Friday, 23 October 2015

Utopia on Trial

Next month, I shall be at the event below, talking about how postwar council estates were set up to fail because they were 'utopian':

Utopias! Experiments in perfection conference, 12 November, Letchworth Garden City

The 2015 Conference of the University of Hertfordshire's Social Science, Arts and Humanities Research Institute (SSAHRI)

Spirella Ballroom
Bridge Road, Letchworth Garden City, Hertfordshire, SG6 4ET
10.30am-5pm, 12th November 2015
(followed by a public lecture and reception)

This year's SSAHRI conference, organised by colleagues at the University of Hertfordshire and the University of Lincoln, and very kindly supported by the Letchworth Garden City Heritage Foundation, is on the theme of utopias.

It is very appropriate that the conference will be taking place in Letchworth, the world's first Garden City – and one of the first practical experiments in Utopianism. The conference is exploring the concept of Utopia – we will be looking at utopias from all sorts of angles: social, economic, educational, environmental, literary, cultural, aesthetic and philosophical to name a few.

The conference Keynote speech will be delivered by distinguished architectural historian of the 20th century, Professor Alan Powers. In other plenary and panel sessions we expect to range across some diverse and fascinating utopian themes including utopian politics, ideas about "The Ideal City"; Utopian visionaries; the way Utopia has been expressed in Garden Cities, New Towns and planned estates in the UK; how Utopianism has sometimes shaded into 'dystopia'; Utopianism as a social and economic vision for the future; and literary visions of Utopia.

Free. All welcome.


PROGRAMME – 12 November 2015

Tea/coffee/biscuits/fruit from 9.30am

Morning sessions chair: Professor Jonathan Morris

Session 1: Situating utopias 
10.30 Welcome - John Lewis LHF 
10.40 Introduction to SSAHRI conference - Professor John Senior, UH 
10.45 Keynote lecture – Professor Alan Powers - Milton Keynes or Civilia? Real and imagined utopia of the Pop period 
11.35 Q and A with speaker 

Session 2: Exploring utopian places - design, planning and architecture 
11.45 Mr. David Ames, LHF: Letchworth - the first garden city utopia? 
12.00 Dr. Daniel Marques Sampaio: Canary Wharf and Greenwich Peninsula: Reflections on the Utopias of Turbo Capitalism 
12.15 Dr. Paul Cureton: Garden City Utopias & Everyday Life: exploring the spatial accessibility of Welwyn Garden City 
12.30 Eva Sopeoglou: Utopia 'outside': exploring architectural approaches 
12.45 Dr. Susan Parham: Utopias, food and the radical tradition 
13.00 Dr. Ian Waites: A paradise, what an idea! The postwar council estate and 'Utopia' 

13.15 Buffet lunch

Afternoon sessions chair: Dr Steven Adams 

Session 3: Considering utopian ideas - health, place, work, gender and beyond 
14.00 Dr. Pat Simpson: Prince Peter Kropotkin: Anarchism, eugenics and the utopian ideal of Letchworth Garden City 
14.15 Dr. Steve Shelley: Multiple Utopias when exploring the future of work and the environment 
14.30 Professor Ursula Huws: When Adam blogs: Cultural work and the gender division of labour in Utopia 
14.45 Dr. Marta Rabikowska: Community Utopia and Agonism: The role of multiplicity and embodiment in building community relations in a context of participatory arts in superdiverse community 
15.00 Dr. Chamu Kuppuswamy: Urban Commons: Utopian idea or the future? 
15.15 Q and A 

15.40 Afternoon tea

Session 4: Part A: Investigating the utopian imagination 
16.00 Alex Anthony-Lewczuk: Re-evaluating DUNE – Ecological and Theological Dystopias? 
16.15 Dr. Neil Maycroft: Never mind my jet-pack, where's my four-legged chicken? 

16.30 Part B: Facilitated discussion between panelists and participants 
(ranging across ideas from the whole day, facilitated by Steven Adams)

17.15 Drinks and exhibition

Evening session chair: Professor Matthew Cragoe, UL 
18.00 Introduction by Matthew Cragoe 
18.05 Public lecture - Professor Carenza Lewis 
Brave new world or toil and trouble? The long view of new towns 
19.00 Q and A 

19.30 Close

Saturday, 10 October 2015

Council estate palimpsest projected

One of the earliest posts on this blog, entitled The Revised Plan took to task a fairly commonplace idea that slum clearances and the re-housing of families in new council estates back in the 1950s and 60s represented little more than a postwar piece of cultural colonization: a vision forged by one section of society to be applied to another, where planners 'uprooted' old, 'cohesive' working class communities and placed them in a take it or leave it house within a new estate on the distant edge of town. This alien, modernist world apparently precluded any hope of ‘spontaneous estate evolution’. At the time, I argued that my parents at that time just wanted a good house in a nice part of town like anyone else, private or public, and I doubted that my Mum (or anyone else on the estate in 'the sixties' for that matter) ever secretly thought about creating an estate ‘happening’ over a cup of tea. 

But now, here I am, the errant, who-would've-thought-it, academic offspring of the condescended - culturally colonising the estate myself by helping to create, in artistic speak, a 'transformative intervention', a 'happening' even, as part of the Back to the Future 1965-2015-2016 project mentioned in previous recent posts. Last night, the second stage of the project - Sharing - took place, where Kate, Steve and I put on a show for the Middlefield Lane estate residents, of images of the place where they live, writ large and projected onto the estate itself.  And the residents (well, some - maybe twenty kids and fifteen adults) came to look on at themselves. They seemed to appreciate the spectacle and took lots of photos of the projections, and of their children as they leapt about in front of the images and became absorbed into the summer-long-since-passed representations of themselves. Perhaps we should have done a qualitative feedback questionnaire for everyone to fill in, but where's the fun in that? It was certainly spectacular enough, and often quite breathtakingly beautiful, as I hope the photos below demonstrate. Again, if it just creates a memory that will remain with the children there even as they begin to later forget all the other things about growing up on the estate, then I'll be happy.

Friday, 2 October 2015

Back to the Future 2: Sharing

Last Wednesday, on another beautiful end-of-September morning, I was on the Middlefield Lane estate putting up posters to advertise the next stage of the Back to the Future project. On Friday 9 October, at 7pm, I'll be there again, along with Kate Genever, Steve Pool and the LOV team. After our 3 day visit to the estate in the summer we made a film which we plan to share with the residents as a large-scale projection onto the gable ends of the houses there. We're also showing some wonderful drone aerial footage of the estate so that people can play 'spot our house', and we also plan to hook up a Playstation to the projector so that the kids (young and old) there can play FIFA on a huge scale. Bearing in mind that I can barely get Mario from one stage to another, it should be fun.