Tag Archives: history

On Manchester Chinatown

Elena Barabantseva, School of Social Sciences, University of Manchester, write about Manchester’s chinatown …

Yet again this year Manchester’s city centre was a stage for Chinese New Year Celebrations, making it a perfect occasion for a family day out to experience a different culture. Manchester Chinatown is one of the major tourist attractions in the city and is considered to be the most vibrant Chinese quarter in the country, but how did it become part of the city’s architectural and cultural fabrics?

With the seedcorn funding from cities@manchester I was able to conduct an archival study on the origins of Chinatown and a series of interviews with the members of Manchester’s Chinese community organisations. What emerged from this pilot research is that the origins of Manchester Chinatown are somewhat paradoxical. From the first wave of migration in the early twentieth century, the Chinese have been the most geographically dispersed migrant group in the UK due to the nature of their occupations, first in laundries and then in take-away restaurants. Yet, the dominant social perception of the Chinese as a closely-knit and inward-looking community has persisted until the present day.

The early Chinese residents in Manchester were far from an insular community. They actively integrated into the city. An article in the Manchester Guardian in February 1912 estimates the total number of Chinese immigrants in Manchester to be around one hundred and comments on their life in the following way:  ‘They are mainly Cantonese, and when they land at Liverpool they can speak little or no English. The Manchester Wesleyan Mission (8 Cable street), under the direction of the Rev. S. F. Collier, has carried on work amongst them. A New Year’s party was held last evening at the Albert Hall’ (Manchester Guardian, ‘Chinese in Manchester’, 20 Feb 1912). In the pre-Second World War period, the local community efforts to interact with the newly arrived immigrants were paralleled by the furnishing links between Manchester and China at the national level. The pre-war textile boom in Manchester prompted strengthening links with China, and for the first time in 1933 the Chinese Kuomintang government appointed a consular representative to Manchester to oversee the day-to-day trade links with China with an office in Spring Gardens in Central Manchester (Manchester Guardian, ‘China comes North’, 11 February 1933). In 1942 The Universities China Committee in London, with the funds from the Boxer rebellion (1898-1901) indemnity, established Manchester China Institute on George street to ‘provide a place where British people could meet Chinese people and learn from them in various ways’ (Manchester Guardian, ‘China Institutes: A new one for Manchester, 11 May 1942). These facts testify to the vibrant official and community-based links which existed between China and Manchester in the early twentieth century.

In the post-World War Two period Chinese migrants keenly settled in the city and its suburban areas to satisfy British tastes for Chinese culinary.  In a parallel development, an increasing number of Chinese businesses started opening in Central Manchester, with the first Chinese restaurant Ping Hong opening its doors on Mosley Street in 1948. Recalling the origins of Manchester Chinatown, senior Chinese residents unequivocally assert that ‘there was no Chinatown in Manchester in the 1970s’. Yet, 8y the mid-1970s the local newspapers were announcing that a Chinatown was emerging in central Manchester bounded by George, Nicholas, Faulkner, and Princess Streets. By the early 1980s, the geographical and socio-cultural place of Chinatown in Manchester was secured when in 1983 Manchester City Library added the entry “Chinatown” to its catalogue of newspaper clippings.

In the 1980s Manchester Chinatown boomed, when in the span of less than ten years key community organisations and societies were set up in the quarter: Chinese Cultural and Education Centre in 1979, the Chinese Arts Centre in 1986, Tong Sing Chinese Housing Association in 1984, Wai Yin Chinese Women’s Society in 1988, and Chinese Health Information Centre in 1987. The symbolic birth of Chinatown culminated in 1987, when the Chinese Imperial Arch, physically marking the area’s association with the Chinese community, was erected on Faulkner street.

The early 1980s also witnessed an active lobbying by Chinese community leaders of the City authorities to clearly mark the boundaries of the Chinatown by translating the names of the streets into Chinese and displaying street signs in Chinese characters: ‘It may not be long now before you can walk up the Street of Capturing Blessings, turn left into the Street of Fairy Happiness and end up in the heart of Manchester’s Chinatown…. Faulkner Street would become Fuk-Ngar Gai (street of capturing Blessing) and Charlotte street Sar-Lok Gai (Street of Fairy Happiness)’ (Manchester Evening News, Comment ‘Turning into the Street of Happiness’, 21 February 1983). The attempts to translate the names of the streets into Chinese were stalled in June 1985, when the City Council designated this area as a ‘George street conservation area’ where ‘signs should be designed and located so as not to compete with the architectural details of buildings’ (Manchester City Council, no date). The value attached to the history of the area took an upper hand over contemporary social trends.

A quick browse through the historical maps of Manchester city centre from the collection of Manchester Museum of Science and Industry confirms that the area of Manchester’s Chinatown developed in the Georgian times, and the layout and names of the streets haven’t changed since the 18th century. Until the early 19th century, this district was a well-to-do residential area, centred on St James’ church built at 7 Charlotte street in 1786 and demolished in 1928. The pattern of streets and street names are the only surviving witnesses to the layers of time which shaped and transformed this area of the city. A cluster of important societies and institutions also operated in the area, including Literary and Philosophical Society at 36 George street. Portico Library was opened in the area at 57 Moseley street in 1806 and still occupies its original site. Royal Manchester Institute was built on Moseley Street between 1824 and 1835 in the Greek neo-classical style and now hosts the City Art Gallery, and the Athenaeum, a club for a society for ‘advancement and diffusions of knowledge’ was founded on Princess street in 1835 and is now linked to the Art Gallery.

By the end of the 1990s, Chinese organisations and initiatives which were founded and started their activities in Manchester Chinatown in the 1980s started relocating to other parts of the city.  Most notably, The Chinese Arts Centre moved to the Northern Quarter and was recently renamed into the The Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art, Fo Guang Shan Temple moved to Trafford, Manchester Chinese Centre re-established in Ardwick, and the Wai Yin Chinese Women’s Society moved to Ancoats. Chinese supermarkets are not limited to the Chinatown anymore and can be found in many different locations around Manchester. These processes point to the moving and changing character of Chinatown, what Doreen Massey coins as a continuous process of ‘multiple becoming’. The dominant perspective on Chinatowns around the world refers to them as ‘ethnic enclaves’, yet the dynamic history and ongoing transformations of Manchester’s Chinatown show that it embraces multiple histories, contested present, and an open future.  The physical demarcations of Chinatown are less important than social processes and experiences which both define and escape the attempts to pin down Chinatown’s spatial and cultural demarcations.

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The Whitworth Park Community Archaeology and History Project

by Siân Jones, Hannah Cobb, Ruth Colton and Melanie Giles.

Whitworth Park was opened in 1890 towards the tail end of the most prolific park building period the country has ever known. It cost £69,000, and was filled with features designed for the recreation and health of the surrounding neighbourhood. The park became extremely popular on its opening, ‘abundantly visited’ by the local population (Manchester Courier, 5th July, 1890), with some ‘six to eight thousand’ people present on a Sunday afternoon in April 1893 (Manchester Courier, 15th April, 1893). In its Victorian and Edwardian hey-day, Whitworth Park boasted many typical features, such as a bandstand, a large boating lake, an observatory, various shelters, extensive formal flowerbeds, statues, and a covered walkway. However, many of these were removed in the post-war period; a common fate reflecting changes in urban park management and funding cuts.

An Edwardian postcard of Whitworth Park (Source: private collection of S. Jones)

An Edwardian postcard of Whitworth Park (Source: private collection of S. Jones)

The origins of public parks like Whitworth lie in the nineteenth century park movement, which was a response to the immense changes associated with industrialisation and urbanisation. Parks were designed to address many of the problems with this new urban environment, by providing access to nature, healthy pursuits, clean air, beauty and a sober venue for recreation (Conroy 1991). Indeed the public park was seen as a panacea to the ills of the urban condition and in its idealised form it embodied many of the social concerns of the Victorian period. As a specific kind of urban space, parks embodied a number of philanthropic and ‘improving’ ideals, as well as providing an arena for social control and the inculcation of middle class values (Wyborn 1994). Once part of the urban landscape, they quickly became sites of social encounter, tension and exclusion through which class, gender, civic, national and imperial identities were negotiated (Brück 2013). And despite significant changes, they remain important sites for the negotiation of memory, identity and place, as well as a focus for ideas associated with health, improved air quality, and other environmental concerns.

 

The Whitworth Park Community Archaeology and History Project aims to investigate the long-term social, material and natural histories of the park alongside its changing meaning for local communities. It also aims to use archaeology as a way of engaging contemporary residents with their heritage and to increase the social value of the Park. The project involves archival research, a small-scale oral history programme, and two seasons of excavation, with a wide-ranging volunteer programme and a series of school workshops. There are also public outreach events during the excavation seasons, and other forms of engagement such as newspaper articles, public talks and a project blog. Towards the end of the project we will produce a public leaflet about the Park’s history, a new display board in the Park, and a temporary exhibition in Manchester Museum.

Hannah uncovering the foundations of the bandstand 4th July 2012 (Photograph: S. Jones)

Hannah uncovering the foundations of the bandstand 4th July 2012 (Photograph: S. Jones)

 

Some of the Whitworth Park finds (Photograph: University of Manchester)

Some of the Whitworth Park finds (Photograph: University of Manchester)

The success of the project depends on a number of partnerships. It is led by the Archaeology Department at the University of Manchester and involves postgraduate and undergraduate students as well as academic staff. We hope to connect University-led research with the future of the local community: breaking down the barriers of ‘us’ and ‘them’, to link the hopes and aspirations of local people with those of the University. Our main community partner is the Friends of Whitworth Park, a group formed in 2005, with the aim of promoting the revival of the park for the benefit of the public, especially children, as well as updating ‘the historical infrastructure to make it relevant to contemporary life within a multicultural city’ (Shone 2005). Our other project partners, the Manchester Museum, the Whitworth Art Gallery and the Ahmed Iqbal Ullah Race Relations Resource Centre have forms of expertise and skill that support the public and school components, as well as established community relationships that we can draw on. A close relationship with Manchester City Council is also a key component both in terms of providing resources, and facilitating and promoting our work in the Park.

 

Volunteers participating in the Whitworth Park excavations in 2011 (Photograph: M. Giles)

Volunteers participating in the Whitworth Park excavations in 2011 (Photograph: M. Giles)

The excavations provide a remarkable catalyst, drawing the interest of park users. The physical remains of former park features such as the lake and the bandstand stimulate people’s imaginations and memories. Objects like marbles and other children’s gaming pieces, the remains of clay pipes, items of personal attire, like jewellery and buttons, all offer a powerful means of engagement. They connect people viscerally and emotively to the lives of previous generations of Mancunians and tell us about the unspoken aspects of daily life: the unwritten history of working and middle class lives. This gets to the heart of why the project provides such a rich context for combining research and community engagement. It also underlines why participation in the process of investigating Whitworth Park’s past creates enormous social value in the present. By exploring the park’s past, we hope to raise aspirations for its future, and to engage people in caring for their urban green spaces.

A lunchtime tour, July 2013 (Photograph: S. Jones)

A lunchtime tour, July 2013 (Photograph: S. Jones)

For more information about the Whitworth Park project visit our blog: http://whitworthparklife.wordpress.com/

The second season of excavation will take place 1st – 12th July 2013, Whitworth Park.

There will be an Open Day on 6th July in Whitworth Park.

Manchester Museum will hold a Big Saturday event on 13th July to coincide with the Festival for British Archaeology (http://festival.britarch.ac.uk/). For more information please visit Manchester Museum website: http://www.museum.manchester.ac.uk/whatson/

Acknowledgements:

The Whitworth Park Community Archaeology and History Project is funded by a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, with additional funding from the University of Manchester and Manchester City Council. The Project is led by the Department of Archaeology at the University of Manchester, in association with the Friends of Whitworth Park, Manchester Museum, the Whitworth Art Gallery, and Ahmed Iqbal Ullah Race Relations Centre. All of these organizations have committed considerable resources to the project. We would like to thank all of the above, alongside our volunteers, students and project staff for making the project a success. Finally, we would like to thank the residents of Manchester who have engaged with the project and shared their memories and aspirations with us.

 

References

Brück, J. 2013. Landscapes of desire: parks, colonialism, and identity in Victorian and Edwardian Ireland. International Journal of Historical Archaeology 17(1): 196-223.

Brück, J. and A. Tierney 2009. Landscapes of desire: parks, colonialism and identity in Victorian and Edwardian Ireland. UCD School of Archaeology/Heritage Council Archaeology Grant Report, Dublin. [http://www.ucd.ie/archaeology/staff/drjoannabruck/publications/]

Conroy, H. 1991. People’s Parks: The Design and Development of Victorian Parks in Britain. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Shone, K. 2005. Whitworth Park Future Planning Document.

Wyborn, T. 1994. Parks for the People: the development of public parks in Manchester, c1830-1860. Manchester: University of Manchester.

 

Newspaper sources:

The Rambler in Manchester. Manchester Courier, 15th April, 1893.

Trees and Shrubs for Town Planting. Manchester Courier, 5th July, 1890.

 

Teaching the City, Teaching in the City

San Francisco from  The U.S. National Archives via Flickr

San Francisco from The U.S. National Archives via Flickr

 

Nearly a decade ago, a colleague and I decided to develop a new team-taught Level 3 module on the urban experience in the nineteenth- and twentieth-century Americas. Drawing upon her expertise in Latin America and mine in the United States, we hoped to complement other staff members’ modules on British and European urban history, and to emphasise the many ways in which, we felt, that the cities of the “New World” differed, in social, cultural, political, economic, geographical, and architectural terms, from those of the “Old.”

Although the course was a success in terms of enrolments and evaluations, and we really enjoyed teaching it, in its initial form it turned out to be a one-off. Her teaching commitments changed and made her unable to continue our collaboration, and I opted to carry on with the module on my own, removing the elements of teaching and learning on Latin America and focussing exclusively on the experience of the U.S. Although my examples ranged from turn-of-the-century St. Louis to contemporary Los Angeles, from the murder of a prostitute in 1830s New York to the challenges faced by Mexican migrants in Depression-era Chicago, I continued to emphasise the seemingly unique nature of the American city, which I attributed variously to the U.S.’s vast physical size, the relative newness of even its longest-established cities, and the immense role played by immigration in the nation’s history in general and that of its urban spaces in particular.

More recently, though, after a decade of teaching this module, I’ve become steadily more interested in bringing the American and the British urban experience into comparison and, ideally, dialogue. This change has stemmed from two sources: firstly, having now lived and worked in Britain, and specifically in the city of Manchester, for over a dozen years, I’m now much more aware of the UK’s urban history, and realise, for example, that the processes of urban regeneration popularly known as “urban renewal” in the US, which played out in many American cities in the 1960s and 1970s, were similarly influential, and were both welcomed and resisted, in locales such as Hulme, a few hundred yards from my University teaching room. Secondly, recent events, such as the anti-G8 protests of 2009 and riots of summer 2011, with which my students are intensely familiar, have turned out to be a great “hook” with which to draw my students into enthusiastic discussion of topics such as the right to protest, the freedom of the streets, the responsibilities of law enforcement personnel, and the sources and meanings of class conflict.

As an historian, I hope to convince students that, in William Faulkner’s often quoted words, “the past is never dead. It’s not even past.” As a scholar of American Studies, although I hope to avoid the “American exceptionalism” which has been so blinkering for politicians and academics alike, part of my task is to encourage students to believe that American history and culture and not just potentially exciting, but that they offer a sharp contrast with the historical and contemporary experiences of Britain, Europe, and other nations and regions of the world. Negotiating these sometimes contradictory values can be and often has been intensely challenging, but the reason that I have continued to offer this course (now called AMER30772: Cities of Dreadful Delight) year in and year out, while rotating, adding, dropping, or significantly reformulating my other undergraduate and postgraduate courses, is that each year I have moved farther from my original belief in the uniqueness of the American urban experience. To give one example, this spring I gave my usual lecture on the phenomenon of “slumming” in the turn-of-the-century U.S., by which middle- and upper-class American urbanites and suburbanites, bored with their usual leisure activities, organised expeditions to slum neighbourhoods in New York, San Francisco, and other cities in order to see “how the other half lived”—tantalised by the perceived exoticism and danger of the urban poor, particularly those who were non-white and/or recent immigrants, they visited working-class saloons, overcrowded tenement houses, and even opium dens, and returned to regale their less adventurous friends with tales of their daring adventures. I contrasted this bygone fad with the more recent one of the undergraduate “chav party,” using comments from student-oriented websites debating why, and how, one might best imitate the appearance, tastes, and behaviour of the perceived “dangerous class.” My students seemed to gain a much more nuanced understanding of the practice of “slumming,” and to see it not simply as a perplexing or amusing but now irrelevant leisure pursuit, but as something which continues, in both theory and practice, to symbolise some widely accepted attitudes about social hierarchy.

The more I alter my lectures, seminars, readings, and assessments by trying to bring the American historical experience of urban life into dialogue with issues that are “closer” to my students, whether in geographic or temporal terms, the more I feel that I need to do. I’m currently thinking of taking next year’s group of students on an “away day” through the streets of Manchester: by doing so, I hope not only to give them first-hand examples of many of the themes of the course, but to encourage them to make additional connections of their own, and to share them with each other and, through me, with future groups of students. As a scholar of the humanities, the focus of my work has always been on the library and the archive, but I’m starting to feel that I’ve acquired a laboratory of my own, in the city where I live and teach.

Symposium report: The Making of Post-war Manchester, 1945-74: Plans and Projects

Poster

On the 8th May we organised a successful one-day symposium examining urban change in post-war Manchester, focussed upon infrastructural projects and the local implementation of central government initiatives in the three decades following 1945. Over one hundred people attended the event and engaged with a fascinating set of presentations from a range of geographers, historians, planners, architects and archaeologists composed of a mixture of well known professors, established scholars and new researchers. Fittingly for the symposium’s temporal focus it was held in the concrete bunker formerly known as the Kantorowich Building, designed by Professors Roy Kantorowich and Norman Hanson and completed in 1970. The speakers presented in the Cordingley Lecture Theatre, named after Reginald Cordingley (shown in full instructive mode below), Professor of Architecture at the University of Manchester between 1933 and 1962.

Source - Rylands Collection, Image Number - JRL1201094

Source – Rylands Collection, Image Number – JRL1201094

Aim: What changed in Manchester and what drove the changes?

The presentations were intended to reference transformative events and large scale built projects of the era in relation to civic plans, infrastructural initiatives, local and national government policies, technological innovation and the wider fiscal climate. The intellectual objective of the symposium programme was to reveal a selection of the significant narratives of the shifting social and physical development of the city during the years 1945 – 1974. Whilst we recognise that the two dates are, in many respects, arbitrary bookends for processes of change and urban development that are often long running and cumulative, they do provide a set of sensible marker posts – running from the end of the Second World War in 1945 up to 1974 and the wholesale political reorganisation of the conurbation in the wake of the Local Government Act (1972).

City of Manchester Plan

City of Manchester Plan

As a departure point, 1945 is particularly interesting and equally problematic, as it is all too easy to assume it as a pivotal moment, when, in actuality, it simply marked the end of the wartime hiatus and the resumption of many schemes and strategies devised in the decades before 1939. That said, many of the speakers made explicit reference to Rowland Nicholas’ 1945 City of Manchester Plan as a signature ‘visionary’ document of the era and it is evidently a useful narrative touchstone. It is perhaps unsurprising that the other end of these three decades was less considered. There were markedly fewer references to the formation of Greater Manchester, possibly reflective of its ambiguous status at the time and its limited legacy in the makeup of contemporary Manchester. It is now an apposite time to consider this period, via a public symposium, for several reasons, not least of all because some of the personnel directly involved in the projects are still around and can be ‘brought out of the woodwork’ to tell their stories. Moreover, primary documentary material is newly emerging into archives and becoming publicly available, and more generally it taps into growing scholarly engagement and broader public fascination with these three decades not just in this city, but across Europe.

map

This symposium built directly on our experience of curating a successful public exhibition in spring 2012, entitled Infra_MANC, that considered the role of infrastructure in the making of post-war cities by looking at the planning of the Mancunian Way elevated urban motorway, the never realised Picc-Vic railway tunnel, the Guardian ‘secret’ underground telephone exchange and fanciful notions for a rooftop city centre heliport. The 200 page illustrated catalogue from this exhibition has just been released online as free PDF book. The study of both built and unbuilt projects has the capacity to reveal new histories, particularly political relationships and the interplay of local interests with national policy directives. Unrealised urban schemes, be they for buildings or infrastructure, frequently leave unrefined traces of their gestation, promotion and failure that do not gloss over the fractious and antagonistic relations of policy makers and power players. In this regard the active debates and discourse around the things that did not physically alter, but still had the capacity to change, the city were as relevant to the symposium as the obvious large scale extant developments, which were also considered.

The Symposium

Speakers Laurence Brown and Niall Cunningham. Photo source - Joe Blakey

Speakers Laurence Brown and Niall Cunningham. Photo source – Joe Blakey

The event itself was arranged into four sessions. It began with a contextual overview, eloquently chaired by Professor Brian Robson and in the opening talk by Professor Michael Hebbert, a former professor at Manchester, dissected the limits of the assigned time frame and provided passionate prose on the relative shift from the modern industrial metropolis to a something approaching a post-modern service city and its refraction through the lens of Granada Television’s Coronation Street. Subsequent sessions dealt with spatial changes related to housing renewal, the development of key social institutions including higher education and the NHS, and the impact of pollution control on the environmental quality for the city and its citizens. Midway through the day a stimulating presentation was given on population migration in the post-war period contrasting the situation in Moss Side to Cheetham Hill, presented by University of Manchester colleagues Laurence Brown from History and Niall Cunningham based in the ESRC Centre for Research on Socio-Cultural Change (CRESC) (shown in the photograph above). The day concluded with presentations on the development of aviation facilities for Manchester, the broader culture of the Mancunian Way and a description of the ‘disconnected city’ caused by distinct shadow of unbuilt ring roads in the urban form of the city centre.

Each participant received a 36 page printed booklet containing the full programme and speaker details. The symposium also included a gallery of reproductions of nearly twenty of the key plans and maps from the era and the Manchester Modernist Society were on hand with their ‘pop-up shop’. The full programme and abstract of the presentations are given on the supporting blog, PostwarMcr. With the kind permission of the speakers we have been able to provide copies of the slides for the majority of the talks, which are also available via the blog.

The symposium was made possible with financial support via a Seedcorn grant from the Cities@Manchester initiative and with complementary fund through the Campion Fund of the Manchester Statistical Society. Behind the scenes logistical support was provided by colleagues in SED and several student volunteers from architecture and geography. The Manchester School of Architecture kindly underwrote printing costs.

The Future of Post-war Manchester

Manchester and its Region

 

We plan to develop an edited book following the themes of the symposium and we are pleased that many of the speakers have committed to contributing chapters. In broad terms the volume will be a compendium of new and existing works and organised in the manner of a ‘regional study’ with chapters covering key themes (housing, transport, education, industrial change, etc.). As such, the book will have clear resonances with earlier edited volumes, such as the survey prepared under the editorship of Charles Carter for the meeting British Association for the Advancement of Science held in Manchester, August 29 to September 5, 1962. As currently proposed, our new title, The Making of Post-war Manchester will, hopefully, be much broader in style and with discursive space for commentaries, shorter essays and visual interpretations of how city changed during the thirty or so years after the end of the Second World War. It is likely that it will be published and distributed by bauprint, Richard’s cottage publishing arm, designed and priced to appeal to wide readership interested in the city’s histories. Once the initial print run is sold we will also make the book available free online as a popular and educative resource.

The Making of Post-war Manchester symposium brought together scholars from a range of disciplines and professionals in planning and architecture, along with students studying aspects of Manchester’s development, and some members of the general public, interested in the recent history of their city. It is hoped that the crossing of disciplines will provide new narrative associations previously unexplored that may act as a platform for further research and discourse.

Richard Brook, Senior Lecturer, Manchester School of Architecture 

Martin Dodge, Senior Lecturer, Department of Geography, University of Manchester 

 

‘Anti-park’ to ‘Designer Park’? The proposed development of Berlin’s Tempelhofer Feld

Tempelhofer Freiheit in summer 2012

Tempelhofer Freiheit in summer 2012

by Clare Murray, PhD candidate in German Studies

The heavily contested decision to remove part of the longest remaining stretch of Berlin Wall to make way for luxury new flats has led to the re-emergence of some of the key issues that have characterised post-unification urban planning in Berlin: gentrification; the treatment of historical traces; and the significance of interim spaces. Underlying these is the confrontation between a market-driven, neo-liberal socio-economic structure and a rejection of that as a dominant framework which should shape the urban environment of Berlin. At the time of writing, the East Side Gallery has been granted a stay of execution but this is far from the only arena in Berlin where these debates play out:  just over five kilometres away the airfield of the former Flughafen Tempelhof is subject to a redevelopment plan which has pitted individuals, citizens’ groups, and some politicians against the Berlin Senate.

The site itself is of great architectural and historical importance: The airfield is a key site in aviation history having hosted pioneering flight demonstrations in the early twentieth century; Sagebiel’s colossal airport building, begun in 1937 and never fully realised, was one of the prestige projects of the Third Reich. A hybrid between stone-clad National Socialist monumentality and a technically innovative 1930s city airport, it remains one of the most iconic buildings in Berlin; the use of the airport by the American Air Force after the war, and in particular, its connection with the Air Lift have re-inscribed the site as a ‘symbol of freedom’ to many (West) Berliners; and the controversial cessation of flight operations in 2008 brought the site’s future firmly into public discourse.

When the airport closed, a unique asset was brought back into public use: a 270 hectare area of open space.  Its use as a military exercise and parade ground and then as an airfield had preserved the vast green area and enabled it to leap-frog almost two centuries of ideas about how public space should be constituted. It has now, however, been exposed to the forces acting on the 21st century Western European city. In 2010 the airfield was opened as a unique city park, enabling visitors to cycle and skate on the former runways and to play sport and picnic underneath now defunct signs displaying instructions to pilots. Citizens were invited to apply for space to establish interim ‘pioneer’ projects which currently range from a unicycle school to allotment-type ‘urban gardening’ facilities for residents without access to a garden.

On 6th March 2013 the ‘masterplan’ for the future of the site was unveiled at a lively public meeting in the former airport building. The plans confirmed the intention to ‘develop’ the former airfield in two senses of the word: to build new ‘city quarters’ on the field’s edges; and to alter its internal structure[1]. The Senate for Urban Development states that they are meeting demands for increased housing in Berlin and for improved facilities at the park yet both elements of this reconfiguration of Tempelhofer Feld are being met with resistance.

Citizens’ initiatives such as 100% Tempelhofer Feld are leading the campaign against the proposal to build on the former airfield[2]. They have organised a petition for a referendum which will reach the second round in September. Green and Left Party politicians have submitted a motion to the Abgeordenethaus for a halt to the planning process while this petition is still running[3] .

The reaction is not only against the proposal to build on the site but also about the plan to reshape the 230 hectares that will remain as parkland. The 2013 ‘masterplan’ makes clear that the next few years will see increased intervention into the remaining park landscape.  The proposed system of pathways will shape how visitors use and experience the space, creating easily accessible areas which will be more intensively used than the expanse in the middle where there will be fewer paths. The 4 hectare water basin, which will collect rainwater from the building, will constitute the first major permanent feature on the landscape which does not attest to its history or former function. The 1000 trees, which are to be planted at the site’s edges to provide shade and seem to be positioned to serve a double function in screening the proposed new city quarters, will bring about a contraction of the site’s perimeter, diminishing the vast emptiness of the Feld’s panorama.

Those campaigning for Tempelhofer Feld to remain in its present condition fear the transformation of ‘anti-park’ into ‘designer park’[4]. The designation of ‘anti-park’ derives from the fact that, as an appropriation of left-over space, Tempelhofer Freheit, as the park is named,  is not the product of an over-arching  ‘park design’ process. Accordingly, several of the features that characterise the western public park are absent here.

In contrast to the taming of nature prized in the gardens of the baroque or renaissance period, the park at Tempelhof has been characterised by the celebration of the capacity of nature to reclaim and reassert itself.

The former fire-service practice plane. Summer 2011

The former fire-service practice plane. Summer 2011

Unlike the pathways of the nineteenth century park, with their graceful contours and simple variety which Joyce explains were carefully designed to encourage walking in the belief the working class would seek to emulate the comportment of their ‘betters’,  the default means of getting around Tempelhof are the former runways, shaped to fulfil an entirely different function. Similarly, while Joyce explains that a key feature in the design of nineteenth century public park was the variation of the (in)finitude of space, achieved through the strategic planting of trees to open and close the panorama, Tempelhof is characterised by the vast emptiness of its horizon[5].

Tempelhofer Freiheit. Summer 2012.

Tempelhofer Freiheit. Summer 2012.

In other ways, however, the ordering processes that Joyce identified in the nineteenth-century public park have been active at Tempelhofer Freiheit since its opening. There is, of course, considerable relaxation in the idea of what is ‘appropriate’ for a public park – ‘swearing’ and ‘dirty clothes’ are not banned, for example, yet the restriction of loose dogs and barbecuing to designated areas, unusual in Berlin, raised eyebrows. More pronounced is the issue of (in)accessibility that arose when it became clear that the park would have a perimeter fence with opening and closing hours;  ‘a people’s park –until the sun goes down’ wrote one newspaper[6]. The rejection of the idea that through the numbered gates and the non-porous boundaries of Tempelhof, the park and its visitors become countable, knowable and therefore manageable feeds into a wider theme which is particularly salient in 21st century Berlin; resistance to the homogenisation both of space and of the individuals that inhabit that space. Through the fence, Tempelhofer Feld is demarcated as a ‘place’ wherein particular norms of behaviour are expected and, to an extent, enforced.  This is consolidated by the fact that the public can only use the park during daylight hours, i.e. when they are visible, this suggests that when they cannot be seen, and thus monitored, the ‘general public’ may not conduct themselves ‘appropriately’ and should thus not be permitted to access the park.

Tempelhofer Feld is seen as a tranche of wilderness which through historical circumstance has persisted within the urban area. The proposed development is seen as an extension of attempts to manage its wilderness, to limit access to it, to shape how it is to be used and experienced and, most significantly, to repackage parts of it as a commodity.


[1] Up-to-date information and a PDF download of the masterplan are available at http://www.tempelhoferfreiheit.de/ueber-die-tempelhofer-freiheit/aktuelles/nachrichten/standortkonferenz/

Drawing a square upon the ground: the complexity of memory in a changing environment

Guest blog by Annie Harrison.

This article draws on the work Annie is doing for her MA by Research in Art Practice at MIRIAD, Manchester Metropolitan University and an associated artists’ residency at Lime, an arts and health organization. Annie also works as a Project Assistant in the School of Medicine at the University of Manchester.

My art practice is concerned with place and memory.  Both contribute to our sense of belonging, which in its turn plays a part in social cohesion.  I am particularly interested in how memory is affected by the loss of place, and how the visual arts can aid memory in a rapidly changing urban environment.  In my MA, I am researching the site of the recently redeveloped Central Manchester Hospitals and working with hospital staff to recover what the Swiss artist Christian Boltanski calls ‘small memories’, the memories of ordinary people.

Dickens knew all about small memories. I recently came across this quote from the final chapter of The Old Curiosity Shop. Kit takes his children to the site of Little Nell’s house, demolished in the slum clearances of the mid 19th century.

The house is gone, but he has the need to locate, not just remember it.  Placing the memory gives it substance, and he wants to pass on the whole memory, not just the story.  I recognize this from my own history.  Whenever our family travelled along the M6 to Birmingham, my mum would point out Frankley Service Station and tell us about her grandfather who worked for the water company and lived in a tied cottage at Frankley Beeches.  The memory was only ever recalled and retold in its proper place.

The locating of visual images in particular places has long been used as a memory aid. In traditional memory techniques, a familiar environment is recreated in ones mind, and inhabited with visual triggers. For this method to work, a pre-existing relationship between place and memory is not important, because the connection is established by the method of remembering. However in his book, ‘How Modernity Forgets’, Paul Connerton writes that the pace of modern life and the rate of change of our surroundings is causing a crisis of memory because our lack of deep familiarity with place makes this technique more and more difficult.  (Connerton, 2009)

It is not only in such specialist techniques that place is an important trigger to memory.  In the documentary, ‘The London Perambulator’ Russell Brand describes returning to the place he grew up and seeing a wall next to an ambulance station.  He suddenly remembers walking along the wall as a child, holding his mother’s hand and says ‘it was as if the memory had been left there … as if it was an object rather than something that had been carried in my mind.’ (Rogers, 2009)

Last remaining hospital corridor from the 1908 building

In my research I take people to the remaining parts of the original 1908 hospital site, and show them photographs of places which have now been demolished.  These actual places and photographic representations of place elicit not only rehearsed memories about the site like my mother’s story about Frankley Beeches, but other memories, forgotten in the interim, which are discovered as if they had been left in the place, rather than carried in the mind of the interviewee.

I interviewed a retired nurse who trained at the hospital and went on to have an extraordinary career, nursing in ward zones across the world.  Nevertheless, visiting the site triggered a small memory, more than 50 years old, of looking through the hospital railings and seeing policemen arresting prostitutes working on the other side of the road.

Sketchbook drawing of the hospital railings

The ‘new’ memories that my interviewees discover are triggered by particular places but when the places are gone, and there are only photographs to rely on, the possibility of unrehearsed memory is limited, whereas every stone, every view, smell, light condition, sound of the original building, could have been the trigger for some new memory. The loss of place leads to the loss of memories and weakens the sense of belonging, of being connected to a wider community.

Dickens suggests that when place changes, it leads to confusion. Certainly, people who suffer from memory impairment are often confused and distressed by being moved away from their familiar environment. Even a new kitchen or redecorated room can dislocate them from the past memory that they use to guide them in the present.

When I interviewed a psychiatric nurse whose association with the hospital stretched back almost 30 years he confidently showed me the place where the old unit used to be, where they used to play football with patients, where the patients used to run a car-wash as part of their therapy. But later we met his colleague who identified completely different locations for the same sites.

Manchester Royal Infirmary Outpatients Department (1948)

Visiting the post graduate training centre, the receptionist knew that round the corner, you could see the façade of the old Outpatients Department, but had no idea that the new entrance where she was sitting was built on the side of that very same building and that the lecture rooms she directed students to, were where people queued for treatment.

Returning to Dickens’ novel, Kit not only needs to find the exact place where the house stood, but he attempts to memorialize it by marking out its shape. The urge to describe memory by some physical manifestation in place is also a common experience. For example, people are drawn to leave flowers at an accident site – sometimes with a photograph or a poem. This same impulse inspires me to create work that memorializes lost sites. In my artwork, I, like Kit, am attempting to draw ‘a square upon the ground’, and in the process, I am insisting on the value of small memories, and their importance to people and to society.

For more examples of Annie Harrison’s art work, see her website: www.annieharrison.co.uk.

References

Connerton, P. (2009) How modernity forgets. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Rogers, J. (Writer) (2009). The London Perambulator. London.

Railways, Red Barrel and Robin Hood: Interrogating the Modernist revival

Guest post by Kenn Taylor.

With the recent campaigns to save Preston’s Bus Station, Birmingham’s Central Library and Portsmouth’s Tricorn Shopping Centre. Not to mention the emergence of Manchester’s The Modernist magazine, books like Owen Hatherley’s Militant Modernism and critic Jonathan Glancey’s numerous broadsheet eulogies, it seems that we are now going through a period of revisionism in relationship to the Modernist architecture of the 1960s and 70s. That which was reviled by so many for so long is now being venerated.

It many respects this is inevitable. In the cycles of something changing from ‘old fashioned’ to ‘classic’ in the public consciousness, 30 or 40 years usually about does it. It’s also about time. This period of architecture produced many fine buildings of international importance in Britain’s towns and cities, and too many of these have already been lost to indifference. We must protect the best examples of buildings from whatever era from the mere whims of fashion. How much great Art Deco architecture was destroyed, like the Firestone factory in West London, before we realised its value?

Yet, despite the need to acknowledge the importance and value of such buildings, I don’t think we can truly celebrate the best architecture and design of the post-war Modern era without simultaneously acknowledging the failures.

DRU Railway Logo

This was starkly highlighted to me when I visited an exhibition held at the Liverpool School of Art in 2011 – Design Research Unit 1942-72. You may never have heard of the Design Research Unit (DRU) but you will know its work. Their 1965 British Rail logo is still used on every station in Britain, now no longer the brand of the long defunct British Railways Board, instead a generic symbol for railways, and probably DRU’s most prominent legacy.

Their other work was as many and varied as it was influential, as the exhibition displayed. Ranging from the interior of the P&O ocean liner Oriana and sections of the 1951 Festival of Britain, to the ICI logo and the 1968 City of Westminster street signs, which have become as an integral part of London’s streetscape as red buses and black taxis.

The DRU was formed in 1943 by the poet and art critic Herbert Read, architect Misha Black and the graphic designer Milner Gray. It was arguably the first multidisciplinary design agency in the UK, working across architecture, products and graphic design. The DRU was a product of the Modernist belief in the power of the new and optimism for the possibilities of the post-war era. Founded to help build anew Britain after the horrors of war and depression, when everyone, designers included, was desperate to break with the past.

Watneys Cock & Lion

For me though, the most telling part of the exhibition was that which looked at Milner Gray’s work forLondon’s Watney Mann brewery in the 1950s and 60s. Watneys commissioned DRU to provide a coherent look for its huge range of premises. In response, Gray developed a new identity with five different types of lettering and decoration to be used, depending on the architectural style of each public house. Watneys new signage used a ‘slab serif’ font made in pressure-formed plastic, a style which soon became a high-street craze.

Yet, despite its pioneering nature, to me the Watneys project highlights the negative aspect of not only DRU’s work, but the wider failures of Modernist design. After it, many other breweries adopted similar makeover schemes in a period which saw many pubs have their individual characteristics, developed over decades, ripped out in favour of a plasticised standardisation. Designs imposed from on high that reflected little of the culture or history of where they were being dropped in. Looking only modern and fresh for a brief time, before ageing poorly due to changes in fashion and the low quality of the materials they were made of.

Watneys thrusting attitude towards modernisation even spread to their beer, with the revulsion against the mass-produced blandness of its Red Barrel ‘modern’ keg beer helping to spark the foundation of the Campaign for Real Ale and its fight for traditional, quality, regional brews.

Even looking at the simple brilliance of DRU’s British Rail logo, the over-arching brand identity they developed for the railway often took no account of the great diversity of historic architecture that it was being pasted on. It also reflected the wider ‘modernisation’ of Britain’s railways that saw the destruction in the 1960s of many historic stations, including London Euston, which was replaced with the Modernist mediocrity that greets me on every trip to the capital. Euston’s uninspiring shopping arcade descending into dank concrete platforms stands in negative contrast to the still stunning Victorian glass barrel roofs of Liverpool Lime Streetwhich I meet at the other end of the line.

As well as being its strength, Modernist architecture and design’s ubiquity, utopianism, universalism and uniformity were also its undoing. In trying to re-make everything and escape the horrors of recent history, it destroyed not only what was bad of the past, but what was good as well. With a missionary zeal that also saw a huge chunk ofBritain’s Victorian and Georgian architecture demolished, one of the reasons that 60s Modernism is still so despised by so many today.

Many of the arguments around supporting such Modernist architecture seem to hang on the idealism and optimism that surrounded such buildings. In contrast to the cynical vapidness and blandness of so much contemporary ‘ laissez-faire’ architecture that is in many cases replacing Brutalist post-war structures.

Yet such bland homogenisation is just as resplendent in much of the worst of mediocre Modernism as it is in any contemporary neo-liberal urban development. Neither does such thinking acknowledge the dark arrogance that underpinned the philosophies of Modernist design; that educated elites could engineer the world into a utopia through planning and design. The idea that an internationalist aesthetic could be imposed on a specific culture and that it would ‘improve’ the people living amongst it.

Interestingly, this resurgence in the support for Modernist architecture is almost the same as in the 1960s, when civic worthies first really began to fight to save Georgian and Victorian heritage from redevelopment. This was inevitably led by middle class outsiders, whilst many living in such areas were glad to see the back of such buildings, even if they disliked being moved from old neighbourhoods to new estates. So now, while many are now striving to protect Modernist buildings, they are rarely are the ones who have to shop in Portsmouth, get a bus in Preston or borrow a library book in Birmingham. It is precisely this placing of aesthetics and ideas over people and function that caused so much Modernist architecture to fail.

Robin Hood Gardens, London

I saw this illustrated glaringly in a Guardian article by curator and writer Stephen Bayley, about the attempt to preserve from demolition the Brutalist concrete housing complex, Robin Hood Gardens, in a deprived part of East London: “the unintelligent housing policies of Tower Hamlets populated Robin Hood Gardens with the tenants least likely to be able to make sensible use of the accommodation. We have to whisper it, but the Unité d’Habitation [Famous Modernist housing block in Marseilles] works because it is populated by teachers, psychologists, doctors, graphic designers, not by single mothers struggling with buggies.” This is a striking example of an aesthete criticising a deprived population for not being appreciative of what they have been ‘given’. Whilst forgetting the very reason such buildings were constructed was to improve living conditions for poor families, something which they have so often resolutely failed to do.

 

Meanwhile, fellow Guardian journalist Simon Jenkins pointed out that nearly 80% of Robin Hood’s residents wanted the estate demolished and rebuilt so they could stay in the neighbourhood and, even more tellingly, that no one on the preservation campaign actually lives there. Its brash, Brutalist structures may look impressive, yet apparently remain not great to live in.

We should acknowledge the positives of the Modern era. It pioneered techniques and materials we now take for granted and saw many important buildings and designs produced in what was ahigh pointof British construction and production. Yet we cannot view it through rose-tinted spectacles.

The people behind such designs may have truly believed they were making places better for ordinary people, but their bold visions were in many ways also arrogant, and have so often failed. You cannot celebrate the visual power and utopianism of post-war Modernist design without acknowledging how quickly all that decayed and how much that negatively affected many people’s lives. Just as preservationists of the Victorian era who emphasise its pioneering, graceful designs should also acknowledge the poverty, repression and exploitation that marked that era also.

Looking back at that Design Research Unit exhibition, its final section was about how the DRU’s headquarters, a standard-looking brick office building in London’s Aybrook Street, were given a radical, brightly-coloured, rooftop extension by the then young architects Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers in 1972. Piano and Rogers of course went on to design the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, one of the most influential buildings of the late 20th century and a pioneer of Post-Modern architecture.

Today, that dramatic extension of Aybrook Street has been re-covered in something bland and grey, more in keeping with the style of the older building, its Modernist zeal hidden as if in embarrassment. This is a shame, we should not just cover up or destroy this era of architecture, if it is still of use, but when we look at it, not only remember the power and vision of its designs, but also the danger, as ever, of rapid, destructive change, of putting ideas above people, or of believing in grand solutions, imposed from on high, to any problem. We should preserve these buildings to remind us of our past, not just the good, but the bad as well.

 

Kenn Taylor is a Liverpool-based writer and researcher with a particular interest in community, culture and the urban enviroment.

http://kenntaylor.wordpress.com/
http://urbantransitionuk.wordpress.com/