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What now? Building A New Jerusalem

Venice Biennale 2014: Sam Jacob and Wouter Vanstiphout on A Clockwork Jerusalem

The theme of the 2014 British Pavilion at the biennale, A Clockwork Jerusalem, describes how the most spectacular transformations of British cities and communities were not down to design innovation or technology, but to extraordinary leaps of the imagination which combined unique hybrids of idealised pasts and speculative futures.

Each leap of the imagination was provoked by a serious crisis in the condition of British cities and communities. Once again, British cities and regions are facing crises: affordable housing, inequality and social tensions. In response, it’s not enough to simply regurgitate terms and imagery from the past century, as recent debate seems to suggest. We need a more fundamental rethink about the future of Britain’s built environment.

What we can learn from William Blake and Ebenezer Howard, from Milton Keynes and Thamesmead, Non-Plan and the garden city, is that we need to release imaginative planning again, to have ideas about our living environment drawn from all corners of society and for them to be debated and experimented with, just as they were in the period we are presenting.
Our built environment is the ultimate embodiment of democracy. The ground we all share is the result of actions, decisions and choices of collective society. Debate about the long-term future of our cities, region and nation are essential: not only to determine the kinds of future we might want but also to maintain an open society we all feel part of.
How we get there is another issue. First and foremost, planning must become proactive, rather than reactive. It must forward ideas for the future of Britain that are inclusive. It should be open to ideas from all quarters. And it should express these visions to the general public in accessible ways.

We also need cohesion - at the very least, a way of envisioning how the myriad decisions made by siloed ministries and interests join up. We need to visualise the ways these single decisions act together and draw the ways that HS2, proposed new towns, energy policy, environmental decisions, education and economic policy are already shaping the future of the British landscape. What is this future we are creating?

With Blake’s words - ‘I will not cease … till we have built Jerusalem in England’s green and pleasant land’ - ringing in our ears, the show argues for architecture and planning to use the same imagination to build contemporary New Jerusalems. It’s a call for planning to re-engage its visionary, entrepreneurial, sometimes wild past, to regain its role at the centre of democratic society to make Britain a more pleasant land.

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