Word The Cat

Word the Cat

ruin porn – overture

Posted by Chris on July 9, 2012 at 1:35 pm  

ruins form a very different function to lived spaces. this much is clear. they are objects of spectacle. the victorians built ruined buildings in the grounds of country houses, cemeteries and woodland to walk to and admire. they are buildings without people, buildings that suggest the post-human, buildings that provide a limit case against which to make sense of being alive, being present. this is what makes them romantic.


this production of meaning is one thing for buildings which are built as ruins and another thing entirely for buildings that recently had a human function. these more recent ruins are evidence not of humanity, but of a process that stripped them of their humanity. chernobyl/pripyat is a dramatic example. more subtle examples would include the centre of detroit, abandoned japanese theme parks or the heygate estate in south london (more on the heygate in the next post).

spaces like these encourage both physical exploration and digital exploration via an insane overproduction of images. there’s some extent to which people are looking for psychic traces of history in these spaces, but i think it mostly comes down to the tyranny of the present. here is the present. here is a building. there are no people here. we can call it what we want. we can describe it how we want. there’s no-one here any more to make that difficult. the present can eat the past because the past has ended. here is the physical proof that the past has ended. the proof is on a huge scale. the meaning must therefore be on a huge scale. ruins are a physical manifestation of meaning, meaning on a fundamental level which says ‘we are here looking at this. we survived’.

the architizer blog has a collection of images from ruin photographers over here.

Heygate Heaven

Posted by Chris on July 8, 2012 at 3:55 pm  

London is a city built on power and restraint. Class strictures and verticality. The unending rise of the Shard, a physical metaphor for a brave new end of economic boom and bust driven by Qatari sovereign wealth. In its shadow, people are trying to live as they have done for the past forty years in state owned council housing. Over the past few months I made a couple of radio programmes about two estates in Southwark, the borough that hosts the Shard. They stretch south from Elephant and Castle, an area that is currently subject to a £1.5 billion urban regeneration project (the biggest in Europe). The Heygate estate is itself part of this regeneration plan, formerly housing around 4000 people, there are now two households left. It sits monolithic and largely empty, windows sealed with metal sheeting and electricity disconnected. Much of it is still open to the public, however and a visit will show you allotments which local residents have carved out of the open spaces, free runners climbing the concrete walkways and ruin tourists taking pictures on high end DSLRs.

I’ve been making a radio documentary over the past five months about the Heygate as it stands now, its past and its possible futures. It’s composed from the soundscape of the area and the voices of former and current residents of the estate, the original architect, a former leader of Southwark council, the head planner for the Elephant and Castle regeneration, academics and researchers. (stream below or listen here)


During this time I also worked on a hour long current affairs programme that looked at council housing and affordable housing london-wide. It was composed of some recordings from the Heygate, but also from the Aylesbury estate, a little further down the road from Elephant and Castle. This is one of the largest public housing estates in Europe and provides homes for around 10,000 people. Parts of the estate are being demolished and re-built according to a new rubric of ‘mixed communities’ containing ‘affordable housing’. Both of these are very slippery terms and, to put it mildly, there are serious concerns about how socially inclusive any new housing on the site will be. The programme was broadcast on London-based station NTS radio last month. you can listen here.

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