The Elephant’s Artworks

The Heygate Estate, a brutalist building from the 1970s in the district of Elephant & Castle, was home to more than three thousand people until it was included, in 2014, in the ambitious regeneration project of the area which leads to the building’s demolition.
The Elephant & Castle Project, designed by the organisation Lend Lease in collaboration with the Council of Southwark aims to re-brand the district into a more human-sized, sustainable and desirable area to satisfy the ‘zone 1’ requisites.

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‘Elephant & Castle is a place where people just travel through; the program wants to make the area a place in which people want to stay. […] The 1960s architecture, the roundabouts and the unappealing subways are starting to be wiped away to create a new destination in which to live, work and play’ (35% Campaign, 2012 cited in Southwark Notes, 2013).

From the demolition of the Heygate Estate, an exciting hub of pop-up stores and start-ups called the Artworks had been launched in 2014.
Similarly to Shoreditch’s Boxpark, the c village, comprising of 39 brightly coloured shipping containers deriving from the former estate and arranged over three floors, includes a variety of amenities. By offering a low-cost business and retail space, the hub brings a good concentration of creative businesses and independent artists. ‘The aim is to provide not just an office but an entire ecosystem providing a destination and an experience that is flexible, collaborative and fun’ (The Artworks, 2015).

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The shipping containers at the Heygate Estate, witing to be plugged in. The Artworks, 2013

 

Fiona Colley, member for regeneration at Southwark Council, claimed: ‘The idea of the interim uses and creative projects in and around Elephant & Castle is to make sure that Walworth continues to thrive during substantial change, especially while the demolition and construction work takes place. Walworth is already a popular area for artists and students in the creative industries and is a hub for small businesses and independent retail. Artworks will provide temporary space for more of these types of business and support our drive to boost the local economy’ (Southwark Notes, 2013).

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The Artwork, 2014

Apparently exciting many are the contradictions concerning not only the Artworks project but also the whole regeneration program. The ‘regeneration’ of the Heygate Estate has brought, in fact, to the demolition of 1,200 council houses and the re-building of only 71 new ones. ‘With private rental being unaffordable for so many, it’s pretty head-smackingly obvious that regeneration, in this instance, means social cleansing’ (Hancox, 2014).

HAS THE WORD ‘ART’ IN IT SO MUST BE GOOD FOR YOU (Southwark Notes, 2013).

shipping-containeraddWhile the council keeps on claiming the benefits that the new ‘Boxpark’ will bring to the local community, the latter doesn’t seem to perceive them.

‘Here it is still not actually clear what ‘benefits‘ they are being to the area with this unexpanded statements’ (Southwark Notes, 2013).

The land on which the Artworks has been built was, in fact, a well-used green open space.

‘Artworks now seeks to open up a public space that was taken away from us to run what is essentially a private business that then pretends to provide or will provide minimal community uses’ (Southwark Notes, 2013).

Apparently not bringing any benefit to the former community, the initiative also doesn’t seem to contribute to the local creatives. The rental costs, around £180 per week for a 320sq ft container, bills not included, results in quite expensive considering also other areas already know to be much bigger creative cluster such as Shoreditch, Brixton, etc. Moreover, interesting is how, although being close to the London College of Communication, in a classroom of roughly 50 people including graphic designers, illustrators, design managers, etc., no one knew much about the Artwork project. Apparently serving neither the former estates’ communities nor the creatives, the Elephant & Castle regeneration scheme is a perfect example of the new trend of marketing cities, or districts, as creatives only for the private and lucrative purposes of business in the disadvantage of local communities.

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