Monday, 11 April 2011

Peripheral Practices, AHRA Conference

The High Road in the Periphery – 

Architecture as Epistemology and Practical Knowledge
Here is a submission for the AHRA conference at Belfast - Peripheral Practices

This paper will explore the notion of periphery in architecture in two respects. First, it will use Tottenham Hale as a vehicle to investigate the constituents of urban periphery, both generic and particular. Second, through this process, the paper will reveal the methodological consequences of an approach that uses techniques from a range of peripheral disciplines.
In terms of both area and population, the peripheries of London are larger than the centre. Tottenham Hale is one of many suburbs that have developed gradually over time along a spider web of high roads, in this case the A10, which began as Ermine Street in Roman times, and is clearly visible on a1559 map of London. It represents a typicality of outer-urban condition, where there is some measure of self-support, but some activities still relate to the centre. Shopping, children’s education and many services are provided locally. 
The economic and social focus of Tottenham Hale is its connective arterial routes, such as the A10. Lefevbre argues that streets are by nature contradictory: They are a meeting place which animate and are animated by cafes, theatres etc., mediating between segregation. Playful, surprising, ‘disordered’ yet alive, as compared to the rest of urban fabric. Yet also they are superficial, relationships are alienating and movement is obligatory. The network is organized for and by consumption. This analysis  lacks specificity, and fails to to engage with ‘depth’ of the street: the A10 at Tottenham Hale exists in a state of reciprocal interdependency with the embodied activity and life in the surrounding streets and blocks.
“…the rural suburb becomes a busy and crowded town, with the peculiarity that the streets in the day-time are filled with women and children; and fortunes are made in local trade, or in local speculation.”
This study will investigate the history, institutional order, nature of high street, local depth, position in London and the relation of Tottenham Hale to the commercial centre; work that is already well underway as part of a wider research project about the A10. The method of investigation is a combination of data mapping, photographing, drawing and discussions. The work consists of both interprevitist and positivist aspects and this use of mixed methods reflects the complexity of the phenomena. The sources for hard data include National Statistics and Ordnance Survey mappings, and soft data is being collected informally through unstructured interviews by the author.
The paper aims to challenge neo-liberal interpretations of city as a ‘datascape’, where planning equals economic management. The theoretical framework is phenomenology, and interpretive planning theory - that knowledge has no objective existence, and is instead constituted through embodied interactive processes. Some theories, eg. Habermas’ ‘communicative rationality’ provide an understanding of political life, but divorces that understanding from the world of embodied things. In contrast, this project begins with the embodied conditions, explored through praxis, which will allow a dialogue between the different types of analyses from a range of disciplines.
By exploring the phenomena that comprise civic life at the periphery of London, the paper will demonstrate that context and praxis are both constituents of that which we call architecture. Architecture is therefore the horizon and the containment of peripheral disciplines of economics and sociology and the political and social life of society. It can and should bridge the gap between the language of existence in an embodied world, and a spoken language of ideas about ethical practice.

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