r E V I S I T I N G t H E c O M M U N I T Y s H E D
can memory be a design tool?
architectural sketches & publication
Revisiting is an experiment in designing from collective memory. The project started by a series of interviews conducted with de-located allotments gardeners in East London. These interviews became the thread for a material exploration of allotment vernacular architectures. Design is used to foster a dialogue with a skill based community, and give a voice to a 'minor' architectural tradition.
Interviews, drawings for a self- made East London style shed, and a contribution from artist Lucy Harrison are published in the limited edition book: Revisiting The Community Shed conceived in collaboration with Geoffroy Tobé.
The project and the book follow multiple narratives: the memories of the gardeners, our attempt to design and reconstruct tangible fragments in our own context, and the locality of the city of London gearing towards the Olympics.
The narratives intersect for the occasion of an architecture and design exhibition and co-exist i a temporary living monument, a self-built centre for democratic dialogue, parties and afternoon naps: The Revisited Community Shed.
Other shed structures and 3D sketches were built with materials recycled from exhibitions at the RCA. These materials were later donated to the allotment gardens to be further recycled.
Project exhibited at:
Nunnery Gallery London part of Olympic Visions
Spinnerei Werkshau Leipzig part of In Our Backyards
Alan Baxter Gallery as part of Nomadic Architectures II: architectures of retreat.
Publication: The Art of Dissent
bbc review of the work
p R O C E S S
The interviews were used as a tool to gather and archive architectural details about the vernacular architecture of the “Community Shed” – but also to gather personal memories of those who used it.
As the project developed, the gardeners voices and their campaign for a rightful relocation was relayed by the media, and working in this context became more complex and political.
Subverting the Q&A format:
Planners and local authorities also work with the questionnaire format. I had come across some of these documents, which had been sent to the gardeners after their eviction. They used multiple-choice questions and focused on the facilities needed in view of providing new “ready made” allotment sheds for the gardeners in a temporary site.
A critical look at these documents showed that they reduced the history of the disappeared gardens and their vibrant culture to ground plan dimensions and a list of functional facilities: size of sheds and plant beds; number of water points...
In fact the formulation of the questions implicitly denied the cultural significance of self devised spaces in the city, and the unquantifiable loss of neighbourly relationships, the international culture of the gardens and an invaluable sense of ownership and belonging
The reduction of language to a purely factual tool at the expense of its poetical and significant dimensions (memories, wishes) subtly enforced a reduction of the disappeared place to a picked fence around a patch of green: no place in the text boxes for the many stories and anecdotes about life in the former Manor Gardens .
To re-establish the balance I decided to subvert the format of the written questionnaire to trigger and celebrate irrelevant memories about the use of the Community Shed embedded in its architectural features. Thus the project revives not only the building’s shape but also some fragments of the gardeners’ experience, and the ‘psychology’ of the place.