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UEL debates the Production of Place

The University of East London questions the challenges of global problems in relation to the production of place

UEL student Ben James reports:

Held at UEL’s London Docklands campus just before the new year, the conference saw UEL’s newly appointed visiting professor Tony Fretton and writer Iain Sinclair join academics and professionals from as far a field as New Zealand, Chile and Brazil to discuss and debate the ‘production of place’. The event lasted four days and was supported by a series of workshops.

UEL Production of Place Conference

Iain Sinclair

Opening the conference was bestselling author Iain Sinclair. Known for documenting the city of London and its periphery, Sinclair discussed the role of history and memory in the importance of place. Sinclair argued that without people and memories, places cannot exist and that it is impossible to understand where we are currently without these memories of the past. By destroying places and creating new landscapes, we are reinventing places but there will always be memories of what was there before. Sinclair questioned the need for drastically reinventing places instead of sustainably working with the existing.

UEL Production of Place Conference

Iain Sinclairs - Hackney, That Rose-Red Empire

On a similar theme, architect Iris Argyropoulou spoke of the predominance of brick throughout London resulting in the creation of small natural landscapes from ‘weathering and accidental vegetation’ occurring on derelict buildings. In a continual search for development opportunities there is a chance these spaces are being erased and lost, however Argyropoulou argues that policy is now driving the creation of less thoughtful ‘green spaces’ in the city in an attempt ‘create legitimacy’ for other developments.

UEL Production of Place Conference

Overgrown wall

At the other end of the spectrum, the University of Aukland’s Adrian Lo, Eva Cheung and Dr Manfredo Manfredini spoke of developments and behaviour in Hong Kong, Guangzhou and Macau. Lo and Cheung discussed the ‘fear of unused space’ in the two Chinese cities leading to extremely dense populated areas. 

Questioning the sustainability of dense cities, Guagzhou presents a different problem to Hong Kong where expansion is limited. With a similar density as Hong Kong, Guangzhou has more opportunity for expansion and continued growth, placing rapid pressure on resources.

UEL Production of Place Conference

Density of Hong Kong

Dr Manfredo Manfredini spoke of Macau and its reliance on tourism. With a permanent population of 550,000, Macau sees over 28 million tourists visiting the city every year, resulting in large self contained leisure and entertainment venues operating in a similar way to airports with no real sense of day or night.

UEL Production of Place Conference

Tourism in Macau

Opening the final session of the conference was US Green Building Council’s Chris Pyke, who explored the ideas of ‘place making and data’ and how with the ever changing technological developments, measuring and taking data can lead to more sustainable places.

Pyke argued that by measuring and recording data, we can create a greater understanding of how buildings are used and how performance can be improved. With the increase in building data, a greater sense of accountability and transparency has been created, highlighting ‘invisible’ problems which can acted upon and changed. Today approximately 50 per cent of building performance can be measured.

UEL Production of Place Conference

Thermal imaging

Using thermal imaging as an example, Pyke discussed the potential of collecting data to show energy consumption in entire city blocks and cities, influencing attitudes and design. Pyke concluded by stating that data can encourage further experimentation, with data becoming ‘rocket fuel’ for design.

UEL Production of Place Conference

UEL Objects to hold Place Workshop

Architect Tony Fretton closed the conference discussing works of Alvaro Siza and Lina bo Bardi in relation to the production of place.

With the aim of understanding the physical characteristics of place on a local scale, the workshops and conference challenged globalisation by exploring the sustainable values of utilising local materials to maintain place.

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