Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Heads of regeneration

I stumbled across this huge semi-submerged head of Alfred Hitchcock while flaneuring around London last week. It's at the centre of the redeveloped Gainsborough Studios, just on the Hackney side of the canal off New North Road, where the great sadist made many of his early pictures.

When I lived in London, I lived for a while in a flat just the other side of Shoreditch Park. The old studios were, then, derelict - an empty but imposing complex of 1920s brick sheds, still steeped in character. I thought I had some decent pics of them from back then, but this is the best I can find -

It was a bit of a shock to see what they'd become. I knew the site was up for redevelopment, but assumed that they'd be keeping some vestige of the old brick studios. But it's another bit of history and atmosphere that's been lost - big sculptural head aside, the flats themselves could be anywhere, by a canal in Leeds or Manchester, or maybe Oslo or Barcelona (except they probably wouldn't cost quite as much anywhere else).

Still, such nostaligia is probably anathema to the spirit of the excellent Future Cities exhibition at the Barbican, at which I arrived after a few detours via Bunhill Fields and St Mary Ax. This takes in everything from Debord's first psychogeographique maps of Paris, through Archigram and Koolhaas, to Will Alsop's vision of Barnsley as a Tuscan hill village. (And speaking of Yorkshire reinventions, Urban Splash's previously discussed proposals for regenerating Sheffield's infamous Park Hill flats have finally been approved by the council.)

I then met with the brilliant writer Iain Sinclair for an interview, primarily about the influence of JG Ballard on his own work, but also taking in such concerns about architecture and place, the subject of his upcoming London: City of Disappearances. The full interview will be appearing shortly at Ballardian.com, but as a taster, here's Sinclair's thoughts on regenerations such as the Gainsborough's:
"The whole of the canal has undergone this Ballardian process, whereby all the warehouses have been turned into loft living for City folk. It is actually a city, it's a water city even though the canal is decaying into a drought-like condition, undergoing hideous transformations and being choked with weed, but along it is somewhere that is nowhere."

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