The occupy movement in London has recently squatted vacant interconnected buildings in the city of London owned by the RBS bank. They are transforming this space from a disused fragment of the city to a contested territory with spatial connotations and possibilities. The occupy movement in this act, has in some way started to address the burning issue of rapidly disappearing public space, and as such beg the question ‘what happens to space when it loses its commercial value and thus becomes a redundant disused vessel?’
The loss of the industrial and manufacturing sectors in neo-liberal societies has led to the re-categorisation of these spaces as viable generators of capital; redevelopment of large swaths of land which used to be nationally owned and public in their legal remit become privately owned managed and invested. But with privatisation also came globalisation and free market systems of exchange. Under this new era of privatization which took place over the preceding 40 years few landscapes have been capable of maintaining their commercially viable status amongst the competing global forces. As such, the land stock of disused private land has risen to gargantuan proportions as booms and busts in commercial sectors have rendered landscapes, communities and infrastructures redundant.
This leaves us with a dilemma created by these failed myopic developments, built to respond to the demands of a particular market requirement who soon found themselves unable or unwilling to be transformed by developers with the finances to do so. This shortfall should lead us to question the potential role of alternative modes of production. How can these spaces be re-energised; can these developments become multi-use, multi-disciplined communal hubs? Can they grow an economic, social, cultural and spatial landscape with embedded sustainability?
The current climate of development does not prohibit developments of this nature. Particularly in existing urban conditions where land cost is economically high, the inevitable temptation is to streamline creativity to create revenue. Developments therefore become short-sighted in their remit and their value and ability to evolve with the requirements of the users and city. For us to truly create sustainable building models we will need to look again at the idea of production.
Re-appropriation of these redundant spaces at differential scales allows for a discussion about these possibilities… these spaces are lost spaces which we must aim to reclaim if we wish to re-educate ourselves on their active role within the city.
This article was written in 2012 and as such is written in the context of the social and political conditions of the time