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The Performance of Forgotten space

Part 2 Project 2009
Ryan Butterfield
Simon Mellor
Kingston University, UK
Croydon has suffered from years of ad-hoc commercial building that result in a complex and uneasy tension of overlapping building stock and building types. On a micro scale, buildings have been altered to suit the needs of the owners with no thought for future tenants. These alterations have been undertaken without a sense of the impact of incremental change. On a macro scale, a succession of masterplans have come forward, each aimed at fixing the errors of its predecessor and each based on instantly outdated commercial analysis. This process, coupled with expedient land transfers, has resulted in an unhealthy amount of disused, landlocked and derelict service spaces and back alleys. These spaces now pose a ‘moral hazard’ – spaces that are abused or undesirable.

Using a pragmatic approach we created an intervention which was flexible, low cost and respectful to the existing character of the place, only removing what was necessary to provide a viable and appropriate communal music hall.

We applied these principles at a larger scale, considering the forgotten service spaces of Croydon, the left over pockets from the retail expansion of the town. The inherent charm and character of collaged brickwork, the blending of new and old constructions and the apparent juxtaposition of scales of development became a language which spoke of the same larger urban condition.

The main intervention proposes a gathering of public music spaces, tailored to the varying needs of the community and Croydon’s position as a regional centre of greater London. The scheme stitches into the existing fabric of the town centre, bridging between the extremes of traditional high street and modern shopping centre. New public courtyards are defined in the existing ‘backspace’ condition, the placement of a 600 seat auditorium arranges other smaller venues and public passages in this previously under-used place.

The existing backspace characteristics have been left exposed with new extensions and buildings creating a dialogue of changing uses and new interpretations. The entirely brickwork auditorium offers unexpected richness behind the retail frontages of Croydon, to engage the public with the festive possibilities of live music.
Ryan Butterfield & Simon Mellor

Ryan Butterfield
Simon Mellor

This project suggests ways that Croydon’s backyards and back alleys could be put to more ambitious public and festive uses. Their starting point was an exhaustive and relentless, investigation and description of ‘fronts’ and ‘backs’. Croydon is full of shops engaged in an ‘arms race’ of newness to attract ever greater market share. As the shopfronts and interiors become more and more exciting and heavily serviced the supporting service yards fill up with fire escapes, air-conditioning plant and overflowing rubbish sacks. Through drawing, Ryan and Simon came to understand this situation and were motivated to propose more public and more sustainable uses.

The project aims to connect High Street to Shopping Mall by appropriating a number of existing shops and their backyards. The yards are infilled and closed up to make a more complex urbanism of interiors, covered ways, undercrofts and roofs. Found interiors coexist with new rooms and suggest a range of public performance, rehearsal and support spaces that engage a new and more complex three-dimensional public realm. The project draws on urban precedents in Glasgow and Milan and eschews an easy distinction between new and old or between front and back. As a result an unexpected range of mysterious and memorable spaces come into being. These range from a dance studio in the roof, a hidden brick auditorium and a three storey foyer squeezed elaborately beneath a pavement.

The project avoids wholesale demolition or alteration and treats Croydon like a neglected garden that needs a little pruning to help it flourish. The project is economical in every sense – financially viable, intellectually lean and scrupulous in terms of energy use. The approach of the students successfully retains the informal character of the backspace as a type whilst giving it a new and vital public identity. They have suggested an architecture that will become more common as the bulldozer economy seizes up.

Mr Christian Frost

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