The NLA event held last Wednesday (29th May) was a swift but lively whistle-stop tour of ‘Meanwhile Uses’, at a very full St Chad’s Place at King’s Cross. Whilst we sipped our beers and nestled into the former mechanic’s workshop and Victorian warehouse, the tour chugged and jerked its way through a hand-picked collection of meanwhile uses, spaces and activities to give a glimpse into a rapidly evolving and exciting genre of design and urban thinking. The presentation took the form of a ‘Pecha Kucha‘ style event which scratched the surface of a number of active and emerging case studies, predominantly in London, providing flash card images, and meandering through the minds of a range of architects into spaces previously unknown.
It quickly became clear that the term ‘Meanwhile Uses’ and what it comprises is a little fuzzy around the edges. There were references to ‘upcycling’ meanwhile uses, intervals of development, and temporary and seasonal activities in spaces. As the tour gained pace, not one of the architects attempted to pin down the term with Moira Lascelles (Deputy Director of The Architecture Foundation) stating ‘the focus of the definition is too narrow’. As we whistled on towards an unknown destination through the ‘Caravanserai’ (Ash Sakula) onto the ‘Folly for a flyover’ (Assemble Studio), each project appeared to be driven by a passion and curiosity, and I considered that a definition was likely to constrain creativity and hinder attempts to adapt to the current changing policy context and economic conditions. Some things are left far more exciting when allowed to evolve without boundaries, and certainly, without an acronym.
The speakers themselves represented an interesting cross section of all those involved in ‘Meanwhile Uses’ across London. Representatives from the Greater London Authority (GLA), London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC) and Architecture Foundation shared the evening alongside a healthy mix of architects and designers*. Although each project stood strikingly different from the next in terms of design and context, several themes began to emerge as the evening swiftly progressed.
Despite the temporary nature of the projects, their success became clearly aligned with the underlying connection and integration with the existing surrounding communities and the desire to leave a positive legacy behind them. This single thread running through the collection of projects provided a fascinating array of approaches.
As part of the Architecture Foundations Union Street Urban Orchard, the final days saw the plants and materials given away over a ‘make or take’ weekend as a method of ensuring sustainable, ongoing benefits of the project. Maria Lisogoskaya from Assemble Studio further emphasised the theme, as she described their approach as ‘Make. Don’t Make Do’, working to draw out the most from each opportunity presented, by integrating with host communities and facilitating the activity within the urban fabric.
The Bow Flyover also demonstrates a great example of using dead space, or as Eleana Fawcett of London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC) described them, ‘slack spaces’. The team of architects and artists, created a Folly from reclaimed materials for residents and visitors to enjoy performances of plays and cinema over the summer months of 2011. During its nine week life 40,000 people were fortunate enough to enjoy a viewing of various films, such as The Wizard of Oz, Clockwork Orange or theatre and film animations from local artists.
More recently, the Mayor funded a partnership run by a local charity to open their doors to a temporary enterprise centre on the 8th May 2013. The centre at 639 Tottenham High Road operates from a building previously damaged during the riots and aims to boost jobs, skills and volunteering opportunities as part of a drive to regenerate the wider area.
The ability of these projects to pool resources, mobilise quickly and generate activity on a local scale in a state of flux is fascinating, whether as a restaurant, shop, performance space or housing for the homeless. It is not only argued to be a welcome distraction from the major scale projects which receive the lion’s share of media attention, but also the failings of some policies and the opportunities presented by others. What is clear it that these spring loaded projects have a real potential to help to plug policy gaps and stimulate long-term socio-economic benefits.
Meanwhile… watch this temporary space as the RTPI London Young Planners host their own event this summer to further explore the benefits of meanwhile uses and the challenges faced by those designing and using these spaces.
STUART EAVES and LISA HALL
*Cany Ash, Partner, Ash Sakula
Jamie Dean, Regeneration Team – Development, Enterprise and Environment, Greater London Authority
Clive Dutton, Executive Director for Regeneration, LB Newham
Eleanor Fawcett, Head of Design, LLDC
Moira Lascelles, Deputy Director, The Architecture Foundation
Maria Lisogorskaya, Director, Assemble
J-J Lorraine, Director, Morrow + Lorraine Architects
Morag Myerscough, Studio Myerscough
Mariana Pestana, Architect, The Decorators