Pièce de résistance:
Thesis book:
„We want the town center to work better for everybody” stated the opening sentence of the framework presentation for the regeneration of the Town Center of Catford in Lewisham, South-East London, last week. The ward is struggling with large infrastructure presence, affordable housing deficiencies, notoriety levels, high car dependency, nature partitioning and gentrification pressures. The Council made several attempts to plan a broad spatial reconfiguration, most notably in 2016 with Allies & Morrison Urban Practitioners and in 2019 with Carl Turner Architects and Studio Egret West. Yet looking closer into those plans the question arise of “who do they actually define as everybody?”
It is vital to underline the duality of Catford’s character between the Town Center itself and the vast surrounding suburban housing. Center is loud and bustling, by far exceeding the livelihood to be expected from a 30000 inhabittants neighbourhood. This can be attributed to density and accessibility through different means of transportation, but for me that daily urban heartbeat is largely pumped by a well-balanced mixture of what’s local and affordable with what’s global and hipster.
The key to this effect are the spaces that are largely contested today by planners, the council and large portion of the public – namely Catford Shopping Center with Milford Towers council housing estate rising above, Plassy Island Shopping Center, Eros House RIBA Bronze medal awarded former office building – rejected by many for mostly on-surface easthetical judgement - sometimes under the name of townscape evaluation - yet to me they are absolutely crucial affordability hubs. Not only do they provide budget goods, but also are a main crossroads for diverse publics. Those crossroads though too often do not end up to be meeting points. As the late mayor of my city Paweł Adamowicz used to say: “only through meeting the other, we can enrich ourselves”.
At the break of the 60 and 70 in the times of car ownership boom when 2 of them were built some design decisions were taken that to date contribute to the misunderstanding between Milford Towers council housing tenants and other ward inhabitants. Vast parking infrastructure permanently occupies floors above the shopping center, strengthening the overwhelming effect of the estate hovering in isolated way. For the tenants above it ensures their privacy in a human scaled space, yet through rare crime incidents it also ensures a notoriety legend, co-exluding the people and architecture.
Cars also dominate the space in front of the large scale stores of much more recent Plassy Island. As the name suggest it is distinctly separated from the center, through the bustling High Street and mostly solid Townhouse raw frontage.
All frameworks proposed by the council sentence those spaces to be demolished in the course for regeneration. Regeneration in medicine means “to replace lost or damaged tissues or organs”
Habituating Above & Beyond Project recognizes Catford Town Center on a different stage than the council does. It is not in the need of regeneration as it is not lost or damaged. I believe it in the stage of przedwiośnie – which is a polish word meaning the period of the year inbetween winter and spring when the snow is melting and the weather is cold and gray. As harsh as it seems aesthetically it is a necessary base for the flourishing future to come. What Catford Town Center needs is habituating the misused spaces above the shopping center and beyond the townhouses. To habituate means to accustom and to go often to. So it’s about finding a new common space as an addition to the base of present affordability.
As Youth of Climate were chanting in recent months in European capitals saving the planet need to happen now. I think the same necessity applies when it comes to land ownership and development structures. With the rampant housing crisis and ever growing prices The Lewisham council cannot afford to let the land in town center get in the possession of private developers, most probably eternally losing the control over it.
The under-title of this dissertation is above and beyond habitation for Catford and proposes community land trust scheme, taking the land long-term of the market and reflects on the way we live with each other to propose a gradual transition of scalar common grounds, not only to house people affordably but also for enrichment and understanding through daily interactions, hoping the town center to work better for genuinely everybody.
Design proposal focuses on the site of Plassy Island. Currently Large scale yet only one functional level retail buildings with 90% closed off facades, merged together with the horizontal concrete gray surface of a parking lot. An image we know form major most countries ring highway areas. Definition of extensiveness. Walled out from the surrounding housing. If social meetings, or food consumption happens, it does in-between the cars. One of the buildings hides a special gem inside – an enormous bingo hall with restaurant, cafe and bookstore. Bring together numerous locals and other players, at the same time pretending not to be there.
The intervention starts with the necessity of association. Association with the the center on the other side of the townhouses. Bustling High Street flow is conveyed around an island making the fragment in front of town houses safely accessible by pedestrians. Then, it’s about complementing existing functions with new infills. A dark claustrophobic pathway is lit -up though a new open facade of a co-working art gallery perforated with an atrium. Then through reverse perspective entrance we pass by a Ninth Life hipster bar extension that together with up-cycling workshop (neighboring the post and delivery center), completes the art’s and crafts corner of the ground floor. Next we have the timber workshop which adjoins the present industrial production of timber elements with a mattress store. The workshop can address the desires of people after retirement age wanting still to be active.
Cars are being put underground which allows us a to create a square. It is framed by the grid structure which is a resultant of extruding the 6m grids of existing stores. In the middle of the square there is a space for diverse sports and public events. At the other corner a community center with a new work spaces, library, debate halls and support hub, joins the existing locally befriended McDonald's. With a necessary widening of the road around the island a facade of the bingo hall was reconsidered to create a new walkway and reconfigure the layout to open up to the public passing by, especially with the supporting function which could only gain through having new costumers, being now a bridge between bingo and town, not exclusive as before.
The desire of this project is to make Catford work as a multi-level city. An aspect which was neglected in the decades before. For that reason the staircases leading to the housing on top, (which I will talk through in a moment) are actually not only to that housing. They carefully land in the middle of existing and new buildings and through being completely public the can be also treated as staircases to the second level above the ground floor functions which is extremely vital to activate the parking levels of Milford Towers, and Eros House as also for future enrichment of services and culture offer. They become main means of scalar commuting through the city as much in building insides as through urban outsides.
In the housing level they end up in public rooms – adaptable spaces for the community living in housing modules which through staircases is also open to public. Those spaces can respond to the
needs of both of those groups. We can imagine a communal kitchen witch a dining space the which at certain hours can act as an commercial event space serving a cuisine from a certain country or master-chef. We can also imagine a community leisure meeting space which from time to time holds a cozy music performance. We can imagine publicly rent-able working stations. Those small invitations from the community to the public hope to change crossroads into meeting points. To enrich us through interaction with others through being a guest at somebody’s house, therefore to prevent the mistake of the 70’s of exclusion of people based on the spatial isolation.
The adjacent housing units can be adaptable to the needs of particular inhabitants. The presented plans are only a scenario, that shows that the current grid is flexible enough to allow different ways of living, very important as a response to changing societies. The designs can range from kitchen less single/student units (as the kitchen can be in the public room), through housing first bare homes, universal design assisted dwellings to fully developed family units with double height living rooms. Spaces of certain rooms can be also adjusted to the needs, not everyone desires a space for a bath and others find it crucial. It allows to some degree to tailor the cost of the dwellings to individual financial possibilities, as private square meters can be reduced to minimum and with the community sqm you are only a shareholder alongside it other inhabitants proportionally as well as the city and local and new businesses at the ground floor.
In-between the modules are open-air garden spaces with a view towards the suburban London landscape and the plaza below. Morphological form of the whole complex is a Ziggurat allowing for intensive use of the site, adjusting to the surrounding context, but also through the double level division bringing-in locally beloved suburban scale into garden spaces in-between modules making them a twist to suburban living where a space in-between the housing is no longer an asphalt road but the most private aspect of it - The Garden.
Sustainability in mind, if the needs of London 100 years might no longer be housing, the grid can be also adjusted to other functions or form.
Habituating Above and Beyond - Above and Beyond Habitation is a project that literally and metaphorically builds on the existing local base and aims at sustainable future. Proposes a universal grid for diverse forms of habitation and use, taking from both urban and suburban, prevents cleansing and exclusion through Community Land Trust property policy, embraces whats local and unappreciated and changes crossroads into meeting points, while through the act of meeting we learn and befriend our differences.
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