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Anarchic architects strike out against city 'social cleansing'

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Architectural protest group Transgressive Architecture staged its second protest against what it claims is the growing 'sanitization' of cities last week when it inhabited a London tube station underpass and leafleted passers-by on how the homeless were being edged out of the public space.

The group staged its action last Thursday afternoon to draw attention to the night-time closure of London's Charing Cross and Strand underpass, and what the group claims is a growing tendency for authorities and planners to 'socially cleanse' urban areas and turn them into spaces resembling 'outdoor malls'.

Transgressive Architecture, which has already struck outside a Lord Rogers' lecture at the RIBA to publicize its criticisms (AJ 1.3.01), claims that Westminster City Council had a 'violent' plan to close the gates to the underground station's underpass at night and has passed a by-law prohibiting sleeping, or even lying down in the space.

'The fact that it is one of the safest places in inner London, according to the police, does not matter, ' said the group's Gil Doron, a part-time lecturer at the architecture schools of East London and North London universities. 'In this case and others, security reasons were a fig leaf for something else - the council's plan to beautify the space and conceal the homelessness that exists in the centre of one of the richest and most expensive cities in the world.'

Despite the group's direct action intentions - it considered a May Day protest in Parliament Square - the protest formed little more than a leafleting campaign to curious tube travellers.And few of them stopped to analyse the series of message-carrying 'bad sheets' which were laid out on the underpass floor in an attempt to hammer out Transgressive Architecture's 'anti-beautification message'.

The group was formed in March in protest against Lord Rogers' Urban Task Force proposals to improve public spaces in cities. Doron revealed to the AJ that, following its demonstration at the RIBA, he has secured an interview with Lord Rogers to discuss the group's views.

In particular, the group looks at the relationship between architects and planners over 'social cleansing' policies, and the consequences of the Urban Task Force's work on the urban environment. It feels that cities such as Barcelona, Copenhagen, New York, Singapore and Shanghai - which have instigated planning strategies which declare war on 'crime, poverty and ugliness' - have become 'sterile, barren and stale'. It also protests against the 'social cleansing' of spaces to rid them of street vendors, beggars, prostitutes, people who cruise for sex and others who are considered to be involved in 'anti-social behaviour'.

'None of them, we must remember, have committed any crime that hurts in any significant way other people, ' said Doron.

Future targets for Transgressive Architecture include London's Leicester Square, where Doron claims that street entertainers and artists have been similarly forced out through the imposition of new licensing arrangements by Westminster City Council.

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