The Everyday

I was recently asked to give a short presentation titled:
A Good Piece Of Everyday Design From A Place I Know Well

The stair in Homerton Library lends a legibility and a human scale to the interior that mirrors that of the building itself in relation to Homerton High Street. 

The stair begins just inside the entrance, at a point between the foyer and the library proper. At the top of the stair: to the right a narrow gallery overlooking the void, to the left an expansive room filled with evenly spaced small square desks. 

In that room are whiskery men reading newspapers, an elderly lady with piles of paperwork, teenagers working on coursework and assorted millennial and gen x freelancers. I prefer the desk in the back corner overlooking the street.

The winding stair is held between two heavy breezeblock walls but the grip is given lightness by a fine shadow gap that runs around. It is given breathing space by the end wall that is mostly – but not entirely – glazed. That wall offers a view of the sky as you walk up and a view of the busy pavement as you walk down. It is a connection to the High Street, on that stair you are pleasantly sequestered, but not bluntly cut off from the world.

On bright days, southern light forms brilliant trapezoid shapes on the vivid pink wall – a sassy touch that painted pink wall.

The stair’s broad, shallow treads invite a leisurely pace. They are complimented by a slender hovering hardwood banister that has a richness and an agreeable smoothness.

I always take my time on that stair.


Reverse Commute

I’m sure it used to be the case that people would travel into the city to their places of work. It was briefly the case for me and my last job in commercial practice when I used to travel towards Euston via the Victoria line - the public transit interface / lifeline to all of Hackney as well as all those who stepped on the property ladder further north east - packed by the time I would meet it at Highbury and Islington where the long orange threads of the overground are plaited together and forced underground. The absolute drudgery of the journey was slightly tempered by the fact I’d always managed previously (bar one job in West London, like stepping daily into a alternative London entirely and an experience not to be repeated) to have jobs within walking or fair-weather cycling distance of my home.

I happily gave all that up a year ago when I stopped working in practice; between then and now (besides my university jobs) I have variously worked at home, at other people’s homes, and at the local library, each with increasing inefficiency. I’ve never had a studio but I recently reached a natural state of understanding why people get them for working on their own shit. It’s not just about space. It’s not just about seeing other people and it’s also not just about unlimited wifi or not wanting to have the heating on at home during the day. It’s all of those and a bit more. It might be that paying for space makes you more motivated to use it. Well it is partly that, but also that the brain, my brain needs a clearly designated Place of Work...

So here I am in a studio at the other end of the Victoria line out in Tottenham, joining a group of fellow architects also trying to ‘make it’ on their own terms. The other thing that unites us is that we all travel further out from Hackney, Homerton, Archway and Green Lanes where we live, to get here, our place of work. I locate the studio on my old Premier Map of London, it is just within the frame of the survey, a few roads (or short car ride) away from being cut off entirely.

The studio, at the edge of London

I don’t know this part of London well though it has a familiar city fringe feel...larger supermarkets, bigger roads, bigger terraces all with parking out front, cars cars cars signalling the suburbs beyond. My studio is in a warehouse (natch), actually more like a collection of warehouses, and not just shells of another use and time since there remains an abundance of noisy, smelly light industry here butted up against rows of terraces.

Housing up against light industry

I needed to supplement my meagre packed lunch, in lieu of a corner shop I took a walk to the local Lidl nestled in a retail park. Such places are simply not designed to be approached by foot; active frontage or enticing shop window forget about it and there actually isn’t a logical footpath from pavement to shop, instead I picked my way across a vast and crowded car park to reach the sliding front doors. There were more shops within the forecourt than I’d expected; I hadn’t seen any signs before entering, but then any advertisements wouldn’t have been for me on foot but for those on wheels.

Around 40 years ago, these parts of the city were the logical place to stick single-storey, single-use shopping containers, their forms have a kind of relationship with the neighbouring industrial sheds, I suppose, but arranged around slack forecourts designated for the car, not the body and certainly not the eye, these enclaves suck the urban-ness right out of a zone that is hinter-, not actual, suburbia.

So I travel away from the centre of London to work and the city spreads outwards too, of course, but increasingly with intent and not in the manner of sprawl which implies a kind of thinning of the quality of city. I am still in London, I don't travel to a desk in the suburbs. With me, and this phase of expansion, a mix of use, activity and scale will also flow outwards, reinforcing the edge, as it were, against the suburbs leaking in.



I made a website for my zine



My photographic series capturing architectural characters in Homerton is currently being exhibited at Hackney arts venue Chats Palace


Making Places

I spent two months over the summer pounding the streets of New York, Tokyo and Hong Kong with the aim of understanding approaches to community driven public realm.

The idea was to uncover strategies from these dense commercial cities that could be applicable to London, though I returned to capital to discover a similarly aimed initiative taking place under my nose - or at least north-eastwards of my nose - in my neighbouring borough of Waltham Forest.

Under the banner Making Places, and in partnership with arts organisation Create London, the borough asked residents to nominate sites that they felt were unloved and could be transformed through arts projects. From this initial canvassing 20 sites were selected - one in each ward - with designers then invited to submit proposals.

A smart initiative I thought, one that supports improvements in public realm in the places they are really wanted. I hope it's a success because it seems to me the kind of procurement route for community amenities that could be replicated in other boroughs. I visited the sites on a sunny day, they ranged from spaces within large parks to alleys, verges and the side of a building.

Regardless of any physical variance, the projects will be delivered for 40k each, not a huge amount, though it implies a scale and approach that is more local and will naturally draw in younger and perhaps less established designers.  Which is another way of saying that I have entered along with fellow public realm enthusiast Beni Rogers. We chose a few sites, and we hope we are successful.

Making Places sites (5 more still TBC)


"People make places, not planners"

A quote from my meeting with Becky Lee, an architect I met recently in London, who trained in Glasgow and has been running her own small practice Studio T+S here in Hong Kong for over a year. Our conversation reinforced my research to date; the prevalence of privately owned public space in HK and the increasing tendency for these to be located above the ground. The latter is an emergent trend in London most infamously characterised by Vinoly’s tower on Fenchurch Street, with its ludicrous Sky Garden that can scarcely be classed a public space when a visit requires forward planning.

Becky Lee in the T+S Studio

Becky is currently working on a self-initiated design project for a public park near her home in the city suburbs; an active space that stretches along the waterfront, used by pedestrians, fishermen and cyclists. There are plans, however, led by the municipal Leisure and Cultural Services Department (LCSD), to annexe a portion of the length and transform it into a ‘quiet park’, thus terminating the cycle route. One of the reasons given is to mitigate against dangerous cyclists, and light pollution from night fisherman and their torches. As Becky suggest, people are quite good at creating their own usable public space, here, as I see it, the planned space, to be inserted from above is more of a form of a control than provision of amenity.

Becky's sketch of the proposed 'quiet park'

Somewhat ominously, though the plan has yet to be formally agreed or implemented, it is already labelled on Google Maps as a Waterfront Park prefixed by the name of an adjacent developer, Tseung Kwan O.

The LCSD park is already marked on Google Maps, prefixed by the name of a developer

As the government’s plan enters a second stage of consultation, Becky intends to present an alternative proposal to both the local community and LCSD, one that perhaps formalises some of the activity (better segregation of bicycles from pedestrians) but permits them to co-exist. I’ll be visiting the space later this week.


Final Phase

I'm in Hong Kong for the final part of my Travel Fellowship


Walk / Don't Walk

Walking around New York's gridded streets, which enforce a strictly orthogonal circulation, I spent an awful lot of time waiting to cross the street at busy junctions. If the opportunity arose, I'd make like a local (or a Londoner) and dart across oncoming traffic in full violation of an upheld neon red palm.

Jaywalking in NYC...

Here in Tokyo, road crossing rules are reinforced by a strong law-abiding culture to the extent that they feel impossible to defy without making an open statement about foreign belligerence. If the red man is showing the pavement edge fills up with patient pedestrians at clear and busy roads alike, like a crowd spread across the bank of a slow moving river, with none willing to jump in and splash across. Consequently I am spending inordinate amounts of time sweltering at crossings (Tokyo in July is averaging 34°C, edging just two degrees over NYC, but what a difference those two little degrees makes). And the lights seem to take an age to change.

Waiting at the lights in Tokyo...

It's easier to understand now why the Shibuya Crossing - yes, really just a pedestrian crossing, albeit a big one - is such an iconic spectacle. It's not just the agility of crossers avoiding each other as they walk headlong towards one another; it's the exact stop / release. The choreography is clean and precise, with no messy jaywalkers ruining the performance: now we walk, now we stop.


Play Time

I caught up with Tokyo Play at a wonderful, messy play event they arranged at Kawasaki City Park for Children.

Their ambition is to identify and increase opportunities for play within the city, I'm due to meet with them again later in the week to learn more.

I also got talking to Free Space Tamariba, who organise and maintain the Park itself which came out of a bylaw in 2000 protecting childrens' rights. The park is a venue for their school, established in 1991 aimed at children no longer in mainstream education, according to their research this is around 1 in 27 children with social anxiety given as a major factor.

The park, then, which came about through successful negotiation with local government, is an essential component in pursuing their manifesto.


Second Leg

I'm in Tokyo for the second part of my Travel Fellowship