Author: Tadeáš Říha
Site location: Walworth, Southwark, south London.
Year : 2015
Institution: Delft University of Technology
Heygate estate does not exist anymore. In the past months it has tuner from a ruin into a void. With my project I aim to utilize this temporarily open condition as an opportunity to ascribe a last, fictional layer to the complex story of this demolished housing scheme. A layer that resurrects the modernist dream, but hopefully does more than that. A project that would reconcile the utopian modernist past with the pragmatic developer’s future of this place.
There is space for both.
The revived housing utopia and the proposed shopping mall. What is necessary is a third, infrastructural element that would bring these worlds together while keeping them apart. An element that answers to the perfection of the first and disorder of the latter, one that allows them to interlock and function as a counter balance of one to another, as a remedy of one to the other. There comes a grid of walls.
The grid is at once a device of seclusion and connection. One year ago, before the demolition commenced, the entire site was completely isolated. One thousand housing units had been sealed off with a four meters fence, cameras and guards. This seclusion was an ironic conclusion to the concept from which the estate had emerged back in 1960s – a quite oasis within the busy metropolis. For the past 5 years it was quiet indeed. The ruinous present has confirmed the utopian past.
The tops of the grid recreate this perfect ‘utopian’ world. An enclosed, different universe, cut out from the rest of the city. Here the aesthetics of the raster chords with the abstract immensity of the ‘existing’ modernist slabs. Together they create a park.
Below there is a different universe. Through a series of exceptions and openings the perfect’ grid crumbles into a disordered labyrinthine environment of a shopping mall. A never-ending cross-enfilade of different rooms. This is the world of the demolisher/ developer Lend Lease. Shopping mall is my own critical interpretation of his project. I am however doing so without changing his proposed floor areas.
While the upper level is characterized by a deliberate discontinuity from the city, in the ground floor the grid is bound to the existing street structure which is, via the grid, extended to the interior.
The plan then unfolds around two perpendicular axis. The vertical one creates the actual ‘Mall’ of the shopping mall, with the ‘existing’ low blocks now serving as shops. The horizontal axis is a public connection ascribed with neutral programs that s(t)imulate publicness. A collection of rooms typical for a shopping mall such as Lobby, Foyer or a Showroom, defined by the spaces adjacent to them.
The Grid of walls is an infrastructural element. Despite its solid appearance its structure is steel and hollow, and inside all the installations can easily be accessed via a soft aerated concrete cladding.
This allows the actual body of the shopping mall, spaces beyond the axis, not to be designed. They are left unfinished. They stay open for appropriation and change by the tenants, who can easily attach their own design, claddings finishes and even partitions to the services installations in the walls.
In contrast to these ‘open’ squares, the spaces of the axis, courtyards and few strategic points are designed in a greater detail.
This project is not real nor realistic. Its site – The Old Heygate does not exist. But nor does the developer’s project, not yet. The past, imaginary and the future occupant of the site now exist only in images drawings and texts. This project is only full in a critical juxtaposition of all three.
Tadeáš Říha / http://tadeasriha.wix.com/tadeasriha / firstname.lastname@example.org