammoth," said Irvine. "The height and breadth of them is breathtaking and you really do feel overawed when you're standing beneath them."

Many of the artists, writers and film-makers were initially attracted by the architecture, but it is the residents that have maintained their interest.

"Perhaps it was the juxtaposition of the harsh-looking buildings with the richness of the people who live in them that appealed to me," said Irvine. "The buildings house so many characters and you don't know who you'll meet until you get inside."

One of the defining factors of the cultural activity at Red Road has been the close relationship between many of those involved. Much of this has centred on a community studio where artists shared ideas and contacts.

The trust built up with residents has also been important. Some embraced the artists' work and became involved with Irvine's book, a series of illustrations by Mitch Miller and a short documentary film by Chris Leslie that highlights people's memories of the underground Mecca Bingo and Brig bar.

Much of the work by artists culminated in the Multi-story exhibition at Glasgow's Gallery of Modern Art in 2010. Work by Miller and Leslie was showcased at Red Road Underground, a multimedia exhibition held at the New Glasgow Society in February.

Some have used Red Road to portray a grim view of urban living – it was used as a location for TV crime drama Taggart – but many of the artists have looked beyond the architecture and tried to convey the complexity of residents' feelings about living there.

Arnold acknowledged at the time she made her film that, despite their nightmarish appearance, the flats have been home to many people who have brought up families there. Irvine's book communicates that as well as the suicides, crime and drugs, there are tales of friendship, love and good times.

Leslie's film also conveys people's affection for the place. "It was very exciting and every day was an adventure being in the Red Road," says Azam Khan in the film. "I made some really good friends out there."

Glasgow Museums has been racing to document people's recollections of Red Road before the flats are demolished. Those who have taken part include Labour MSP Patricia Ferguson, who lived with her family in a 21st floor flat of one of the blocks from 1966 until 1977, when the fatal fire broke out two floors above them.

"I think Red Road was a symbol of ambition coming out of the postwar years," said Ferguson in the interview. "If you watch some of the news footage at the time, they were heralded as the answer to everyone's housing needs. I don't think they really were that, but they did fit that time and they served a purpose for a good number of years."

Ferguson, who says she loved Red Road as a child, admits to mixed feelings about the demolition. "There will be a bit of sadness, but that's progress I suppose. People watched in awe when they were built and I suspect they will watch in awe when they come down too."


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May 22 2012

On the white bus to Wythenshawe – council housing by design | Owen Hatherley

A tour of the UK's second-largest estate, in Manchester, offers up some architectural gems and a few lessons on garden cities

In 1966, Salford playwright Shelagh Delaney and Cheltenham director Lindsay Anderson worked together on the film The White Bus. The titular vehicle, a white-painted Leyland bus with "SEE YOUR CITY" written across it, transports a strange retinue – local dignitaries, foreign diplomats, wistful office workers – around the lesser-known sights of Manchester, from newbuild estates and cleared slums to the industrial ensembles of Trafford Park.

Last week, I found myself in an inadvertent re-enactment of that film. A group of local residents, school and FE students, journalists and local councillors were taken on a coach trip around the Manchester suburb of Wythenshawe, led by writer and broadcaster Phil Griffin (who lives there), taking in everything from modernist churches to recycling plants. Uncannily, even the bus was white but, unlike in the film, you could see the reactions of passersby, who often stopped on the street corner, baffled.

As well they might be, as Wythenshawe's reputation precedes it. The second-largest council estate in the country, after Becontree in East London, it's best known of late for three media appearances – Sarah Ferguson's The Duchess on the Estate; Shameless, for which it provided many of the sets; and a photograph of David Cameron on the stump, with a hooded youth making gun signs behind him.

In appearance, though, Wythenshawe doesn't correspond much to stereotype. There's little in the way of concrete, and few flats – most of it is family houses with front and back gardens, and large green verges planted with trees create one of the few places where the phrase "garden city" doesn't feel entirely absurd. It was largely planned in the 1930s by Barry Parker, who had designed the first garden city at Letchworth. Due to the lobbying of Welwyn Garden City MP and housing minister Grant Shapps, garden cities have been held up as an alternative to "the big estates of the 60s", but they mostly catered for the affluent or at least the active. Wythenshawe, though, was real public housing – getting people out of inhuman conditions in the centre of Manchester and into a smokeless, verdant new landscape.

The difficulties in this were obvious in the tour's starting point – Wythenshawe Hall, a Cheshire stately home annexed to the new Manchester garden city. A public park was built around it, the lushness of which spills out into the area around. Our host informs us that Manchester city council fought a grinding battle with landed interests in Cheshire to get Wythenshawe built, and it's even harder now to imagine few in the shires countenancing a giant estate built around a manor house and its grounds. From there, the bus trundles round some of the original 30s houses – simple but exceedingly folksy, in red brick and tile, built around courts and greens – to the first of several modernist churches. Wythenshawe was heavily criticised for lack of amenities, but the spiritual needs of the population were hardly neglected.

St Michael and All Angels Church was designed by the architect Nugent Francis Cachemaille-Day in the mid-30s, and is a piece of German expressionism come to Cottonopolis, with raw red brickwork wrapped around a plan forming an eight-pointed star. Inside, it's a strange and beautiful place, decorative and modernist, austere and lush. Later, we stop outside a derelict church by Coventry cathedral architect Basil Spence, and the group steps through the weeds to crowd round the locked door, peering inside at the wall paintings.

But the most remarkable of them is saved till last, the William Temple Memorial Church, designed by GG Pace in 1965. A collective intake of breath is audible on entering. Its small size hides the surprise of an incredible, wholly original interior, somewhere between the high-tech of early Richard Rogers and redbrick industrial gothic. It's not used for services, and our guide points out "this place has amazing architecture and no folk; the Forum has mediocre architecture but is always full of folk".

The Forum is just opposite, the town centre that was lacking for 30 years of the place's existence. A long concrete car park to the main road, but a dense, pedestrianised series of public spaces when entered, its central "Leningrad Square" (St Petersburg is twinned with Manchester) is busy and bustling. Outside the Forum library, people are queuing for something called "job gym". The level of unemployment is the only aspect of the place that really conforms to stereotype. The white bus takes us around one place of (often former) employment, though – Sharston, one of several light industrial estates which were meant to provide local work for Wythenshawe's tenants. Along here runs a railway line, to which Wythenshawe was never connected; only now, after 75 years, is it being properly connected to the city centre, via a Metrolink tram extension. Wythenshawe looks like it was built for the car, but even now it only has 40% car ownership.

The houses in Wythenshawe are mostly traditionalist, with no experiments – with the exception of the "Tin Town" in Newall Green, a mini-estate of impeccably kept, neat steel-framed prefabs, designed in 1946 by Frederick Gibberd, another cathedral designer (Liverpool, this time). We got a tour around one, home to former Durutti Column drummer Bruce Mitchell. The space standards and architectural quality are, as Griffin points out, way above those of contemporary central Manchester luxury loft living. "Seriously, sod Urban Splash."

Then, after a tour of an art deco cinema (now owned by Jehovah's Witnesses, who have restored it impeccably) and another Cheshire stately home (owned for years by Manchester city council and then English Heritage, who let it rot), the bus discharges its passengers and everyone goes home, some with longer journeys back than others.

What did we learn on the white bus? Griffin tells the passengers near the end that "I think I've shown you everything except Wythenshawe", well aware that a tour of its architectural monuments isn't enough to explain a place. Anyone who began with the assumption that "the state" or "the public sector" can only create inhumane environments would hardly be able to maintain it by the end. The bus went through a place with some astonishing public buildings, most of them derelict or seldom used, and looped between the iconic sites through pretty greens, disused wastelands and retail parks. "It works, and it doesn't work," our guide says, which sounds about right; a place with deep poverty, but where poverty might have been made more bearable through light, air and decent housing. It shouldn't need a bus and a guide to point out the seriousness and care with which places like Wythenshawe were built, but it's a start, to begin a long effort of reassessing and – hopefully – building them anew.

• More photographs of Owen Hatherley's trip around Wythenshawe are available on his Flickr page


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May 08 2012

Art project brings back memories of Latin America

Hispanic people in Leamington Spa are working with a textile artist to create artwork that reminds them of home

The members of Club Amigos meet in Leamington Spa every second Saturday of the month. The group consists of about 30 people who are mostly from Latin America – Peru, Cuba, Mexico and Costa Rica – and they meet to engage in creative activities aimed at passing on their Hispanic language and culture to their children.

The group has recently been collaborating with textile artist Deirdre Nelson on artwork that reflects the members' conflicted relationship with the notion of home. Nelson is one of a number of artists involved in the Making Moves project – a craft development initiative across the West Midlands led by Staffordshire county council and Birmingham-based craft agency Craftspace.

"We were asked to come up with a project [in Leamington Spa] that would involve and engage the migrant group, and promote the group," explains Nelson.

She encouraged them to draw things that reminded them of home. Some drew everyday objects from their life in Britain, while others were inspired by the countries their families had left. "There was one boy, Alex, who drew a picture of Cuban Indians on a mountain in Cuba because that was where his parents were from," says Nelson.

The drawings are scanned and digitally printed on to a large tablecloth that the group embroiders. "I was amazed at how open the men were to stitching; we had some fantastic sessions where fathers and sons stitched together," says Nelson. The group is meeting this Saturday to celebrate the project and to see the final work.

Nelson has also engaged with Leamington Spa's Portuguese community, who came over to work in service stations along the M40 when the motorway was being built. In her research, Nelson stumbled upon the story of Portuguese love hankies. Traditionally, when a Portuguese woman saw a man she took a liking to she would embroider a handkerchief and embellish it with words and flowers and present it to the man who would then wear it in his pocket. Any other woman seeing him would then realise he was taken.

Traditional

Nelson learned traditional stitching and has created a pattern for a traditional napkin that is being printed on to disposable napkins. "There are lots of Portuguese cafes in the town, so I will give them out to them and that way the work will be seen and spread out across the community," she says.

The public will be able to visit the Making Moves touring exhibition of work starting at Stafford railway station in September. The tour will continue in other community venues around the West Midlands until August next year. 


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April 07 2012

Marcus Coates: 'Eventually something serious comes through'

The artist talks about dreaming up alternative visions for the now derelict Heygate estate, near the Elephant & Castle shopping centre in south London

Wearing a silver suit, sunglasses and a stuffed horse's head, Marcus Coates stares at the empty Heygate estate in south London. The eccentric artist, 44, has been visiting this site near the Elephant & Castle shopping centre for years – getting to know residents before they were evicted in 2008 and 2009, listening to stories, even moving in with some before eviction day. His dad helped build the estate in the 60s (when it was thought of as a fine example of urban planning, not a local council sore spot perpetually marked for redevelopment) and Coates has used this as background to help him as he mulls over the site's unknown future. His methods are curious.

He explains: "There are millenniums-old traditions of 'visions'; of shamen whose imaginings were used to try to solve intractable problems. These days that has become a corporate thing: rich developers have visions, councils have visions. Archaic culture has become part of corporate culture." So Coates decided to counter this with some visions of his own, using a combination of meditation, self-induced trances and novelty headgear to see what ideas for the redevelopment of the site he could muster. A film, Vision Quest – a Ritual for Elephant & Castle, follows these efforts, including Coates's well-attended on-stage trance at a nearby music venue in 2009.

"Getting to know people from the estate, I began to understand what an intricate community existed here. Residents depended on each other, doing each other's shopping, checking in – ways that you would never know if you were the council visiting to do an assessment." And how did the council react to his findings, which included visions of seals, of hillocks made of animal excrement? "They were aghast that a guy in a silver suit was coming in to talk about his daydreams," admits Coates. He still hopes he had an influence.

Is Coates for real? He has covered similar ground before, in a project based around a condemned Liverpool tower block. He gathered residents in a room, donned the skin of a deer, and fell to noisy meditation before them; footage of it formed a central part of his 2004 artwork Journey to the Lower World. From clips, it looks a bit like a hidden camera skit. Is this all a big joke? "It's an earnest thing for me," he insists.

"I agree, the incongruity of these situations can seem ridiculous." He refers to the horse's head, from a knacker's yard in Staffordshire, and the silver suit, from an east London clothes shop. "It seems facile, but eventually something serious seems to comes through." In 2009, he went to a shopping centre in Israel, donned shades and a badger hat, and offered people vision-based advice on request. A long queue formed and he was there for hours.

"Ultimately," says Coates, "people on the Heygate estate felt like they were being discarded. There was a huge sense of loss. I wanted to try and tap into a collective imagination, represent it and offer an alternative to the scripted, corporate vision." Does he think he's helped? Coates isn't sure. "But I like the idea of an artist trying to come up with answers rather than posing questions."

Redevelopment of the estate continues uncertainly.


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March 29 2012

Street scenes of 19th-century Newcastle – in pictures

A remarkable set of original early glass negatives detailing everyday 19th-century street scenes has been found by Aaron Guy, who works at Newcastle's Mining Institute. Most are from Newcastle, but some in the collection are from other parts of the north-east. The photographer is unknown



Victorian Newcastle brought to life in photographic treasure trove

Newly discovered collection of photographic plates shows meat markets, rag sellers and street scenes from 1880s

When Aaron Guy peered into a forgotten box in an ancient Newcastle building, he could not have guessed the treasures contained inside. The curious photo archivist had stumbled upon a remarkable set of original early glass negatives, detailing everyday street scenes of 19th-century Newcastle.

Meat markets, fairs, rag sellers, small corner shops and larger than life street characters are among the subjects which feature in the high-quality, 300-image collection.

Guy, who works at the city's Mining Institute, was helping to shift old furniture for the Society of Antiquaries when his attention was diverted to the box.

"The society were moving to a smaller building and were passing some of their belongings to other organisations," he said. "I was just being nosy really, peering into boxes, when I happened to spot that one contained some really old glass negatives. I thought they seemed interesting so we asked for permission to bring the plate boxes back to our office to have a proper look."

The work seems to date back at least to 1880 and the cohesion of the images suggests at least a third of them may have been created by a single photographer. His deliberate documentation of working-class life was unusual for the period, perhaps more in tune with the celebrated street photographers who followed in his footsteps almost a century later, in the 1960s and 70s.

The most arresting images are from the Newcastle streets, but the collection also contains work from other parts of the north-east, most recognisably Tynemouth and Lindisfarne.

By 1871 Newcastle industrialist Joseph Swan had devised a method of producing dry photographic plates, which meant there was no immediate need for a darkroom and chemical processing, and made photography more convenient and commercially viable. Within a few years his city factory was the largest and most successful manufacturer of dry plates in the world.

By the 1880s, Newcastle was prosperous and sophisticated. It had a thriving cultural and intellectual scene, with frequent lectures, debates and scientific demonstrations. Yet this photographer chose to point his lens at ordinary people.

"We know very little about where these negatives have come from," Guy said. "They were never catalogued and the society doesn't recall how or when it came by them. We aren't even completely sure whether they are one photographer's archive, or if they were produced by several individuals. Photography would have been a very expensive hobby at that time, but this person was shooting in a very contemporary way.

"Despite the cumbersome equipment he would have been using – a large plate camera, probably on a tripod – I would describe this as observational documentary, almost photojournalistic in style.

"The work doesn't look staged, but if it was then the photographer was doing things very differently from his contemporaries. This work feels less distant and more engaged than other series I have seen.

"It may have been someone with means, or a commercial photographer with quite a distinctive viewpoint, who decided that Joe Bloggs on the street was more interesting to photograph in his spare time than the high society of Newcastle. He was really quite ahead of his time in that respect."

Guy and his colleagues are still scanning the work and researching locations and possible identities of the photographer. They are also keen to find another 15 boxes of plates which were sent by the Society of Antiquaries to other places.

"I was really quite lucky to find this box," he said. "I don't know if someone forgot it or planned to pick it up later. The aim now is to date and catalogue the work, and then to put it out to other organisations in the city and hopefully get it seen, because it really belongs to the people of Newcastle."


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March 26 2012

Growing up black: Dennis Morris's portrait of the 70s

The photographer's pictures of black Britons during the 60s and 70s capture a period of seismic change that we can only really understand now

'The way we see things is affected by what we know and what we believe," wrote John Berger in Ways of Seeing. "The relation between what we see and what we know is never settled."

We know that Britain's official story – the one it keeps telling itself – is that it is a tolerant country with regards to race. This tolerance is not regarded as a work of progress but as an enduring expression of Britain's innate genius. This toleration had limits. It endured the presence of "different" kinds of people so long as they didn't make a difference.

"We are a British nation with British characteristics," explained Margaret Thatcher in 1978, during the same interview that she warned of Britain being "swamped": "Every country can take some small minorities and in many ways they add to the richness and variety of this country. The moment the minority threatens to become a big one, people get frightened."

And even as the central focus of the nation's anxieties shifted from Caribbeans to Muslims, from race to religion and from colour to culture, this essential quality remained firm. "We should talk, and rightly so, about British values that are enduring," argued Gordon Brown in 2005. "Because they stand for some of the greatest ideas in history: tolerance, liberty, civic duty, that grew in Britain and influenced the rest of the world."

But what we see in Dennis Morris's pictures of black Britons in the 60s and 70s – collected together in a new book – both challenges the limitations inherent in that framing and provides a counter-narrative to it. For in the photographs of people at church and at play, styling and protesting during this critical period in our racial history he transforms black Britons from objects to subjects and recipients of hospitality to cultural agents. We see not just a group of people shaped by their presence in Britain but shaping it: not content with being tolerated by "hosts" they demanded engagement in their new home.

The 70s were a pivotal period in black British history. When people started arriving in large numbers after the second world war, most planned to stay only long enough to earn some money and go back "home". But as Berger wrote in the Seventh Man: "The gold fell from very high in the sky. And so when it hit the earth it went down very, very, deep." So they stayed, married and raised families.

Morris's pictures illustrate the period in which black Britons, as a whole, moved from a state of transience to permanence. No longer just an immigrant community the children in these photographs have the task of reconciling the apparent contradictions between race and place. To them falls the burden of becoming British while remaining black, matching the colour of their skin with the crest on their passport – not just about the right to be in the country, but to stay in it, not just to survive but to thrive. To this generation was bequeathed the task not only of salvaging their own scattered and forgotten histories but relating to the rest of Britain how their shared histories made their presence possible. "We are here because you were there," explained Sri Lankan-born novelist, and director of the Institute of Race Relations, A Sivanandan, outlining the colonial ties that bind. The political rally cry of the time: "Come what may we're here to stay."

Throughout we witness the influences of Paul Gilroy's Black Atlantic at work. Flat caps and pork pie hats, small children dressed for church like little Lord Fauntleroy, platform shoes, flares long collars, head-wraps, miniskirts, cricket whites, rallies to support American political prisoners, The Carib Club and Gregory Issacs.

The mixed-race wedding, and various photographs of white people at social events are testimony to the fact that while this may have been a somewhat autonomous project it was by no means an independent one. Even in areas where there was a high concentration of black people, such as Hackney where these pictures were taken, the black experience was never segregated.

But this next generation could not fashion this culture out of whole cloth. "Men make their own history," wrote Karl Marx in the 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte. "But they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under given circumstances directly encountered and inherited from the past."

The Caribbean, to which many if not most of this generation maintained more than an emotional connection, was undergoing a period of cultural assertiveness and political turbulence. Globally it was a decade in which the Caribbean punched well above its demographic weight. In 1972 came the release of Jimmy Cliff's The Harder They Come; in 1973, the formation of Caricom, the Caribbean Community; in 1975 the release of No Woman No Cry, Bob Marley's first hit outside of Jamaica, marking the emergence of the first third world superstar. And in 1976 the West Indies cricket team thrashed England at the Oval. I was seven at the time, and I remember well the phone ringing in Stevenage as the small local Caribbean community celebrated every wicket that fell and six that was struck and my mother, standing at the door, shouting at me halfway up the street that "Brian Close had gone".

A year later there was the battle of Lewisham, where the mobilisation of the National Front was met with fierce resistance. In 1978 came Steel Pulse's album Handsworth Revolution suggesting these expressions of cultural resistance had travelled and could translate. Notwithstanding Jamaica's explosive, violent and dysfunctional domestic politics at the time, all this added confidence to the notion that "we" had something valuable with which to engage.

Where Britain was concerned those circumstances were inauspicious. The 70s were a period of particular upheaval – a decade in which post-colonial Britain too found itself in a traumatic and profound transition. There were four elections, blackouts, an IMF bailout, massive strikes, mass unemployment, 25% inflation. With punk rock in the ascendancy, the anthem for a young, mostly white, generation could be heard in the main refrain of the Sex Pistols' hit God Save the Queen: "No future, no future, no future for you."

At the very moment when black youths were trying to imagine new beginnings, the very certainties on which the lives of many white working-class youths were founded – full employment, subsidised housing, state economic intervention – were coming to an end.

That decade came to a close with the election of Thatcher, whose victory was aided in no small part by her crude appeal to white anxieties over immigration, heralding a more overtly antagonistic racial landscape for the 80s.

"Minorities are the flashpoint for a series of uncertainties that mediate between everyday life and its fast-shifting global backdrop," writes Arjun Appadurai in his book Fear of Small Numbers. "This uncertainty, exacerbated by an inability of states to secure economic sovereignty in the era of globalisation, may translate into a lack of tolerance of any sort of collective stranger."

And so it was that the efforts to establish existential legitimacy were complicated and interrupted not just by the rise of the extreme right but by a popular racist discourse that found free rein in the press. The contempt in which the black British community was held at that time, the limits within which they were tolerated and the apparent precariousness of their presence in the mediated landscape was exemplified by coverage of the Notting Hill carnival.

In 1977 the Express's front page read: "War Cry! The unprecedented scenes in the darkness of London streets looked and sounded like something out of the film classic Zulu."

"If the West Indians wish to preserve what should be a happy celebration which gives free rein to their natural exuberance, vitality and joy," argued the Mail on 31 August 1977, "then it is up to their leaders to take steps necessary to ensure its survival."

The Telegraph blamed black people for being in Britain in the first place, declaring: "Many observers warned from the outset that mass immigration from poor countries of substantially different culture would generate anomie, alienation, delinquency and worse."

That the carnival had emerged as a response to race riots in the 50s and is now the largest street carnival in western Europe is testament to how far things have shifted. That "black culture" would be blamed for the social unrest that erupted in around England in 2011 is an indication of how far we still have to go.

What was once feared as an emblem of the foreign incursion into our national identity is now embraced and even marketed as a sign of our modernity. Britain's diversity was central to the marketing in our successful Olympic bid, even if the day after the result was announced the terrorist atrocities of 7/7 put multiculturalism back in the dock. This did not happen because people just thought it was a good idea or, more bizarrely still, because it came naturally to the British temperament. It happened because it was fought for, by black and white, until our absence, not our presence, was unimaginable.

There was nothing inevitable about that outcome. Morris's images reveal a community in unselfconscious flux and renewal.

The fact that its continued existence is no longer contested and, when it comes to market British modernity even celebrated, is not a function of tolerance, but of endurance and struggle.

Growing up Black by Dennis Morris (£250 until 30 March including a signed limited edition print; £300 thereafter) is published by Autograph ABP. For more details visit www.autograph-abp.co.uk.


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March 12 2012

Artists come together in a Crisis

The Crisis Commission at London's Somerset House will feature new works by artists including Gillian Wearing, Antony Gormley and Tracey Emin

A small and poignant bronze sculpture of a young man called Craig – who became homeless after serving in Afghanistan – will greet visitors to a new exhibition to raise awareness and money for the charity Crisis.

The work by Gillian Wearing goes on display at Somerset House in London on 14 March along with new pieces by artists including Antony Gormley, Tracey Emin, Sir Anthony Caro and Jonathan Yeo. All the works will be sold on 3 May, with the money going to the charity for single homeless people, Crisis.

Wearing said she was inspired by the real story of Craig O'Keefe who became homeless after returning from duty in Afghanistan. Eventually, with the help of Veteran's Aid, he managed to get work and a flat and is now a volunteer tutor for Crisis.

"Crisis were great because they really wanted artists to get involved directly with their charity," said Wearing. She was part of a workshop meeting people who work for and used its services. "It wasn't a passive involvement which I really thought was important."

Emin offered four works: two self-portraits and two neon signs saying Trust Me and Trust Yourself. She said they were words we often say to others and to ourselves. "Sometimes such statements need to be reaffirmed. The use of neon makes it all the more positive."

The two self-portraits, Deep Blue III and Deep Blue V, are part of a series Emin created for her forthcoming show at Turner Contemporary in Margate, in which she explores the idea "of the body becoming older, self-loathing and the notion of self-preservation".

Emin said she did not do anything different because the show was for Crisis. "I'm quite impressed at what a big show it is and how serious it is and not just a charity event."

Gormley has made a cast iron sculpture of a person we assume to be homeless. "The most challenging social sculpture of our times is made by the quiet performances of the homeless within the shelter provided by the doorways of the shops of our inner cities."

He said he was trying to evoke a fallen body which is, nevertheless, not at rest. "This exhibition allows one to think about those bodies that have no place. I believe that sculpture can powerfully evoke the nameless, the voiceless and the placeless."

The Crisis Commission show raises money and awareness at a crucial time, says the charity. After years of declining trends, 2010 represented a turning point when all forms of homelessness began to rise. In 2010/11, 3,975 people slept rough in London, an 8% rise on the previous year.

The show runs until 22 April and will also feature work by homeless and vulnerable people who have been helped by Crisis.

The charity's chief executive Leslie Morphy said: "We are thrilled that so many leading contemporary artists are participating in the Crisis Commission. This prestigious event will raise much needed funds for our work and bring a new focus to the worrying current rise in homelessness in society."

Other works in the show include Yinka Shonibare's Homeless Man, 2012, which shows a vibrantly dressed Victorian man weighed down by 11 suitcases. The artist said: "The idea of the work is to suggest that any privileged person can become vulnerable at any time due to circumstances outside of their own personal control, such as illness, death of a relative, war or unfortunate economic circumstances."

The artist Bob and Roberta Smith (also known as Patrick Brill) has made a piece called Kite because of its association with isolation and the elements. "My kite has 'help' written on it. It is a cry for help by the person flying it."

Brill said he was aware of homelessness rising and taught in an art school where some of his students are homeless. "Homelessness is about isolation. Homes are not just roofs and walls – they are networks – about nurture and care."

The show has been curated by Laurence Sillars, chief curator at the Baltic in Gateshead and the cost of creating the works has been met by GlaxoSmithKline. All of them will be auctioned at Christie's on 3 May.


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January 31 2012

Antony Gormley: don't criminalise squatting

British artist, who inhabited empty factory in 1970s, defends rights of squatters to put unused properties to good use

The artist Antony Gormley put forward a passionate defence of squatting at the launch of an exhibition in aid of the homeless on Tuesday morning.

Gormley, famous for his humanoid sculptures, notably the Angel of the North in Gateshead, said: "I'm very against the criminalisation of squatting – I think it's absolutely criminal that many inner city properties are empty.

"Squatting is a very good way of preserving properties while at the same time putting them to good use. It's a no-brainer that properties that are awaiting renovation or don't have commercial tenants can be of use for creative things, and indeed to provide shelter for the homeless."

The government aims to criminalise squatting in residential properties, with squatters to be fined £5,000 or face a year in jail. Gormley squatted for six years in a factory in King's Cross when he was an art student in the 70s. "I have to say that the landlord of the factory was very, very positive about us being there.

"We had everything we needed including 25,000sq ft of work space. A lot of the artists' space organisation of the 70s was to use unused council and commercial properties for studios and they continued to do incredibly good work. I think it's a principle that should be continued."

Gormley said he applauded the group of young artists called the Da! collective who made headlines in 2008 by squatting in a house worth £6.25m in Mayfair, which they used for art projects, exhibitions, talks and events.

"I think my daughter made the kitchen for that. I think there are a lot of young, energetic but refusing-to-be-entrepreneurial people who want to put these inner city spaces to very good use. The Occupy movement has its university but that's suffering a bit from the chill winds of winter. I think that Mayfair squat, which was also a talk shop and exchange ground for ideas about collective futures, was a great example of what young people are doing today."

Gormley is one of several artists, including Tracey Emin, Gillian Wearing, Jonathan Yeo and Yinka Shonibare, who have created new work that will be exhibited at Somerset House in London from 14 March then auctioned the following month, with the proceeds going to Crisis, the charity for single homeless people. Gormley's piece is called Contract and is "a recumbent body" made of iron and inspired by the homeless people he saw sleeping on the Lincoln memorial on his first trip to Washington.

Gormley said: "It's making reference to the bodies that we see who have fallen out of society or find themselves in the empty forecourts of everything from banks to chip shops. I think it is an indictment of any society that we cannot accommodate those without a place, and the single homeless are particularly vulnerable. They need shelter of every kind, particularly human shelter – a programme of therapeutic help which will enable them to recover their trust in human relationships."


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January 28 2012

Interview: architects Richard Rogers, Graham Stirk and Ivan Harbour

Celebrated architect Richard Rogers and his partners discuss £140m penthouses, John Prescott's ministerial 'flair' and Prince Charles's strange ideas about architecture

Richard Rogers, at 78, is not about to slow down. "I am enjoying myself, so why would I retire?" says the architect of the Pompidou Centre and the Lloyd's of London building. "I'd like to think I'll be learning a new language or something when I die."

But even a master builder can't go on for ever, which is why Richard Rogers Partnership discreetly changed its name, some five years ago, to Rogers Stirk Harbour and Partners. "We wanted," explains Rogers, "to avoid the situation where the name of the practice is someone who died 100 years ago. Architecture is a living thing. If I want to leave something to the future, it has to be able to change – but retain something of the ethos that we built up over 50 years."

Graham Stirk and Ivan Harbour are here today too, flanking Rogers protectively like affectionate, respectful and, just occasionally, faintly exasperated sons. (If Rogers is known for running his practice like a family, he is also famous among those who know him for a close and warm family life – one into which tragedy came late last year with the unexpected death of one of his sons, Bo.)

Leeds-raised Stirk, 54, is trim and wiry, with a narrow tie, dark suit and spiky hair; he is softly spoken and emphatic. Harbour, 49, is a rangily tall redhead, brought up in the West Country, with an easy grin and friendly manner. Between them is Rogers, whose get-up – turquoise shirt, orange sweater and splendid, canary-coloured socks – reminds me of Madrid airport's brightly coloured Terminal 4, for which Harbour was lead architect, winning the practice the 2006 Stirling prize.

At the moment Harbour is involved in planning Barangaroo, a former container port in Sydney – the biggest piece of city-making the practice has ever undertaken. Stirk, meanwhile, is working on the new exhibition and conservation centre for the British Museum; he also designed the Knightsbridge residential complex One Hyde Park, infamous for its £140m penthouse, thought to be the most expensive apartment ever put on sale. According to Harbour, their emergence as key figures in the firm is not a revolution. "Between Graham and myself, we have put in 55 years at the practice, so we are not new at it. It's an evolution."

Could a practised eye, I wonder, tell a Stirk from a Harbour building? "I hope not," says Harbour. (Though in fact, one might contend that Stirk buildings – such as the Leadenhall Building in the City of London, and Neo Bankside, a new apartment block next to Tate Modern – tend to be somewhat orthogonal; Harbour's buildings, such as Madrid airport, more expressive and sculptural.) This self-effacing attitude to individual style comes in part from that ethos Rogers mentions. The practice is run on idealistic principles; it has a manifesto that asserts the architects' responsibility towards "contributing to the welfare of mankind, the society in which we practise and the team with whom we work". (It is a moot point, of course, whether the creation of a building containing a £140m penthouse contributes to the welfare of society, a point to which we shall return.) Each Monday morning the staff gather for a discussion of current projects, in which everyone from the highest to the lowest can express views – along the lines of an art-school "group crit" session. There is a profit-share system, and the salaries of the directors cannot rise above a certain proportion of the lowest paid in the firm.

Rogers starts waxing lyrical about the profit-share scheme in answer to a question I put to Harbour about why he has never left the practice, which he joined as an architecture graduate in 1985 "to help out on the Lloyd's building for a couple of months". (Stirk joined in 1983, also cutting his teeth on Lloyd's, which was in December accorded Grade I listed status.) After listening patiently for a little bit, Harbour says: "Actually Richard, that's not the primary reason I am still here. The primary reason I am still here is … every Monday morning it is exciting to come into work because you never quite know what's going to happen, and the debate about architecture and the enthusiasm of the people here is infectious. Richard has been fantastic at encouraging us. I have always felt I can go anywhere within the practice, and I am more excited about tomorrow than yesterday. It's the intellectual environment that I have enjoyed. When I was at college I learned about learning. Here I learned about architecture." He suddenly gets modest. "Of course I know very little about architecture, and the older I get the less I know." He makes it sound a little cultish, as the passion burns in his voice.

Rogers tells me that "architecture is about public space held by buildings"; and civic space, both metaphorical and physical, and the architecture that holds it together, is the subject of a lecture the three are giving at the Royal Institute of British Architects on Tuesday. They gesture toward the public square outside the office, on the banks of the Thames near Hammersmith Bridge in London, to illustrate what they mean. (Beside it is the famous restaurant, the River Cafe, run by Rogers' wife, Ruth.) It is privately owned land; but the architects take the view that it adds to the sum of human happiness if they don't lock it off from passersby. And that, in microcosm, is Stirk's argument about One Hyde Park. The important thing, he says, is what they didn't do: "We could have slapped up 12 storeys hard against Knightsbridge, and held the line of the street," he says. Instead, they built a series of pavilion-like structures at right angles to Knightsbridge, allowing passersby to glimpse Hyde Park between the buildings as they wander past.

According to Stirk: "We replaced one big slab building that was impermeable. The notion was to say: this is not a citadel. There are retail areas and garden areas at the base of the building. At least people can sit down on extended pavements; there is an area now where people can congregate and breathe." In short, whatever absurdities prevail upstairs, at street level it is still a better public environment than before.

The idea of the city has preoccupied much of Rogers' life as an architect and, in later years, a politician. He was chairman of the Urban Taskforce from 1998-2005, championing high-density cities; brownfield not greenfield for building. The taskforce was appointed by then deputy prime minister John Prescott, about whom Rogers has nothing but good to say. "Contrary to what everyone believed, I thought Prescott was a good minister, because he concentrated, and stuck around, and had a certain flair. It was a very important part of my life." The question of "how one builds at the density required of a city centre, and still achieves the right feel at the street scale", as Harbour puts it, is of urgent concern, they argue. "It's about humane scale in intensified development," adds Stirk. "It's about concentrating, rather than spreading," says Harbour. "You need good design to solve the problems of dense spaces."

Which is why Rogers has been speaking in the Lords about the government's draft National Planning Policy Framework. He agrees that the planning laws are due for rationalisation. But he fears the proposed reforms will loosen planning regulations too much: we could end up "like the south of France or the southern coast of Spain, with the whole south-east peppered with buildings". He agrees with the National Trust's campaign against the reforms, but from the other end of the argument – their potential effect on cities and towns, rather than just on the countryside. Cities that sprawl lose energy, he says. It's not so long ago, he warns, that post-industrial city centres, such as Manchester's, were bleak places, more or less uninhabited. Drawing residents back to the heart of cities has made them more attractive, safer, livelier. Intelligent density is the answer, with old and new buildings cohabiting gracefully, argue the architects. "Cities are about juxtaposition," says Rogers. "In Florence, classical buildings sit against medieval buildings. It's that contrast we like." Harbour adds: "In Bordeaux we built law courts right next door to what is effectively a listed historic building, and that makes it exciting. Can you imagine that in London?" There is some hope that the government will change its position – the MPs of the communities and local government committee have urged ministers, in a report published before Christmas, to drop the notion of the default "yes" to development. But the battle is not yet won, and Rogers will continue to campaign from the Lords.

The question of juxtaposition, of course, is one that has bedevilled modernist British architects in the past, particularly in relation to Prince Charles's views on architecture. In 1987, the prince spoke out against Rogers' plans for Paternoster Square near St Paul's Cathedral in a speech at Mansion House. ("You have to give this much to the Luftwaffe. When it knocked down our buildings, it didn't replace them with anything more offensive than rubble.") In 2009, he attacked them again: this time, by warning the Qatari royal family off Stirk's plans for the former Chelsea Barracks in London. The practice was sacked by the Qataris at an hour's notice, and years of work went to waste.

Rogers says: "For a long time we thought we were going to be all right, because Prince Charles had other things to think about, like Princess Diana dying. But he has some strange ideas on medicine, some strange ideas on farming and some very strange ideas on architecture. He believes architecture is something that doesn't change. And the problem is he doesn't discuss things, he makes statements." Harbour adds: "He does believe architecture can make the world a better place, so in the abstract, we have a lot in common. But if you are not prepared to debate your position..."

Rogers continues: "He loves Christopher Wren! But Wren was hated during his life because he was too modern." Harbour expands: "The irony is that his 'monstrous carbuncle' speech was made in Wren's extension to Hampton Court, which was a modern monstrosity compared to the original building." Harbour once visited the prince's pet architecture project, Poundbury, on the outskirts of Dorset, "when I was on holiday nearby". He didn't much like it.

His career, says Rogers, has never been easy. "It's been a bloody lot of work to get here. After the Pompidou Centre, my partner was threatening to become a taxi driver. We went through some pretty difficult times. I thought I was going to have to give up architecture at least three times, not because I wanted to leave architecture, but because it seemed to want to leave me." Despite the Prince of Wales's best efforts, though, Rogers has kept at it. And, says Harbour: "He has many years to go." He adds: "I am still younger than Richard was when I joined the practice." I ask why it matters; is it that he will feel truly grown up when he reaches that age? "A deadly concept, growing up," pitches in Rogers. Harbour adds: "What is work? It's part of your life. The idea of stopping work, if you are fortunate enough to love it, is something I don't understand – and I know Richard doesn't."

Rogers, Stirk and Harbour's lecture on Cities and the Language of Architecture is at the RIBA, London W1, on 31 January


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November 11 2011

Eco-home developer BioRegional Quintain to shut

Property developer behind environmentally sustainable schemes will halt work after Middlehaven first phase

The UK's highest-profile sustainable developer, BioRegional Quintain, is to be wound up after its parent company, the property developer Quintain, decided to focus on the London market.

BioRegional Quintain, originally set up as a joint venture by the influential environmental charity behind "One Planet Living" and Quintain in 2005, will finish the 80-home first phase of the Middlehaven scheme in Middlesbrough, and then wind itself up.

BioRegional Quintain's chief executive, Pete Halsall, told this week's Building magazine: "It is extremely sad but it is part of a wider decision of Quintain's board to focus on its core business. My understanding is that Quintain wants to be able to express sustainability in its developments in a different way."

Halsall confirmed that the venture would shut, with the loss of five jobs. It leaves the Homes and Communities Agency's (HCA) £200m, 750-home Middlehaven scheme without a residential developer for its later phases, raising fears for the project's green credentials.

BioRegional Quintain will also withdraw from the London Development Agency's prestigious One Gallions project in east London, where it was selected in 2007 with Crest Nicholson and Southern Housing Group to build a model 260-home environmentally sustainable development.

At its peak before the downturn, BioRegional had a £350m development pipeline on six sites. Its most successful scheme was the award-winning One Brighton joint venture with Crest Nicholson, which completed last year and included allotment spaces for residents to grow their own food on the roof of the development.

The joint venture was dedicated to the 10 principles espoused by BioRegional Quintain's "One Planet Living" philosophy, including the need for developments to be zero carbon and zero waste, to use local food, and promote residents' "health and happiness".

Wembley developer Quintain bought BioRegional's share in the joint venture last year. Halsall, who will leave the business, said the move did not mean that the kind of development promoted by BioRegional Quintain was a thing of the past, and that he would shortly be announcing a new venture dedicated to "deep green" developments. "There is still tremendous potential. Quintain has to focus on its primary portfolio right now but this kind of development is absolutely still the future."

The firm's demise was lamented by two Stirling prize-winning architects, both of whom have worked with the developer. Peckham Library architect Will Alsop, who was the master planner on Middlehaven, said: "It is very sad news. This was a company very committed to doing things in a more responsible way."

Peter Clegg, of Feilden Clegg Bradley Architects, which designed One Brighton, called the development a "great shame".

"It was a joint venture between some of the most conscientious sustainability thinkers of the past 10 years and one of the more significant developers, which had significant resources," he said.

David Curtis, HCA executive director, said: "While this is disappointing news, we remain firmly committed to Middlehaven. We are in discussions with BioRegional's parent company, Quintain Estates, to find the best way forward for their work at Middlehaven."


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October 02 2011

British Ceramics Biennial brings signs of a Potteries revival

The event, which opened at the weekend in Stoke, is a reminder to visitors that the city still has a pottery industry

Stoke-on-Trent: the city that produced the captain of the Titanic; elected, in recent history, nine BNP councillors; and is home to a once-proud, now shattered, ceramics industry.

But despite the Potteries' sometimes bleak reputation, there are signs of revival in Stoke's most famous industry.

With the second British Ceramics Biennial, which opened at the weekend, the city is aiming to present itself as the guardian of creativity for British ceramics in all its forms – art, craft, design, and industry – and to remind visitors that the city still has a pottery industry, even if it employs a fraction of the people it did 30 years ago.

Exhibits range from high-concept, elaborate installations, such as the innumerable, 5cm clay figures of commuting businessmen by artist Lawrence Epps that scatter Stoke railway station, to piles of bricks. Piles of bricks not as in the notorious Carl André sculpture in the Tate, but plain, honest bricks for building, still manufactured in Stoke.

The main part of the Biennial takes place in the now disused Spode factory, which occupies a four-hectare (10-acre) site in the heart of Stoke. It is a beautiful but rough-and-ready space, with wall signs still proclaiming the location of the "machine-banding shop" and warning that "ear protection must be worn when tapping ware".

The creative director of Portmeirion, Julian Teed, recalls the suddenness with which it was abandoned when Spode went bust in 2008, saying that when he visited the empty building some time later: "There was still a half-drunk cup of tea and the local paper open on someone's desk."

Now, though, here are Sarah Younan's sexual, Eve Hesse-inspired ceramic pieces – teapots strung from the wall with lids like nipples, others decorated with erect penises. But also on display are terracotta pantiles, artificial ceramic hipjoints, and the life-saving ceramic filters that are used in disaster zones to remove pathogenic bacteria from drinking water.

There is a certain irony to the location: the once-thriving Spode factory, until 13 November, transformed into a destination for visitors and part of the tourism industry, rather than part of industry. Bought by the council in 2010, the long-term aim, according to Stoke's regeneration chief Kevin Bell, is to transform the site into a mixture of shops, apartments and events spaces.

But the Biennial's co-director Barney Hare Duke argued that it is not "about celebrating the past, but about being a catalyst", citing seven artists that have been commissioned to create work. The first Biennial in 2009 attracted 35,000 visitors, half of whom were from outside the region, and £2.2m in economic impact. The budget for this year's biennial, supported by the local council, Arts Council England, and industry partners such as earthenware manufacturers Emma Bridgewater and hotelware producers Steelite who both produce pottery in Stoke, is £360,000.

Local employment in the pottery industry collapsed in the 1980s and 1990s, when the giant manufacturers, notably Royal Doulton and Wedgwood, who between them employed 20,000 people in the early 1980s, switched production to Malaysia, Indonesia and China.

Then, the buzz word was "outsourcing"; ware could be produced at a fraction of the price in the far east.

Now, some companies, such as Portmeirion, talk of "insourcing". When Portmeirion, famous for its cheerful, affordable tableware with botanical decoration, bought the intellectual property rights to Spode's distinctive blue-and-white china after the company's collapse, they also, according to Teed, decided to bring back as much manufacturing to Stoke as they could. Eighty items that Spode had outsourced abroad were put into production at Portmeirion's Staffordshire factory, and the premises now produces 140,000 pots a week. (Even so, 40% of the Portmeirion Group's production is outsourced abroad.)

Outsourcing, through rising labour costs, ongoing transportation costs, and variable production quality, had proved less of a cure-all for the industry than it once seemed, said Teed. Meanwhile, customers have increasingly seen the value of Stoke-made pottery, a heritage drawn on by the successful Emma Bridgewater brand, for example, and by small companies such as Burgess, Dorling and Leigh, which uses 19th-century patterns from its rich archive and is produced with traditional skills.

"There is a rebirth of small, creatively driven companies," said Teed. "I don't think the pottery industry is in terminal decline. Things are swinging back in favour of the companies who had the balls to stay in Stoke when everyone else was jumping ship to China."

• This article was amended on 3 October 2011 to correct a line that said Portmeirion's Staffordshire factory produces 140,000 pots a day.


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September 09 2011

RIBA Manser Medal contenders up in the air

Shortlist for prize honouring best new private home in the UK has revealed a common quirk among cutting-edge architects

Those suffering from vertigo should look away now. The shortlist for the prize honouring the best new private home in the UK has revealed an increasingly common quirk among cutting-edge architects to go alongside the perennial fondness for floor-to-ceiling glass: rooms suspended in mid-air.

Two of the six contenders for the 2011 Manser Medal, organised annually by the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), display this trick, known in the trade as cantilevering. One, Ty Hedfan in Brecon – the name means "hovering house" in Welsh – cunningly circumvents planning restrictions against building along the river bank which adjoins the plot by sending out a glass-walled spur to hang above the water's edge.

More dramatic still is the self-explanatory Balancing Barn in Suffolk, pictures of which resemble on first glance an optical illusion. At least half of the long, slim structure hangs precipitously over the edge of a steep, grass incline. It looks as if an escaped railway carriage has run out of track or, thanks to the shiny silver cladding, like a floating barrage balloon.

The barn, which is available for public rent, is "completely bonkers and very playful", said Tony Chapman, head of awards at RIBA and one of the five-strong judging panel. Most alarming, he said, is the glass floor inside the far-hanging edge: "It's so potentially unnerving for some people that they provide bits of carpet you can put over it, if you want."

The appeal for the judges of Ty Hedfan's cantilever was as much practical as aesthetic, Chapman said: "They weren't allowed to build on the river bank but there's nothing in the small print which says you can't build over the river bank. We like things like that, which get one over slightly on the planners."

The other four contenders are a varied bunch, albeit within a prevailing taste for generous glazing which blurs the boundaries between home and garden, and materials which seek to blend the building with the wider landscape.

There is one urban dwelling, not strictly speaking a new residence: a mid-century, brutalist home in Highgate, north London, remodelled to open the rooms out onto a secluded garden.

Another triumph against the planners is Watson House, an elegant glass-and-timber structure in the heart of the New Forest, which was only permitted on condition it was invisible from public sections of the woodland. The most modest home – a relative term within a selection with budgets starting at £500,000 – is New Mission Hall in Sussex, a pair of conjoined structures on the site of a Baptist chapel which offers a blank, brick facade from the road before opening out into a glassed rectangle at the rear.

The final contender, in the Surrey stockbroker belt of Epsom, most closely resembles the stereotypical notion of a modernist house, from its over 700 sq metres of living space and curtains of walled glass grand enough to satisfy the most demanding exhibitionist to its occupants who seemingly own little more than a few discreetly tasteful items of furniture and art, their toothbrushes presumably locked well out of view.

Inside, however, the design was clever enough to avoid severity, Chapman said, featuring touches like a cosy family TV room deep inside the interior. "You go in there and your first thought is, 'yes, this is an expensive, grand house'. But as you go round it you find lots of lovely little things that make it very intimate."

Overall, he said, the shortlist was perhaps the most diverse in the prize's 10-year history. The inclusion of the pair of cantilevered structures had not been planned. "Maybe subliminally we paired them off," he said. "But I don't think we did it deliberately."

While it would be "slightly arrogant" for RIBA to assume the prize had a direct influence on the wider design of housing, Chapman said, the hope was it might provide food for thought.

"The whole point of the medal, I think, is to try and improve the standard of all housing. We would like to think that there were things that fed into social housing in Hackney as well as the next rich person's house in Surrey.

"The standard of housebuilding in this country is not great. In fact it's pretty poor. It would be good if we could even just inspire clients to ask for things they might not have otherwise considered."

The winner will be announced at a ceremony on 10 November.


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July 20 2011

The race is on

From a pringle-shaped designer velodrome to an 80-year-old theatre, take a look at the six spectacular buildings competing for this year's Stirling prize



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