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Workhouse of the Infrastructural [Counter] Reformation

Part 2 Project 2009
Jordan Hodgson
Royal College of Art, UK
‘Inequality has reached Victorian levels’

'Britain has the lowest level of social mobility in the developed world.'

(July 2008 - Shadow Minster Chris Grayling)

By 2032 the chaotic urban conditions that once helped define Elephant and Castle have given rise to a cripplingly disenfranchised underclass. In this bleak landscape of proletariat discontent, might the British government revert back to Victorian modes of jurisdiction, whilst simultaneously providing an architectural placebo to soothe a nervous population?

Unprecedented levels of unemployment generated by the crash of 2008, combined with a paralysis of social mobility triggers the reinauguration of the once potent Workhouse typology. A re-branded Victorian-style workhouse, reminiscent of a lost empire, provides a sanctuary for adrift individuals and the crucial workforce required for a British industrial renaissance. The lost industries of the golden age are reawakened from decades of slumber and manifested in a glorified cathedral to the plebeians of Elephant and Castle.

Car manufacturing and living quarters are positioned uncomfortably adjacent to bureaucratic authority, with a constitution of rationality, efficiency and profit permeating throughout. A sprawling workhouse, providing a clear separation between its occupants and the population of Elephant and Castle at large, gradually inhabits the infrastructurally intensified cityscape. A language of sublime ornament and excess exerts a sense of authoritative power over the workers, but a gain in momentum sees the emergence of an architectural encrustation that quite literally embodies the paupers that it controls.

Jordan Hodgson

Through an original and exuberant formal range of spaces and decorative patterns, Jordan’s project provides a unique and timely translation of the implications that the current economic crisis might have on architecture.

His cautionary tale about a resurrected workhouse in the centre of Elephant and Castle materialises all the fears that the economic recession has brought onto our society in order to exorcise them. The brief elegantly couples the culture of local inhabitants and the eerie atmospheres evoked by workhouses.

Jordan was extremely imaginative in translating such a provoking brief into an actual set of spaces and programmes. The geometric complexity of the forms chosen was well mastered by constantly moving between physical and digital modelling. Rather than succumbing under the growing complexity of the proposal, his agility and skills allowed him to flourish.

This particularly manifested through the large range of individual objects populating the scheme: chandeliers, gates, dining tables all capture the familiar and yet disturbing quality of this resurrected workhouse.

Mr Roberto Bottazzi

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