The charrette for Peckham’s regeneration was organised by Southwark Council , Architects Journal, and Philips and was exhibited at the Architecture Foundation in April. Six architectural practices collaborated with six light specialists, in order to come up with interventions for different sites within Peckham that combined would improve the area attempting not to interfere with the local colour described as ‘Peckhamness’. The event had a very strict one-day deadline and more importantly all computers were banned. For me that was the most intriguing part of the process, as architects would not be able to rely on technology, their most valuable tool, to dazzle the judges. However I was also rather sceptical due to the participation of Philips in the charrette.
The reason is that I am naturally suspicious of the involvement of any multinational corporation to an event that is supposed to help a community. More often than not, companies use the humanitarian agenda of such a project as the perfect opportunity to advertise the ‘benevolent’ nature of their public face but it is common knowledge that they are mainly trying to expand and earn more money.
Philips in particular has initiated the ‘Liveable Cities’ program which basically promotes the idea that underprivileged parts of cities can ‘easily become beautiful and secure places through the use of high quality lights’. I am tempted to stop writing this article right here, because of the obvious absurdity of this statement. The fact that serious social problems that should be addressed in order to improve any problematic part of any city, can be ‘easily’ blinded in a dear-in-headlights manner is infuriating.
However I will continue because I believe that there is more to be said about the voluntary blindness that most participants have demonstrated towards the problems that Peckham might have and obviously to the way that architecture might be able to help or even more arrogantly, solve them.
Looking at the entries, one can say that there was a rather wide range of proposals that evolve a rearrangement of uses for existing buildings, redesigning public spaces and finding ways to connect them in a more efficient way. However there were also truly irrelevant proposals like building a cinema, a spa (!), a hotel (that apparently would bring more tourists to visit the area (!) and to my opinion the most irrelevant, one of the participants took the time to design a proper building by hand (featuring Philips lights of course) that could be a new landmark for Peckham. Naturally it was not mentioned what was the proposed use for the building. I guess that any new building, colourfully and brightly lit could act as a landmark regardless of its social context or program.
Weirdly for me the only proposal that stood out and seemed to have some interest was that of Dunkan Morris that agreed not to come up with a finished architectural drawing because there was not enough time for that. The participants focused on analysing the information they had about the area and submitted a few colourful plans that did not aspire to be anything more than a work-in-progress. Their entry caught my eye also because the architects that created it said that they live in Peckham and in my opinion an actual inhabitant of an area would be more qualified to identify and address its urban issues and the way that they went about their presentations proved that.
To conclude, I do believe that some interesting ideas might have emerged because of the charrette. I am not sure if they will ever be materialised or even taken into account, if and when any ‘regeneration’ of Peckham -whatever that means- will start. Unfortunately I am afraid that this whole event was an opportunity for the architects to sharpen their pencils and wits while quieting their consciences by naively believing they are offering a humanitarian service while a multinational company was finding new ways to become wealthier.
All participants work for the Peckham Charrette was presented at an exhibition at the Architecture Foundation information here
See the video that was projected at the exhibition here
Information on Philips liveable program here
Images were taken from the special issue of AJ distributed at the exhibition