Sanitisation robs cities of the lifeblood of evolutionary mess
However dysfunctional an existing town or city is, I believe it is important to leave the existing structure, buildings and businesses as they are. Very often the apparent detritus is the lifeblood of the place. In the process of regeneration we often find an obsession with clearance in order to make sites for new constructions. This process is not only disruptive and deeply worrying to the incumbent inhabitants, but it very often leads to the replacement of one sin with another.
Settlements in the past tended to evolve by the superimposition of the new over the existing, which, after a period, allowed the town to be read in the way that styles, attitudes and needs evolved. People feel comfortable with this visible connection with the past. This can be difficult to achieve today because very often the past is protected by a variety of agencies. This makes it difficult to add to the existing fabric, resulting in historic disruption and consequent social problems.
What is required is a piling-up of facilities until an interesting 'soup'emerges.
I am aware of the other difficulty, which is the need to attract investment, and of the developer's love of the 'clean'site as a legal means of clarifying its territory. I remember well my first encounter with a 'flying freeholder' (which could be a major legal device to transform our towns for the better).
I am advocating a constructive mess - an accumulation of non-stylistic, maybe tasteless, interventions that give both excitement and vitality to the users and the inhabitants; an urban detritus that truly reflects a dynamic within the society of the town. There would be no true reflection of any one architectural dogma or urban design; there would simply be a harnessing of an energy that naturally exists in people and some architects.
This evolutionary approach does not exclude the presence of great architectural pieces, although I would prefer to think that the whole edifice would be considered as one.
As I write, I can see some of my colleagues in planning, funding and project management cringing as they consider what they would see as high-risk and difficult to manage. I do not consider the risks to be high when compared with those associated with current practice, where we continue a process of sanitisation, which alienates people from the places they occupy. This alienation results in boredom and frustration, high costs to social security, bad behaviour and generally high taxes, as well as good-schools-gone-bad.
It would be more difficult to manage the process, but so what? There are no rules saying we have to make life easy for ourselves.
Management and others have consistently reduced our life down to a series of decisions that make their lives easy. Why? We know in our hearts what people respond to, and that it is not what we usually build; particularly in towns and cities in crisis. Our housing and shopping solutions are pathetic, and yet this should be the opposite when we observe the amount of time in interviews, risk analysis, etc, which goes with every decision.
I would like to see English Heritage enter the debate about evolution, as it would be an agency of radical change; ditto the Twentieth Century Society, which appears to have a very intelligent view on change. It is protecting many buildings that were the flagships of change. We need enlightened funding agencies to explore ways of making new and inventive mixed-use, mixed-message, mixedmedia and mixed-up soups of extraordinary concoctions to delight the palate and the eye.
Currently our landscape is bland and dangerous. This must change.
WA, from a rock near Gracie Fields' house in Capri