11 January 2011

Review: Isolative Urbanism

Isolative Urbanism: An Ecology of Control is a collection of essays from tutors and students of the BArch [Re_Map] Unit at Manchester School of Architecture. The unit, as its name may suggest, concerns itself with the mapping of the contemporary city, through analysing existing data, networks and how space is demarcated. Each of the essays presented deals with the resulting relationship between existing “urban conditions and space, public and private.” Within this framework the editors, Richard Brook and Nick Dunn, have seen fit to divide the essays into three categories: Policy, Utopia and Globalisation.

Isolative Urbanism: An Ecology of Control (Bauprint, 2009)

The introductory text, written by Brook and Dunn, aims to set the scene for the proceeding essays with a series of short sections that take the reader from the “notion of fragmentation” between art and architecture in the 1920s and 1930s through to Venturi’s description of the “decorated shed” and on to Paul Virilio’s musings on modern warfare. From this starting point it is clear that the following essays will deal with a myriad of challenging and complex issues. Each text is further contextualised by the placing of these theoretical studies within a setting, Barrow-in-Furness, the second largest town in Cumbria and a place referred to as a ‘30-mile cul-de-sac.’

Each essay provides the backdrop to an architectural solution that in most cases seeks to re-imagine or renew Barrow-in-Furness but without using the expected or clichéd methods that have become the norm in UK (and global) architectural policy for urban environments. These fresh perspectives often challenge the convention of established systems that have been backed by traditional capitalist ideologies and range from Grant Erskine’s proposal to remove all automobile-based transport from the town (with a 25,000 space car-park on the town’s periphery) to Ben Paterson’s plans to transform Barrow-in-Furness into a leading world port town.

At first glance these proposals may appear whimsical and far fetched but on reading the essay’s the argument behind each becomes clear and lends to them a certain credibility, a credibility strengthened by the depth of research. The essays do not go on to describe in depth the proposals, that is left to a double-page spread of greyscale images that tease at the possibilities presented but perhaps ultimately leave you wanting more. Nevertheless the rationale behind each provides a springboard for further debate on how the UK can be re-imagined in the 21st Century after a decade which has seen the rapid technological growth of the late 20C continue. The architectural world has been slow to catch up with the rapid changes in the structure of 'modern' society. What makes this brand of innovation proposed by the [Re-map] students so original is that they are neither dreams of an apocalyptic future nor are they unbuildable utopias, instead they sit in the playful realm of 'that's buildable' - if only we are brave enough to do so.