Thursday, 11 December 2003

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Tall buildings and social mix - more on Skyhouse More thoughts about Skyhouse, there's outline of an iSociety conference paper, Software for Skyscrapers with a call from Will Davies for info on any obscure case studies or research. Well here's a thorough think-piece which may not have been mentioned, J G Ballard's 1975 novel, (yes, possibly older than Will) High rise. Here are some tasters from the first few pages... "With its forty floors and thousand apartments, its supermarket and swimming-pools, bank and junior school - all in effect abandoned in the sky - the high-rise offered more than enough opportunities for violence and confrontation." "The massive scale of the glass and concrete architecture, and its striking position on a bend of the river [yes, it's set in London] sharply separated the development project from the run-down areas around it, decaying nineteenth-century terraced houses and empty factories already zoned for reclamation." "The two thousand tenants formed a virtually homogeneous collection of well-to-do professional people - lawyers, doctors, tax consultants, senior academics and advertising executives... By the usual financial and educational yardsticks they were probably closer to each other than the members of any conceivable social mix... The high-rise was a huge machine designed to serve... the individual in isolation." Plenty more where that came from. What it makes me wonder now is to what extent such a vision emanates from what we see as a largely american culture of individualism. The challenge that David Marks and Julia Barfield have taken on reflects, they told us, their own experiences of growing up in mixed tenure apartment blocks in Europe, characterised by ready acceptance of diverse others. It's almost as if the concept of Skyhouse is a question being asked of England, which way are we facing culturally - to Europe or to the USA? To make this vertical neighbourhood function both in itself and in relation to the surrounding community, will surely require the nurturing of a culture that places high value on social interaction and which recognises the public realm. Sounds like there's a role for community development then. Meanwhile, David Wilcox has suggested developing a game to surface some of the issues. Watch his Useful Games blog for any news on that.

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