Lockdown Sessions: A Shift in the Centre of Gravity

Partisan’s digital-only Lockdown Sessions are our way of mobilising and maintaining a co-operative approach to the coronavirus crisis, and addressing the current displacement of physical business.

Gravity means two things:

  • It is a force of attraction, and
  • It describes something of a serious nature.

Lockdown encompasses both these meanings, particularly regarding the built environment.

The notion of commuting into the city centre feels somehow distant, even after only a few weeks of lockdown. But it then raises questions about how valid this should be anyway.

Is it an opportunity to re-think where we work, and what our priorities are?

To some extent, this re-think will be forced upon some businesses anyway. Architectural practices, for example, will face a lengthy period of nurturing and bringing in new projects.

Some will need to adapt how they work, and, importantly, where they work from. But some practices may not survive.

Adaptability may also give rise to more lasting changes in how people view the environments they work in.

The love-hate relationship many of us have with the concept of the city is a long-established one.

Think of Fritz Lang’s 1927 film Metropolis. It presents the city as a gleaming, futuristic construct, but also exposes the misfortune of those condemned to work in it.

The city promises much in terms of opportunity, commerce and culture, but also involves the drudgery of commuting and an overcrowded sense of urgency.

Could a shift in the centre of gravity relieve this pressure while also helping to regenerate those surrounding areas that have, traditionally, lost out to the city’s centripetal force?

Creativity From the Outside In

The city attracts those who, somehow, wish to break into its promise of a better life, to swim in its powerful currents.

However, this is as much likely to birth frustration as satisfaction: for many people, the city is something that eludes them. They travel to and from it, and work within its boundaries, but they feel excluded from its promise of a better life.

Research has shown that in London, young key workers have to spend more than half of their pay on rent alone.

It is not surprising then, that often a new dynamism has come from hitherto neglected areas of the city.

However, there is a sense that the city always wins: as creatives colonise less desirable areas, these in turn become gentrified, pricing out the sort of people who made them attractive in the first place.

Are the outer edges therefore better positioned than the city itself to become the next frontier for creative development and regeneration?

Evolving the Thinking

Manchester’s city centre has had enormous regeneration, but possibly at the expense of the Greater Manchester region’s other centres.

What if the coronavirus lockdown can teach us valuable lessons about how interconnected we can still be without relying so heavily on the established centres of commerce and creativity?

The human race adapts to survive. We have already adapted, to some degree, to the challenge of COVID-19, but could this leave a more lasting legacy?

The Architecture of Participation

It is because people are largely confined to their own immediate surroundings that they are now having to be resourceful.

Many are discovering they do not need some notional permission to participate, to reach out remotely and stake their own claims to creativity.

The paradox is that at a time when we are physically isolated from each other, we are learning to participate, communicate and collaborate on our own terms.

This is the architecture of participation, and it offers a valuable foundation for community-based regeneration and a locally-led cultural resurgence.

The gravity of the situation is clear, but the real challenge ahead will be to build something fresh out of it, and not simply fall back on familiar ideas about the role of the city and how we interact with it.

Thanks to Our Guests

Sarie Mairs Slee, Head of Salford’s Culture and Place Partnership
John McGrath, Artistic Director & Chief Executive of MIF
Martin Stockley, Stockley Partnerships & Deputy Chair HS2 Design Panel
Nick Moss, Sixtwo Architects & President of MSA

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