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Living Infrastucture: the Vital Occupation of Non-Places Under London's Westway

Part 1 Dissertation 2009
Giles Smith
University of Cambridge | UK
Inspired by the Ballardian conflict between automobile infrastructure and the non places that co-exist with them; this dissertation concerns itself with the Westway, an elevated motorway in West London. In particular it is concerned with the ways in which, historically and contemporarily, this road has been able to interact with its social and urban situation.

After briefly describing the elevated motorway’s lineage, the piece begins by asking how society’s notions of automobility, mobility and space have developed since the Modern era, particularly how the car and its associated trappings have permeated our notions of space, and the city. It then sets these understandings of city, place, and automobility against an analytical study of the various functions housed under the elevation of the Westway, and questions how it is that these spaces have become so surpris¬ingly vital. This part of the dissertation merges more architectural means of investigation and traditional means of enquiry. It expresses the research on the contemporary status of the road as a series of diagrams, annotated with photographs of the area.

The work follows with the three major factors that contribute to the positive effects of the Westway’s intrusion: its elevation, the community’s involvement in the form the Westway Trust (previously the North Kensington Amenity Trust), and the cut that it made through North Kensington. As well as these more particular issues, I consider the more general influence of the changing nature of the city and the way in which we regard it. Finally, we reconsider the Westway against the initial exploration of urban mobility and contemporary space, and ask, is it a model for future development?

This is a paper that concerns itself with an increasingly automobile society’s relationship to infrastructure. It analyses our ability to adapt to the way in which cars have changed our cities; questions the received perception that roads like the Westway simply damage urban fabric; and considers how these roads might actually benefit their social and urban context.

Giles Smith

Giles Smith has reassessed the common perception that inner city motorways irremediably alter and destroy the urban fabric by researching the state of London’s Westway today, 40 years after it was built. It is an innovative piece of thinking for which Giles has been curious, open and thoughtful. He has carried out a careful micro-study of how the city heals its wounds, transforming itself according to the changing requirements of place and the passage of time. In order to do so, and to avoid the tedium of long descriptive passages, he has experimented with a form of captioned drawing that easily transports the reader along the motorway’s underbelly, underlining the longitudinal aspect of the site itself. The dissertation makes a real contribution both to understanding how cities are inherently robust and to ways in which architects can present visual material in textual fashion. It is an unusually mature piece of work, demonstrating undergraduate architectural research and presentation at its very highest.

Dr Wendy Pullan
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