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Linear Greyhound Track, South Oxford Ring Road

Part 2 Project 1999
Joseph Morgan
Oxford Brookes University Oxford UK

LINEAR GREYHOUND TRACK, SOUTH OXFORD RING ROAD


Under pressure from decreasing gate receipts, increasing land prices, and an aggressive entertainment industry, the Dogs are in decline. Despite the incredible speed and excitement of the sport, plus the support of a population of dog fanciers and hardened gamblers, the sport of greyhound racing is in need of an overhaul; one that will combine the most exciting aspects of the Dogs with sophisticated new recording and televisual techniques.

Proposed for a site on the South Oxford Ring Road, this scheme points a satirical finger at the social and political taboos of urban lifestyles, while also offering a critical and evolutionary response to the future of the sport in the UK. We live increasingly in a world of consumption, and thus the project responds to this condition. The spectator is made all important throughout, whether they are standing at the track-side, or drinking in the 'Mussel' bar, or even placing a bet by mobile phone as they drive past in their car.

As well as allowing various degrees of participation, the project aims to advertise the Dogs by opening it up to the public gaze. The track is unravelled along the wasteland that lies adjacent to the urban motorway, and the design also introduces LCD displays and a huge 450m x 7m high projection screen which runs the full length of the track along the roadside. The scheme turns greyhound racing into an urban spectacle, and in doing so engages a much larger and more culturally diverse crowd with the world of the Dogs. By providing a strong sculptural element along an otherwise dreary stretch of motorway, the project creates a new type of social generator, and metaphorically bridges the existing gap between the wealthy city of Oxford and the disadvantaged suburb of the Blackbird Leys estate.


Joseph Morgan


LINEAR GREYHOUND TRACK, SOUTH OXFORD RING ROAD

Joe Morgan's project is one of those student schemes that really ought to be built. If it were, it would be magnetic. For what Joe has done is to combine a dramatic new building typology with a subtle piece of social criticism.

Joe comes from a working-class background in Manchester, and when he came to do his Diploma in Oxford, he was amazed by the rigid social segregation that exists in the city. So when we set him a project to investigate the social potential of sports architecture, he decided to take on the issue of greyhound racing in Oxford.

What Joe discovered was highly disturbing. The only Dog track in the city is to be found on the infamous Blackbird Leys Estate, located on the 'wrong' side of the South Oxford Ring Road. Not only is Blackbird Leys a chronic 'sink' estate in a city of great affluence, it is also in physical terms a virtual ghetto which is accessible only by one sad bridge over the dividing motorway. The sense of the estate being an encampment is reinforced by the social conditions of the dilapidated Dog stadium buried defensively in the heart of the ghetto.

Joe's design strategy was simple and brilliant. He decided to take the Dogs away from the artificality of the stadium layout, which is a truly nonsensical form, since the greyhounds crash into each other as they career round the corners, frequently spoiling the result of the race. Joe has instead proposed an undulating linear track that returns the sport to its roots in hare-coursing. He has kept the new track close to its constituency on the Blackbird Leys Estate, but has provocatively sited it along the posher side of the Ring Road. A few elements then jut out over the road from the Blackbird Leys side, in order to connect the whole design together.

What the scheme does is to transform greyhound racing into an urban event. As the dogs race along, they are tracked by a TV camera and a light projector which throws their shadows onto a long screen which abuts the road. Passing car-users thus become visually involved in the race, opening the sport up to different social groups. For the punters who sit in the betting area on in the restaurant/bar, they will continue as at present to watch the races on TV screens. But then, just as the dogs approach the finish line, they suddenly flash into the view of the spectators, blending the physical and the virtual worlds. Joe's architectural design is bold and totally innovative, and his drawings are powerful, large, and anything but prissy. What more could one want ?




1999
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