Unit 19: The Advantages of Evisceration: Non-Specific Urbanism 03. John Bell & Simon Miller

Image: Heather Phillipson, The End

I see the school and the houses where the kids are.

Places to park by the fac’tries and buildings.

Restaurants and bar for later in the evening.

Then we come to the farmlands, and the undeveloped areas.

And I have learned how these things work together.

I see the parkway that passes through them all.

And I have learned how to look at these things and I say,

I wouldn’t live there if you paid me.

I couldn’t live like that, no siree!

I couldn’t do the things the way those people do.

I couldn’t live there if you paid me to.

– David Byrne, The Big Country

It is 2049. These days, suburbia thrives, while the inner city is shunned by those who once flowed in and out on the tides of global commerce. Density gradients have changed: the countryside is now of higher perceived value than the centre – the poles of the magnet have been reversed and the tractor-city no longer exerts its pull. With the flight of its workers, city rents have collapsed, land values have plummeted and large-scale investment has shifted to the periphery. This has been seen before in post-war Europe, 1970’s New York, 1980’s Berlin, early 21st Century Detroit, now it has happened again in London.

This year the unit will research the potentials for a radical reprogramming of the heart of near-future London, focussing on adaptive reuse to reframe the character of the city, developing proposals for the reimagining of its existing extraordinarily rich and diverse building stock. 

This social and environmental imperative will be played out against the pragmatics of the construction industry and will question the logics of the tabula rasa and the generic city implicit in the London Plan. 

As a first step in our analysis we will consider the city as a Body without Organs as described by Artaud and developed by Deleuze and Guattari:

When you will have made him a body without organs, then you will have delivered him from all his automatic reactions and restored him to his true freedom.

“To Have Done with the Judgment of God.” – Antonin Artaud

This theoretical axis will be linked to the pragmatics of future development, which become very clear when seen outside of the rhetoric of the developer’s insistence on ever-increasing land values requiring ever increasing densities of accommodation. The reality is that construction is based on a wasteful economic model propped up by an inequitable taxation regime, which routinely involves tearing down existing structures, disposing of the resulting material and rebuilding from scratch. In the UK, more than 50,000 buildings are demolished every year. Of the 200 million tonnes of waste generated in Britain annually, 63 per cent is construction debris. Today The UK construction industry produces around 40 percent of the country’s total emissions. Worldwide it consumes 26 per cent of aluminium output, 50 per cent of steel production and 25 per cent of all plastics and unsurprisingly, almost all the planet’s cement. This is not a sustainable model. Over to you…

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