Simon Baker speaks at Sheffield School of Architecture's Theory Forum.
The 2016 Theory Forum opened up the discussion of issues of local identity, global dependency, xenophobic and oppressive aspects of communities and limitations of public participation.
Is local identity, defined by the activity and animation in space brought about by the engagement of its citizens, the local community? If so how do we stimulate activities which anaesthetise the Mcdonaldisation of an area? Places with high degrees of rationalization which produce, ‘islands of the living dead’ (Ritzer 2003) or ‘voodoo cities’ (Harvey 1988). These over controlled sterile spaces offer standardised simulated or ‘inauthentic leisure’ and lifestyle experiences where participants are reduced to listless automated and unengaged beings; zombie places (Lashua 2015).
The presentation explored the above theoretical context as a starting point for a local project to provide a public convenience. An innocuous building, the toilet responds to a local need to provide facilities and stop antisocial behaviour. The project has the potential to subvert the expected by additionally providing a ‘neutral space’ of no use; similar to Tschumi’s ‘’House of the people’’. This programless space could potentially stimulate upheaval and challenge the context of singular controlled use of space forcing new occupancies and dialogues of participation.
The project creates a tension, resulting from the inherent challenge proposed by the architect of its client. How do you justify a space with no use? Is it right to give communities what they think they want? Do architects have a responsibility to challenge preconceived notions of stability for fear of perpetuating the status quo and boredom?