The places and spaces around us are shaped by the communities and people who live, work and visit there. In this latest Monologue, Joe Worrall, Senior Architect at JTP, discusses our participation in the 2021 Open House London Festival and the sense of belonging and pride that people feel as they embrace their local neighbourhood and everything it entails.
In September, we opened the doors of our award-winning studio at Pennington Street Warehouse to the public for the first time since we moved into the neighbourhood of Wapping in 2019. Open House Festival is a wonderful programme that enables people from all walks of life to be given access to buildings they otherwise wouldn’t see and are able to appreciate the effort and resources that have gone into creating these special spaces.
For us, the pride in our retrofit of a 200-year-old warehouse still burns passionately. Mankind is producing more than ever before. In 2020, man-made materials exceeded the mass of all living things for the first time. There is now twice as much plastic on the planet as animals, and more concrete, bricks and asphalt than trees and shrubs. The built-environment industry is in dire need of revolution and adaptive and creative reuse of existing structures is more relevant today than it has ever been. The opportunity to fly the flag for retrofit is an important one.
Through London’s Open House Festival, we were able to share our space with those who came to visit, some from near and some, with considerable effort, from afar. It was a joy for us to welcome people into our space and while we were able to communicate our knowledge of the process, choices and decisions we had gone through during the design process of our new studio, when it came to some topics of conversation, we were students as much as teachers.
As the day progressed, we each expressed our surprise at the level of interest and passion that all our guests had in the history of the building, the site, and the local area – their local area for many. Our tours included an introduction to the London Dock, the bonded warehouse’s role as a perimeter defence to stop thievery and pillaging, the lack of openings existing to the north as the arches were sealed as the final brick passed through and how use of the dock dwindled as the deeper waters further east became more attractive for the ships that got larger, wider, and heavier. Many remembered the inhabitation of London Dock by News International in 1986, who showed the historic building little respect, the building fabric battered over time, as the Printers Riots occurred outside what is now our front door.
Conversations were triggered by the gridded masterplan of the former ‘accommodation for the lowest of working classes’ in the heart of Wapping, the Compulsory Purchase Order (CPO) plan for the creation of the London Dock, and the introduction of Pennington Street, preceding even Tower Bridge. Our audience were captivated by the evolution of Wapping and the London Dock, as in my cases these provided the backdrop to lives played out in the local area.
Throughout it all a sense of pride was emitted from the local audience with a real sense of affiliation to the area, almost a sense of ‘ownership’ of its history. Did we know about the Pickled Herring Stairs, Captain Kidd and Daniel Alexander? We knew some but there was more to learn. Offers of tours came from knowledgeable and proud residents of Wapping.
Communities are defined by their shared history and the pride in their origins instils a sense of belonging which is reflected in the streetscape and everyday life in that area. A pattern of a place can emerge – daily behaviours and activities that give it a unique character and could only exist in that one place. These are the little routines of a neighbourhood that make it special and can get passed down from generation to generation, ensuring the longevity and permanence of a place.
It was a pleasure to witness the passion of the local community first-hand and reinforces what we already knew, that creating, or reinforcing, a sense of place and a strong local identity should be at the forefront of our thoughts at all times. Placemaking is engrained in JTP’s ethos, and here was personal experience of why we do it and what it means to those who experience it.