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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 08 2012

City: A Guidebook for the Urban Age by PD Smith – review

A lively urban tutorial deserves rapt attention paid to it

"Cities are our greatest creation," states PD Smith in his introduction to this richly packed, colourful and well-written primer on the role the city plays in our lives. From the outset he reminds us: "Today, for the first time in the history of the planet, more than half the population – 3.3 billion people – are city dwellers … by 2050, 75% will be urbanites."

In keeping with the spirit of the city itself – more a vital and unpredictable organism than a rationally planned machine for living in – this book has been planned as a walk, or wander, through the city with no set routes or strict chronology. "As in a real city," says Smith, "you can follow any number of pathways through this book. And don't worry about getting lost. Some say it's the only way really to experience a city." Smith is right when he talks about getting lost, for there is always another city alley to take, doorway to enter, park to stroll through or some overlooked or even forbidden quarter of a city to sidle through. The greatest cities are inexhaustible, and not least because they are constantly changing. And when a city stops evolving, its lifeblood freezes and it becomes – as history proves – little or nothing more than a museum showcasing its own past or a cluster of haunting ruins.

And, yet, ambitious city builders, from ancient Sumeria to Shanghai today, have nearly always thought of the city as a rational and thoroughly planned ideal brought to life in avenues and public squares arranged as straight as a die. One of Smith's brief and illuminating chapters looks at the idea of the "Ideal City", spinning through notions conjured by Plato, Vitruvius, Leonardo, Thomas More, Campanella, Ebenezer Howard and Le Corbusier. As a counterpoint, he also cites Italo Calvino's Marco Polo, who in that enchanting book Invisible Cities tells Kublai Khan: "Cities, like dreams, are made of desire and fears, even if the thread of their discourse is secret, their rules are absurd, their perspectives deceitful, and everything conceals something else."

The city, then, is never as rational as its founders, patrons, architects, planners, bureaucrats and engineers might have wished it to be. Truly great cities have always been a heady mix of the planned and the unplanned, the rational and the irrational, the dreamlike and the matter-of-fact. A great city today might have a magnificent core of grand central streets, stirring architecture, a comprehensive public transport system running like clockwork, secret sewers going about their sulphurous business untiringly, sane governance, bright schools, comforting hospitals, and all of these underpinned by healthy commerce and adorned by a confident culture. And, yet, the same city would be woven through with the unpredictable worlds of fashion, music, art, cuisine, carnivals, hobbies, cults, clubs.

So behind the walls of the city – Smith has a chapter on these – there is darkness, graffiti, street language, uprisings, religions, ghettos and slums, cathedral-like railway stations, traffic, trade, bazaars, malls, museums, red-light districts and so much else. Smith packs the blood, guts, underbelly and driving forces of the archetypal city into chapters as densely packed as the streetscapes of Manhattan or Hong Kong. He reminds us that, today, such dense cities are surrounded by ever-expanding and mind-numbingly banal outer-suburbia; as a consequence – in the words of the theorist of renewable energies, Peter Droege – the promiscuously sprawling 21st-century city is "a fossil-fuel construct in search of rapid restructuring".

Smith's lively urban tutorial is framed between chapters looking at the origins and the future of the city. I was touched to see him so confident that the world's first city might well have been Eridu, in what is today southern Iraq, as this brought back memories of my getting to this antique city buried in scorching desert sands a few months before George W Bush and Tony Blair launched their assault on the venerable, if much younger, city of Baghdad. I am still researching the world's earliest cities and half expect to find examples older than Eridu. But what Eridu taught me in a direct way, as its hot sands slipped through my hands, was that cities are indeed organisms: they are born, mature, grow old and sometimes become irrelevant.

The stuff of lofty intentions and grubby backstreet life, the city represents much of our restless and contradictory natures. "In this dynamic, cosmopolitan space," Smith writes, "lies the wellspring of our creativity as a species. The greatest cities nurture and stimulate ideas in science and the arts that are the very heart of human civilisation. For this reason, sustainable, humane and well-governed cities are our best hope for the future."

Amen. Although, Smith might have added that to keep them alive, and healthy and "civilised", we will have to wrestle with the forces of globalised banality threatening to turn cities into homogenous and mindless machines for unsustainable consumption. The sorcery of cities should not be lost; Smith's ebullient guidebook helps to remind us why.

• Jonathan Glancey's Nagaland is published by Faber.


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Conjoined twins through Annabel Clark's lens - in pictures

For four years, Annabel Clark has been photographing sisters Lupita and Carmen Andrade. Her aim? To change the way people look at conjoined twins. Simon Hattenstone reports



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 29 2012

Tracey Emin could have exploded a lot of menopause myths – but she blew it | Joanna Moorehead

For many women the menopause is a time of rebirth and opportunity, not the 'beginning of dying' that Emin describes

People don't talk about the menopause, Tracey Emin told the Guardian. Well, she's right – people don't. So Emin does. "It is a nightmare, an absolute nightmare," she says. "It's horrible… [it] makes you feel slightly dead… it is the beginning of dying."

Oh dear! Women of our age – and I'm almost the same vintage as Emin – want to be more visible, acknowledged and celebrated. We don't want to slip quietly from the stage, as we all too often seem to be expected to do – and here's Emin, with a big new show opening in Margate, where she was raised. She's a perfect ambassador for us.

And what does she do? Well, she blows it: she gets a chance to be positive, ballsy and feisty about a tricky subject (and goodness knows, she's been positive, ballsy and feisty about plenty of other tricky subjects in her time) and she shreds it. Totally. Because who is going to believe that mid-life womanhood has got anything to it if Emin, one of the small number of late-fortysomething women in the public eye, reports from the front line that it's a nightmare?

The reality, for many of us, is that the menopause is not nightmarish, or horrible, and nor does it feel like the anteroom to death. In fact it feels more like a new beginning – a time of fresh opportunities and unexplored directions. For some of us (not Emin, it's true, since she's not had children) it's a time of expanding space, as our offspring grow up and manage to do more for themselves. For others, it's a time to reassess relationships and – sometimes – to find them wanting, sometimes enough to move on from them. And while it absolutely doesn't feel to me like the last stop before the graveyard, there's certainly a sense that there are some opportunities in life that, if not taken now, will quite probably never happen again.

One of the conundrums of the debate on ageing seems to me to be that while it happens to all of us, the negativity that's always surrounded the menopause seems to hint at scarier, deeper darknesses around women's ageing than men's.

What Emin could have done (should have done, in my view) was properly explore her feelings about the menopause in her new show. She could have looked – and oh my goodness, what a service it would have been for all of us forty- and fiftysomething women – at the state of mid-life womanhood in the same way that the wonderful Louise Bourgeois explored, in her 80s and 90s, the state of later-life womanhood. Bourgeois didn't moan or whinge about being older; and where it slowed her down, she folded that slowing down into her art.

Emin could have done all this, shining new light on a subject that men have long ridiculed, and women have been too polite or frightened to explore. I somehow can't help suspecting, too, that if Emin had chosen to take the bull by the horns, the reviewers – the Guardian's Jonathan Jones among them – might have found rather more to praise in the show itself.

• Follow Comment is free on Twitter @commentisfree


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May 27 2012

Beneath the surface: Steve Bloom's portraits of Apartheid

In the 1970s Steve Bloom recorded the everyday inequities of apartheid. A new exhibition shows the day-to-day reality of this lost and unlamented world

The screams from my neighbour's flat woke me in the early hours. The sound I remember, intense today as it was 35 years ago, was a woman's shrill voice crying out, "Leave me alone! I'll do what I like with my body!" Through my kitchen window I saw two policemen dragging a black woman in nightclothes along the passageway, closely followed by my white neighbour who was frogmarched by the two remaining policemen. Under the apartheid system, interracial sex was illegal.

During the 1970s I worked for Nasionale Tydskrifte, which printed many of South Africa's top fashion magazines, and employed mixed-race people, who were obliged to enter the building through a separate doorway. I felt discomforted by the unearned rights assured by my white skin. I spent my weekends in the streets with my 35mm camera looking for something, though I never quite knew what: a confrontation with that particular time and place, an antidote to my working world of seamless commercial images. With no formal training, I approached the project as a fresh-faced amateur.

On my way home from work each day I passed a group of bergies – homeless street dwellers. Many were addicted to methylated spirits: cheap industrial alcohol that causes blindness and shortens life expectancy. Bergies were regarded as invisible by most people; stepped around, avoided at all costs. I photographed them, some very directly, trying to capture their sense of hopelessness. I visited Crossroads squatter camp, where thousands of families had set up home in defiance of the Group Areas Act forbidding migrant workers from living with their families. During the day, the authorities routinely demolished homes and terrorised the population.

It is impossible to escape the agenda of the photographer with an individual story to tell. I sought to capture a sense of alienation that may well have been a reflection of my own estrangement from the society in which I lived.

Beneath the Surface, an exhibition of Steve Bloom's photographs of mid-70s South Africa, is at the Guardian Gallery, Kings Place, London N1, 1-28 June (lfph.org)


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May 26 2012

The big picture: Salford, Manchester, June 1977

Next week will see thousands of royal jubilee street parties up and down the country. This is how they did it 35 years ago in Stowell Street…

For most of us, after a lifetime of being reigned over, monarchy means matriarchy. The Queen is supposed to be the mother of us all, although, not having done well with her personal brood, she has never seemed eager to clasp the rest of us to her bosom. Instead of a hug we have made do with the distant wave of a gloved hand and a grimly stoical smile. Here, on the day of an earlier jubilee in 1977, she has deputies who do the job more enthusiastically and demonstrate the truth of the metaphor on which the Queen's sovereignty depends. Yes, the nation truly is a family, presided over by a supply of mums as endless as the tapering perspective of that table in the street.

Aprons on, trays in hand, they perform their primal task, which is to serve up cakes and stand guard while they are eaten. Dads are not much in evidence: apart from a few stragglers they have no doubt taken cover in the pub on the corner. Seated at the table are the heirs apparent, mostly princesses, wearing temporary tiaras and crowns of paper. Freud spoke of "His Majesty the Child", a brat whose every screeching whim is catered to by sycophantic parents; here the scene is less neurotic, and the young absolutists, with grown-ups stationed behind their chairs like courtiers, gaze at the banquet without gobbling it up.

Perhaps it's the fixity of the photograph, which has stopped time and deferred the grubby business of eating, but it looks as solemnly ritualistic as any state occasion. The point is not the food; what matters is the long sacramental table with its pristine white cloth, connecting past, present and future as it stretches the length of the street. The contentment captured here is as dated as the clothes – bell-bottoms, over-decorated sweaters – and the floppy haircuts.

A street party will be happening outside my front door in London next weekend. The neighbours have laid on DJs and promise dance lessons; the invitation dismissively advises you to bring your own food. The idea seems to be to go clubbing in the daylight, so it will be noisy but not convivial. Those who live here are unneighbourly, unrooted strangers, not stable families, and any cakes consumed here are bought not home-made.

Instead, I'll probably go for an imaginary walk down this street in Salford, towards a vanishing point lost in the blitz of flapping flags. That is why photographs exist – to remind us that once upon a time we were happy.


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May 25 2012

The Saturday interview: Tracey Emin

Tracey Emin, who opens one of the biggest shows of her career today, talks about swapping sex for stargazing, why she likes David Cameron, and wanting her art to make people feel better

Demanding artist, selfish (her words) seeks an intelligent man with good sense of humour, probably not for sex because she's going through the menopause and has lost the urge, but definitely for laughs and companionship.

"I want love," says Tracey Emin. "I want to spend my life with someone and do nice things and go on adventures, read books and have nice food and celebrate things. I don't want to spend the rest of my life in the bedroom like some people who just go to bed and never get out again."

Emin is approaching 50 and she is worried about the possibility of a lonely, gentle descent to death. "I am going through the menopause and I have been for ages," she says. "It is a nightmare, an absolute nightmare. It's horrible. And I don't look like that kind of person; you don't put menopause on top of my head, it doesn't associate with me."

Emin is talking as she finishes the installation of a show that she regards as one of the most important of her career, because it is in her home town of Margate.

The works going on public display from today are almost all new or never previously exhibited. They explore themes of love and eroticism, but overwhelmingly, they mark a farewell to the old Emin – the wild child, the one that got drunk all the time, the sex, the bed, the tent. Her "animal" lust has gone. Now there is the new Emin.

"People don't talk about it, but the menopause, for me, makes you feel slightly dead, so you have to start using the other things – using your mind more, read more, you have to be more enlightened, you have to take on new things, think of new ideas, discover new things, start looking at the stars, understand astronomy … just wake yourself up, otherwise it's a gentle decline.

"For women, it is the beginning of dying. It is a sign. I've got to start using my brain more – I've got to be more ethereal and more enlightened."

Emin is 48. In 2008 she told Piers Morgan she wanted to adopt children – an idea she scoffs at now. "I have friends who have adopted, and they had to radically change their life, their homes, the way they dressed – everything, to get through the adoption agencies. I am not going to change anything."

She's not even sure she'd make a good mother. "I'd make a good friend, not mother. I'm too selfish. I think a lot of mothers are selfish and they end up having children, but I don't want to put some small tiny person through that. I don't want to be Joan Crawford.

"I would really like the idea of someone small and cute to dress up, we all do, but that's not what it's about, is it? I don't want a mini-me."

The truth is she has now made a conscious decision not to have children, and finds herself something of a role model for other similarly minded women. "I'm never going to have children, I'm never going to be a grandmother, I'm probably never going to get married. I'm nearly 50, and it is not happening. I've got too much on the other side now, and I understand that."

But being childless can be difficult. "You're treated like a witch. And I'm not a witch, it is just that I have chosen to do things in another way. It is not by accident."

There are some stunningly beautiful works in her latest show, and much to get hearts singing, especially in the first room, which features a series of blue drawings bathed in exceptional light. "This room is about not being alone, and there's a nice feeling in this room. It's uplifting."

We look at some drawings of her in bed with a friend reading Daphne du Maurier short stories to her. "It was such a nice, cosy thing. No sex, just a really good story." Emin suddenly seems downbeat. "I've thought I experienced love, and now I'm nearly 50 I'm saying, have I? Maybe I haven't. Maybe I don't know what love is. Maybe what I thought was love was a kind of greed, or desire, or something? I think there's different kinds of love – that's where I'm at at the moment. But I don't think I've experienced love."

Emin came closest in her five-year relationship with fellow YBA (the so-called Young British Artists who emerged in the late 1980s) Mat Collishaw, which ended 10 years ago (they are still good friends). In 2010 she split up with boyfriend Scott Douglas, and her closest relationship now, she says, is with her cat, Docket.

"When you have a really good friend and they're reading you a book in bed and it's all cosy and all snuggly, that can be love, too. It doesn't have to be hardcore. There's different kinds of love, and I'd never experienced that kind of totally platonic love. All the love I've experienced has always been a kind of deal, and now, as I get older, I realise that there's this other love out there."

At the other side of the room we look at some works she has never shown before, from when she was in Australia in 2007. "I was in Sydney on my own for two months, trying to work out why I felt so ill. I went on this complete health thing – I stopped drinking, I cycled every day, I walked about 10km every day, I swam every day, went on a really strict diet. My legs and arms went completely skinny, but my stomach was just getting bigger and bigger, because I was ill, and didn't understand why. What I was trying to do with these drawings was try and make myself feel sexy again, but it was difficult. It was almost there, but wasn't."

What was her illness? "I had a tapeworm."

We move on to works she did in Carrara, Tuscany, when she was looking at marble with a friend. "It was the first time I'd been really happy in a long time. You know when you wake up and you feel good? I realised then I'd been low for a long time."

One is a simple drawing of a heart, which Emin now wants to make in pink alabaster. "I'm sure the first alabaster heart will be a disaster, I'd have to keep working at it, but it's about me being driven by myself," she says. "Whether people like my work or not, I want to show people I can do things. I look at this show and I'm enthusiastic. It makes me want to do things."

Emin's path to art superstardom began when she opened The Shop in Bethnal Green with YBA Sarah Lucas in 1993, cashing in on Damien Hirst's new fame by selling ashtrays with his face on. People began to sit up and take notice with works such as her tent (Everyone I Ever Slept With, from 1963 to 1995) that was bought by Charles Saatchi and shown at the Royal Academy's Sensation show in 1997 – the same year that she so memorably appeared on a late-night Channel 4 discussion show completely hammered. Two years later, Emin was shortlisted for the Turner prize, exhibiting her unmade bed complete with stains, condoms and dirty underwear.

Unlike some other YBAs, her success has endured. She represented Britain at the Venice Biennale in 2007, staged an enormously successful mid-career retrospective at London's Hayward gallery last year, and not long after that was voted by her peers as Eranda professor of drawing at the Royal Academy, the first woman to occupy the role.

Critics generally warm to her these days. Reviewing the Hayward show, Rachel Campbell-Johnston of the Times wrote: "I would love to hate Tracey Emin," but she left "a convert". The Guardian's Adrian Searle called her art touching and surprising and said "the cumulative effect is extremely powerful".

She may shake her head at the suggestion, but Emin, once "Mad Trace from Margate", is now firmly part of the establishment. She's even a Tory. "I like David Cameron because I think he is fair compared to a lot of politicians in history," she says. "He's in the centre. Probably more centre than someone in Labour, not mentioning any names, who's actually Opus Dei – that is extreme right-wing thinking."

She is baffled by all the political fighting that goes on. One work in the show, The Vanishing Lake, is a rusting metal bath with a scrunched-up union flag in it, and is a comment on Britain – "politically, socially, morally". The flag is a scar. "I don't understand why people don't pull together. I don't understand why there's so much disunity. I don't understand why people can't just say: 'It's a mess, let's pull together.' Why is everyone so angry with each other on everything? It's so easy – if everyone relaxed and said we should work together, rather than against each other."

The Margate show is at Turner Contemporary, the David Chipperfield-designed gallery that opened in April last year and is helping to spearhead the town's desperately needed regeneration. Emin has been a staunch supporter, and she was the obvious choice for a major show in Olympic year (the exhibition is part of the London 2012 festival). It is clearly a big deal for her, and she's written an open letter to Margate, asking people to come. "I do feel really positive about this show, because even if people don't like it, I like it. And that is the most important thing. I didn't know that I would, because there's so much new work, and I thought I was setting myself up for a fall, but I've done it. I wanted to do something exceptional because it is Margate.

"I'm always anxious with a show, but more so with this one. I've been tearing myself to pieces … chronic nerves."

Reassuringly, there is a bed in the show. Or a Heal's mattress at least – quite astonishingly stained – on which Emin has placed a bronzed dead branch. The mattress saw service between 2000 and 2003, and is called Dead Sea. But how did it get into such a state? "I'm not going to go into the gory details. Believe me, it was all naturally made. It wasn't all on my own, I can assure you.

"It goes back to that thing of being over." She's talking about sex again. "It's over. This explains it very well. It was there, but it's gone."

And though she's one of the most successful and feted artists of her generation, is rich and has beautiful houses in east London and the south of France, where she spends around four months a year, it's still not easy finding a man. "I don't think it helps," Emin says. "Any woman who is successful and top of their game will tell you that it is not attractive to men."

She says she has not had many close relationships in recent years, and her friends "have seriously stopped" any attempts at matchmaking. "I say to them, 'Would you give him a blow job? No you wouldn't, so don't expect me to.'"

A flash of the old Emin – full-on, confrontational, up yours. Now she simply wants people to come to her show and enjoy it. "A lot of my shows generally make people feel worse," she says. "I'd like it if people came and left feeling better."

She Lay Down Deep Beneath the Sea: Tracey Emin at Turner Contemporary opens today, until 23 September. Details: turnercontemporary.org


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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 18 2012

Designer jail: inside Norway's Halden prison - in pictures 

No, this is not a Scandinavian boutique hotel, it is a class A prison housing murderers and rapists



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 26 2012

Why I've made public the films of my kids growing up | Frans Hofmeester

Time-lapse videos of my children Lotte and Vince have received global attention – to me they carry an important message

I started filming my daughter Lotte as a newborn in 1999, every week, usually on a Saturday morning. After 12 years of filming her, and nine years of doing the same with her brother Vince, I turned the footage into the two films you see today. While I always had the feeling that this project was special and that it deserved a wider audience, I never dreamed that it would get this kind of exposure. The attention has been overwhelming: my daughter's film has been on CNN and Jay Leno, I'm fielding numerous interview requests, and the story was on the front page of an Australian newspaper this morning. It's crazy, and a little intimidating. I'm getting four hours of sleep a night and am running off adrenaline. It's strange for the children, who are used to being behind the camera, to suddenly see themselves on television.

Why did I decide to do the project? When Lotte was born, she was changing at such a rapid pace, and I was desperate to keep the memories intact. As any parent knows, the difference between a child at two days old and two months old is startling. When Vince was born, I started filming him too. Other people might make a photo book, but I decided to film. This is the most photographed and filmed generation ever, but what are we actually doing with these pictures? They just sit in a file on the computer. I wanted to try and convey the essence of my children, of how they look to me. We don't often look at the photographs we take, not in the same way that an artist would look at his paintings.

During the period that I filmed them, they didn't know how special it would be. I've discussed the film with them, and Lotte is a little intimidated. Looking at yourself is very strange. Lotte's video has been viewed more than Vince's, probably because she is a girl, because she's older, female. There is more scrutiny of girls. Her video is very sweet. Vince's is more playful, he's pulling faces, sticking his tongue out, being this cute little boy who won't do what daddy says when he's in front of the camera. I love it. One of the reasons that the project has had such an impact, I think, is because it's very moving. People are touched by it because it conveys a feeling of the soul. They've written to me about their own children. The film makes you realise what life is about, in a direct way. There have been other time-lapse films using photographs, but this conveys much more of an idea of the individual, of their personality.

The video is a short cut of a longer film than runs to 30 minutes, in which you hear Lotte talking. It's much more personal. Putting the film together has taken discipline – my alarm is always set for Saturday morning. Sometimes the children wouldn't want to be filmed, and then I'd try to stimulate them. Each week it gave me the opportunity to talk to my kids, to get to know their likes and dislikes. I'd say: "Tell me what you did last week, what you did at school. Tell me about the nicest thing that happened, or the saddest thing." The film in which Lotte talks is too personal, too intense for the internet. It reveals too much. It would work well in a gallery setting, where you can sit on a bench watching, getting to know her.

I think the reception has been so strong because the film speaks to people. It carries a message about living your life, and enjoying every moment of having your children with you. Being the best parent you can be. Don't forget how they once were, how they once looked. I was so afraid that I'd forget how they look. Now I never will. And I'll keep filming, of course.

• Follow Comment is free on Twitter @commentisfree


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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 23 2012

February 27 2012

Museums love teenagers, but only in uniform

Salford Museum's decision to throw out two teenagers was more about protecting its cathedral-like status than the girls' safety

What do you have to do to get thrown out of a museum? Smear sticky fingers on the Persian tapestries? Scream so loud that other visitors can't thumb quietly through the browning albums of dried Azolla caroliniana? Do a cartwheel in front of a Caravaggio? Last week, two girls were asked to leave Salford Museum and Art Gallery. They were thrown out for being 13.

The museum explained that their expulsion was "for their own safety". Like most self-respecting teenagers, they'd gone out over half term without an adult.

I don't for one minute believe the museum's action was prompted by concern for any child. If that were the case, why would they propel two girls into the streets of a busy town to wander across roads all on their own among total strangers? And sadly Salford isn't the only museum to discriminate against young people; many have similar bans.

It's odd that Top Shop shares no such anxieties – my own teenager hangs out there and at vast, alienating shopping centres all the time. Libraries and leisure centres also welcome her and her friends without their mums in tow. So why is it particularly dangerous for teenagers to visit a museum unaccompanied? The real reason museums don't want them is not to protect children from danger, but to protect their precious objects and preserve their cathedral-like status. They are worried about how the teenagers will act within their highly cultured walls.

Many museums argue, completely erroneously, that they don't have a choice; it's illegal to allow teenagers in by themselves. There is no such law. But there is an age limit. For a museum to allow a child to visit aged eight or under, it may possibly need to be Ofsted registered. But any older than that, it's up to the individual institution to set its own rules.

It would be wrong to say museums shun all teenagers. They love them in school uniform, all besuited and trotting along behind a teacher. They are very keen to support "out of the classroom learning" as long as those having the lessons are accompanied by plenty of classroom assistants. They'll issue them with the modern-day equivalent of clipboards – hand-held electronic devices – and send them out on tightly controlled trails. Then they'll boast about how many young people have visited their museum each year, and how much they have learnt.

Yet if these same teenagers turned up out of school hours, dressed in hoodies, T-shirts and trainers, they'd get a very different reception. Many museums ban mobile phones at the door – sometimes the same museums that thrust gadgetry upon their school and youth-group visitors. On a recent visit to Tate Modern, even middle-aged me was told off by a gallery assistant for answering my mobile and asked to switch it off. Yet that same museum runs pioneering programmes with young people, involving some of the most hi-tech digital gadgetry available.

That's not the only irony teenagers face when trying to access our artistic and cultural heritage. Over half of Britain's museums charge entry at the door. Many of these begin to charge full admission aged 12 and up, forcing teenagers to purchase an adult ticket. Yet if two 13-year-olds turned up on their own, they'd be turfed out for not being grown up enough.

There is another relationship museums could have with their teenage visitors. Museums are wonderfully safe places. As far as I know, no museum has suffered a spate of muggings or been the scene of a murder. It's unlikely that rival teenage gangs will wage turf wars under the Tintorettos or between the Stegosaurus and the Tyrannosaurus rex. It would be difficult to clandestinely shoot up by the glass cabinets of 19th-century French porcelain. There is no casual street violence in a museum, the thing we all fear our children will get caught up in. What wonderful places museums could be for teenagers in a sometimes threatening and troubled world. They could be havens from harm. They could, in fact, be places where teenagers could congregate, hang out and wander around unaccompanied "for their own safety".

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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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