The lesson for those looking to culture as a tool of regeneration was clear: it should not be dropped from on high, says Emily Booth
It’s always a pleasure to work on the Culture editions of the AJ.
Yet the term ‘culture’ can be problematic. It can feel loaded, or like a badge of worthiness, or like a cold commodity – something virtuous you can purchase without too much thought: ‘Have one of these; sort your town out.’
At the AJ, we try and navigate these issues, to address the deeper meaning of a building and its role, without smothering it with the weight of critical expectation. Take, for example, the MK Gallery in Milton Keynes, which has grown from being a ‘cultural cold spot’ as described by those involved in the 6a architects-designed project.
There are several reasons the building sports that striking neon heart motif. Of course, there is the reference to Milton Keynes’ 1960s architectural history and a seminal Architectural Digest cover – but more than that, it seems to speak to the deep-seated desire for the gallery to be at the beating heart of the community, to be a place of ideas and exchange.
This sharing of experience was the theme of our very first AJ Summit event, held at developer U+I’s headquarters in London’s Victoria on 4 April. Our aim was to provide a place to ‘collaborate to create’; and so it proved to be: a vibrant discussion forum over the course of a day where architects, clients, engineers, consultants (and even journalists) could share experiences and learn from each other.
Among our many engaging speakers, urban provocateur Patricia Brown talked of the need to care; structural engineer Roma Agrawal spoke of seeing things from others’ points of view; and architect and developer Roger Zogolovitch discussed the need for architects to properly engage in feedback (those who witnessed his inspired ‘theatre of the absurd’ monologue about fixing a heating system will surely never think of POE in the same way again.)
In today’s political and economic context, when collaboration seems thin on the ground, it was energising to see the profession so engaged, so positive and so open to learning. It felt like architectural culture was seeking to expand and grow, and to be at the heart of our wider culture.
And the lesson for those looking to culture as a tool of regeneration was clear: it should not be dropped from on high. Instead, it should be based on something real on the ground and have something meaningful to say to those who live and work there.
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