Thursday, August 18, 2011

Concrete jungle

I was intrigued to come across this article - and not only because its author Owen Hatherley sticks the boot into modern architects for their alleged insistence on designing buildings "from the outside in", and valuing form above function. (Some illustrative examples might have been handy.)

No, it was the reference to "a large piece of overgrown, weed-filled wasteland" - and its negative overtones - that really caught my attention. No doubt a consequence of currently being deep in the proofs for this fascinating book. The editors and contributors set out to challenge received wisdom and reevaluate such spaces in a positive light, suggesting that the reclamation of developed land by nature, free of human involvement, can itself constitute urban regeneration of a sort.

In fact, in some cases it actually does a better job than planners and developers. For instance, "a large piece of overgrown, weed-filled wasteland" could hardly be worse than all the yuppie flats which were thoughtlessly thrown up in their hundreds between Cardiff city centre and Cardiff Bay during the mid-noughties property gold rush, and many of which now stand unoccupied.

Meanwhile, in the city centre, a plot of land by the Millennium Stadium and train station was earmarked for a high-rise development called Seren but, judging by the complete inactivity on site and the weeds now towering over the 8ft-high hoardings, plans were abandoned when the market crashed and the recession bit. It seems a shame that people are barred access from what's evidently developed into an urban wildscape behind closed doors - a sharp contrast from the manicured grass and tidy borders of nearby Bute Park.

The focus of Hatherley's article is admittedly on buildings rather than landscape architecture, but perhaps he should be more careful of falling into such a lazily dismissive attitude in future.

(Incidentally, the book has turned me onto the work of photographer Camilo Jose Vergara and the whole genre of what you might call dereliction porn, and made me want to go to Detroit in particular...)

No comments: