diamond geezer

 Friday, July 02, 2010

The London Festival of Architecture hit my bit of town last weekend. Up and down High Street 2012, from Aldgate to Stratford, a series of building-worthy events and installations to celebrate the East End's architectural creativity. And one of those events was really close to home, in the unlikely locale of Stroudley Walk, E3.

If you don't live around here, all you need to know is that Stroudley Walk is post-war-grim. A windswept piazza lined by bottom-of-the-heap retail units. A boarded-up pub in the shadow of a squat tower block, and a chippie I'm not convinced sells cod any more. An echoing void with space enough for a complete market, where only one single stall-trader sets up shop. It's nowhere to linger, unless you've got some cheap alcohol and the entire day to spare. Socially speaking, Stroudley Walk's an architectural disaster.

Walk The LineEnter the University of Innsbruck. As part of the The International Student Architecture Festival, they asked architecture students to create some challenging artistic installations up and down High Street 2012. An innovative slatted staircase in Whitechapel, for one, and some guerilla gardening (in rubber gloves) along the Lea towpath north of the Bow Flyover [photo] [photo]. Stroudley Walk got Walk The Line, which was essentially the opportunity to slap a bright blue line across the pavement and see what happened. Simple and cheap, but would any of the locals react?

The blue line went down a week ago. The students painted glue all the way along Bromley High Street, then painstakingly walked along and stuck a thick strip of blue tape over the top. At the junction with Bow Road they draped a roll of blue cloth along the railings of the gents conveniences, and tied the top end to Mr Gladstone's right hand. All in all surprisingly effective [photo]. And then they went back to their lodgings for the evening.

Stroudley WalkThe following day much of the line had degraded. The glue wasn't designed to be permanent, and passing footfall had dislodged several sections and left others flapping. The blue cloth had been moved so it didn't impede passing pushchairs heading to the pelican crossing. And in Stroudley Walk itself, the entire blue line had been ripped up and thrown into the square's recycling bins. The culprit could have been pesky kids, but I prefer to believe that some well-meaning cleaner assumed the line was vandalism not art, and dutifully removed the lot.

Over the weekend Mr Gladstone's ribbon was unceremoniously chopped, leaving no line to walk, only a short strip of fabric dangling in mid-air. But the students had a better idea for a more durable line elsewhere. They used blue paint this time, and progressed along Stroudley Walk putting out branches to various features along the way. A 'postcard' branch to the post office, a 'market' branch to the fruit & veg stall, that sort of thing, adding a little complexity to the project. But the local populace were unmoved. They walked straight through the area as normal, especially the adults, even the kids, I suspect because nobody quite understood what was going on.

Stroudley WalkBut the students had one last trick to encourage audience interaction. They'd brought along several simple 'added extras', all painted the same shade of vibrant blue, and dumped them liberally all over the square. A blue bookcase, with free books to take away. Four blue deckchairs under a blue umbrella. A blue dining table, plus seating. A blue noughts and crosses board with blue counters. Two billowing blue curtains with a gap inbetween labelled 'theater'. A square of blue chipboard (with a hole in it) dropped over a bollard to create a makeshift table. And lots of stumpy wooden trunks, painted blue, clustered to create areas of temporary seating. Success.

Local residents paused, and stopped, and lingered. A bunch of teenagers sat around on the blue tree trunks and chatted. The lady from the dry cleaners rested on some blue wood while she had a fag. Merry lager-drinkers settled at the blue table to lap up beer and sunshine. The theatre remained empty, from what I saw, because that was probably culturally over-adventurous for round here. But it was great to see the area temporarily transformed into "a place accommodating social interaction." It's taken a bunch of Austrian students to point out that Stroudley Walk lacks a beating heart, and that communal renaissance could be kickstarted by something as simple as a few cheap benches and a bit of imagination.

Loopzilla's Walk The Line Flickr photoset
Plans to revitalise Stroudley Walk (i.e. build more homes and a new tower block)
The London Festival of Architecture concludes this weekend (at Bankside Urban Forest)

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