The arrival, departure, exchange and migration of ideas, people and goods, welcome and otherwise, shape every aspect of our world, language, music, literature, food, traditions and history. A city’s fabric embodies this flux through its organisation, construction and atmosphere, reflecting skills, religions, fashion language, opportunity and necessity. So in a world increasingly blinkered to diversity and the amazing contribution of overlapping cultures and ideas, it seems vital that Architecture actively chooses to embrace and celebrate migration, exchange, and interchange as inevitable, essential and desirable.
The Romans in Europe; Vikings in Iceland, Greenland and Canada; The Moors in Africa, Southern Europe and the Middle East; British, Spanish, French, Dutch and Portuguese colonisation of India, Africa, Asia and the Americas: As each new migrant community arrives it imports a memory of home, and exports a received image of the New World in goods, produce, buildings, ideas and people, and through the exchange each culture is assimilated and transformed.
The Lambeth flood meadows, south of the Thames, inhabited since the Iron Age, first gained notoriety with the 18thC Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, a pioneering venue for performance, spectacle and mass entertainment. The Victorian era saw the area colonised by car makers, gas works, and railway lines, before heavy WW2 bombing. Then poverty, unemployment and low-cost housing inspired a culture of inclusivity in Vauxhall, welcoming Bengali, Chinese, French, German, Italian, Polish, Russian, Spanish, and especially Portuguese communities. Since the late 80’s a vibrant outpost of Portugal has grown in South London with numerous Portuguese restaurants, shops, bars, cafes, bakeries, nurseries, and schools, and Portuguese has become the acknowledged 2nd language of Lambeth. Yet Vauxhall’s zone 1 location, excellent transportation and cheap land has encouraged gentrification (again) and an explosion of high-rise riverside re-development targeting the wealthy (white) middle classes, and so the identity and people of Vauxhall are again in flux.
Portugal has always been a port of arrival and departure, from the Age of Discovery to a vast empire, it’s population steadily rose to 10.6M in 2010. But as numbers have since fallen sharply, immigration was embraced, encouraged and has grown exponentially, while 2.3M Portuguese live overseas. In this context, Lisbon’s booming tourist industry welcomes 5M visitors a year, significantly contributing to Portugal’s recovery from financial crisis, but generating alarming rent increases and eviction of traditional communities from the city centre into disparate suburbs shorn of identity and historic continuity.
And all this raises the obvious question: “What’s next?” Can cities continue to evolve without losing identity? Is there an alternative to gentrification and the seemingly inevitable Airbnb invasion? How can a city become more affluent AND more culturally and socially diverse? And is Architecture relevant to these questions, and if so how should it respond?
Unit G will seek answers; testing and exploring spatial and conceptual relationships between place, people, purpose and permanence; employing “transformative architecture” as a catalyst for positive change, celebrating diversity, identity, export, exchange, and migration between home and outpost. Our projects will engage with community, explore architectural, cultural and social possibilities, and propose radical interventions between permanent/transitory, old/new, traditional/revolutionary, here/there; yours/ours, mine/theirs: you will need to take a position.