The combination of Brexit and the Coronavirus pandemic caused an inflection to much of London’s economy. The sterling exchange rate plummeted globally and foreign investors exited en masse, leaving premises abandoned due to a dramatic crash in the real estate market. Mayfair was one of the hardest hit areas, it completely lost its economic power and looked for a new model of growth.
The urban block within Mayfair most affected by these changes was Maddox 14-48. By 2022 all foreign owners had abandoned the eclectic range of properties, creating a new contemporary ruin. A society of Sculptors seized on this opportunity and squatted the dense urban block, looking to create an autarky community by dissecting the existing buildings. The carved material was reused to reform the block. Inspired by the socialist ideals of William Morris, a former occupant of the site, the community carefully protected and reused all listed and historically significant material but did not respect traditions of plot boundary, public/private division or use classification and thus created a new way of living that could spread like a pandemic.
The project was developed at the Bartlett School of Architecture.
KOOZ What prompted the project?
KA A personal interest in investigating new ways of living,the recent Coronavirus Pandemic and Brexit led to this project. From the 1970s and onwards we experienced gentrification in many cities around the world which nowadays is increasing under the support of neoliberal derelucations. The current pandemic made the housing situation worse. The need of being together arises and we have been faced with the necessity to work close to our homes.
The project gives an alternative way of living where someone could live and work together within their chosen society. The project was inspired by the writings of William Morris, Jane Jacobs, Hannah Arendt and Richard Sennet. In his book News from Nowhere William Morris reimagined how the society of London will be in 200 years. A society which is based in social values and collaboration where everyone works for the common good. In addition, Richard Sennet's writings enriched this idea of a new way of living with contemporary writings.
The project questions the current way of living and therefore the urban planning and accessibility of a contemporary city such as London.
KOOZ What questions does the project raise and which does it address?
KA The project questions the current way of living and therefore the urban planning and accessibility of a contemporary city such as London. In addition, the project questions Neoliberal deregulation and gentrification while in parallel being an example of reusing existing structures within the era of the Anthropocene.
Examples such as the tower of David in Ecuador, the work of Gordon Matta-Clark and the history of squatting in London enriched the realization of the project. On the other hand, urban planning and living theories from Jane Jacobs and Richard Sennet deepen the design strategy.
KOOZ You talk about Mayfair as completely having lost its economic power and looking for a new model of growth, could you expand on this notion further? How does the project use this opportunity as a means to critique the accessibility of the city of London?
KA This narrative is based on Jane Jacobs' writings on how the best cities act. In her book The self-generating growth of citiesJacobs said that “A city that is not stagnating economically is a city that is continually casting forth new kinds of economic activity”. London as one of the leading cities of the world should continually look for new kinds of economic models. The proposal gives an alternative on how a city works economically based on bottom-up theories of Jacobs. The urban block that the project takes place works as a micro community where sculptors live, work and learn from each other. By transforming their own urban block with their own techniques such as carving.
At the moment Mayfair is the most expensive area in the world and only the elite can afford to live there. The project is looking to reverse that by using the squatting law with the scope to bring back the lower classes within the city center. Squatting has a long history within London. By law squatting is not illegal action within the U.K.
The project is also a critique to neoliberal derelucations which currently the economy of London is based on. The project islooking for a new model of economic growth which could benefit the largest number of the citizens.
KOOZ How would you approach the planning of London' urban fabric to render it more equal and accessible?
KA We live in the era of the Anthropocene where humanity invaded nature. This project gives an example on how we can reuse existing structures for a better inhabitation. The inhabitants reuse and transfer materials within the urban block with the scope to create new spaces that could be used for working, living, or both. The project sees the block as an urban island where an autarky society could live in cooperation.The society will live based on a circular economy.
The planning of London should give the opportunity to everyone to live in the city center by removing plot separations and ownership. Imagine a city where there are no private housesbut only collective social houses. The city of London should belong to everyone and not only the elites.
The project sees the block as an urban island where an autarky society could live in cooperation [...] based on a circular economy.
KOOZ What are the opportunities which could arise in more socially equitable neighbourhoods?
KA Living in a socially equitable neighborhood you will be able to get to know your neighbor and this is crucial. By knowing your neighbor you feel safer and feel part of the community. You will be able to help each other and have a better way of living. You will have more time for yourself while at the same time you will be able to achieve more. You will be able to learn from each other various skills. This knowledge will pass from generation to generation. Last but not least, you will be able to live a sustainable life.
KOOZ What is for you the power of the architectural imaginary?
KA As Sennett said, “architects should use their skills to help a local community to contest something; not only to reject something, but to propose an alternative”. An example of this is how Francis Kerre used his imagination and the power of human labor in order to build a school for his village with minimum resources. The power of architectural imagination can help a person to have a better life. Where there's a will, there's a way.