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Peckham is my number 23

The Theory of the 436 Bus Route explains why Peckham is an emerging epicentre, writes Rory Olcayto

Peckham is my number 23.

I see it every where I go. Don’t you find it lies at the heart of all things? I don’t believe its just me. In Zurich last week to see the Kunsthalle renovation by Gigon/Guyer and Atelier WW and, on the way back, bored and scanning the magazines in an airport kiosk, Sleek, a Berlin arts quarterly catches my eye. On the cover, the word ‘Peckham’. Grab. Flick open. Flip through pages and glossy adverts: Chanel. Boss. Swatch. A Jeff Koons show in Basel. On page 20, finally, Contents. It reads: ‘Pages 136-139: Why everybody is talking about Peckham.’

The article by Grashina Gabelmann is more than a good read: it’s well researched. It talks to venues like the Hannah Barry Gallery, whose Bold Tendencies annual sculpture show begins 30 June, as well as The Sunday Painter and local boho boozer Bar Story. It makes smart observations, like Dalston and Peckham being mirrors of each other (with Peckham a tad less try-hard). And it reminds us all of a vital back story: years of innovation at the South London Gallery, and the YBA heritage of nearby Goldsmiths mean Peckham’s trending profile today is hardly surprising.

Nevertheless, Sleek finds the breadth of the Peckham scene surprising enough to delve deeper into reasons why. The Theory of the 436 is the best of them. As Gareth Owen Lloyd of local studio and gallery Food Face explains to Gabelmann, the 436 is a bus route that passes many of London’s key art colleges: Chelsea, the London College of Communication, Camberwell and Goldsmiths. The only affordable area surrounding the route is Peckham. The East London rail link that joins Dalston with New Cross and Peckham Rye in December, unmentioned by Sleek, is surely another.

Konishi Gaffney’s proposal for the Bussey Building

Konishi Gaffney’s proposal for the Bussey Building

The article mentions the Bussey building, too (where Food Face ‘a studio by day and, with the aid of folding walls, a gallery by night’ is based). It’s a Grade II listed former cricket bat factory that now houses galleries, clubs, churches and theatres on an industrial site off the nearby high street, Rye Lane. It was the development site for AJ’s Peckham Charrette (AJ 29.03.12): Konishi Gaffney extended it upwards, adding a two-storey glass box to the giant brick base.

The Kunstalle Zurich by Gigon/Guyer

The Kunstalle Zurich by Gigon/Guyer

The proposed charrette scheme in fact, was not so different from the one I saw in Zurich that day, an old brick brewery topped with a gleaming white cube that, Tetris-like, wraps around and through the existing structure. The older building had provided an informal home to a number of art groups in Switzerland’s biggest city for 16 years. Now it has been formalised, part-owned by the artists, the city and a private developer, which is building a residential tower (with Gigon/Guyer the architect). It’s a great model for the Bussey and for Peckham, which, according to Gabelmann, is ‘an epicentre of off-piste art’, if anyone with a few spare million happens to be reading.

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Batman

This is the Ceiling, a trendy new nightclub designed by Kem Roomhaus. Billed as the world most glamorous dancefloor, Roomhaus describes it as introducing a brand new school of architecture he calls Mini-maximalism. And it’s in… Gotham City. It’s one of the venues in new Batman graphic novel Death by Design, which centres on a battle to save Central Station (built by Batman alter ego Bruce Wayne’s father) from demolition.

It even features an anti-hero-cum-architecture critic called Exacto, who has the ability to detect structural weakness within buildings. Bruce Wayne comes across as a typical developer, however, when he explains to an activist that restoring the station – loosely modelled on New York’s Pennsylvania Station, demolished in 1963, would cost twice as much as ripping it down and building afresh.

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