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Ville Surrealiste

Part 2 Project 2010
Elizabeth Lambert
University for the Creative Arts | UK
Strood, once part of Medway’s booming Industrial urban landscape, has slipped into redundancy. The Medway Renaissance drive replaces evidence of Strood’s past with an undifferentiated landscape of housing.

Proposed by Marcel Jean, the title ‘Ville Surrealiste’, suggests a critique of the town through the Surrealist lens. Hal Foster, in Compulsive Beauty, discusses the ‘lost object’ and the ‘uncanny’, themes concerned with memory. It is through duel nature proposals, which ‘make strange’ the homely and the militaristic, that Strood may rediscover its past.

Poppy seeds are scattered over the site announcing change. When the ground is disturbed, flowers reappear in spring and autumn. No soldiers have died here, yet the site temporally appears to become a war memorial. This beautiful red landscape creates a disjunction between suggested meaning and historical evidence.

Just off the bank of the River Medway, adjacent to the site, is a U457 Submarine. Dragged from here, gauging out a mark as it goes, it becomes a Museum on a residential street. An attraction, as well as a provocation, about the past of the town, it takes on the peculiar, ‘lost in time’ character that ‘lost objects’ have.

The German “Kursaal”, translates as “Cure Hall”. The former railway shed now hosts Bingo nights, a reference to the area’s Vernacular heritage.

The Bunker refers to the domestic and militaristic. Dotted around like pillboxes, these ‘Soft’ forms, are created independently of programme. Spatially they suggest complete occupation, but are able, due to their permanence, to be rediscovered over time.

Each proposal has a different temporal logic; how they arrive on the site and are programmed. In addressing the site’s future, a layer of Gardens becomes a code for future developments which when claimed present a strange moment. Knitted mesh is proposed as an ‘open’ spatial divider; it is the making strange of ‘homely’ lace curtains.

The proposals act as a cost-effective means, by which the area can become re-animated. This way of intervening confronts people with their own past, through the return of familiar things made strange in an invented, dramatised past, impacting the future development of Strood.

Elizabeth Lambert

A Soviet submarine stuffed into Strood’s dilapidated terraces is itself stuffed with stuffed animals. Welcome to the Ville Surrealiste. In my experience, it is a rare piece of Diploma work which, developed over the span of an academic year can exhibit a high level of intellectual ambition married to an equivalent consistency in both approach and realisation. Beth’s thesis has demonstrably achieved this. In terms of material process and development, she has pursued diverse lines of enquiry from craft activities - knitting, casting and hand drawing, to sophisticated detournement exercises convincing the visitors to her public exhibition that the proposals set out had already gained planning approval from Medway Council.

Principally working through drawings which combine elements of collage, mechanical drafting, photography and digital manipulation, pieces have developed slowly and are utilised as sites of protracted investigation as much as modes of representation. Animated by extensive background research in the history and demographics of the area married to close reading of key commentators on Surrealist theory and practice Beth has made a compelling and clear proposal which, unusually for a student submission addresses both the inevitability of change and the reality that to have any real potency, architectural proposals must address economic as much as physical landscapes.

Having understood her operating parameters, the synthetic abilities of her imagination to exceed the seemingly miserable extant conditions became paramount and it is in this regard that the project is most compelling: by directly addressing difficulty, taking on a large site in an unprepossessing location with an uncertain future and limited financial resources, the Ville Surrealiste can exist in the liminal conditions of decay and indifference which so often precede development, then co-exist and gently modify whatever is imposed, whether by the obstinate regrowth of Poppy fields, or the obdurate mass of the reinforced concrete ‘soft bunkers’.

Beth's thesis has a delicacy about it: pragmatic and thoughtful, she has used what might at first appear to be abstract theories and abstruse techniques to develop a suite of interventions which are at once provocative and sensitive to immanent social, historic and economic conditions.

Mr John Bell
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