After the Creative City: MRes RCA Architecture Exhibition Explores Culture in London

After the Creative City is an exhibition of collaborative research from seven MRes RCA Architecture Pathway students exploring the interrelationships between cultural planning, urban regeneration and cultural production. The research focuses on the London Borough of Haringey – considering the ways that culture is cultivated in four sites within close proximity: The Puebla Pasita Latin Market at Seven Sisters, the Bernie Grant Art Centre at Tottenham Green, the proposed Creative Enterprise Zone at Tottenham Hale and Markfield Road, and the New River Studios on Eade Road in Manor House.

‘The students worked to understand how the power, politics and language of culture is integral to city design and planning processes,’ explained Dr Adam Kaasa, Head of MRes RCA Architecture Pathway. ‘Their work shows the commitment of the MRes RCA Architecture programme to thinking architectural research as responsive to contemporary social and political questions at multiple scales – in this instance at the scale of the city and policy/academic rhetoric.’

Collectively the students were tasked to think about culture as infrastructure and the implications of this for design. The brief opened questions of culture as a concept, as history, as social and material practice, as planning, as inequality, as capital, and as politics. The project was led and defined by the students, with much of the work created and exhibited collaboratively. The exhibition showcased different approaches to research – blending traditional methods of academic research with those acquired through the group’s diverse practice backgrounds.

The exhibition took place in the café of New River Studios, an arts centre in a converted furniture warehouse in Manor House. Rather than presenting answers or conclusions – the exhibition focuses on innovative tools and methods for asking urgent questions of a complex urban site. Using multimedia methods, from video and sound to mapping, text and the dynamics of the exhibition space – they created an inclusive, playful and provocative display that made their research accessible to the broad range of communities and audiences that use the space.

The research on display maps the unquantifiable or less obvious manifestations of culture within the four sites. Approaches included visually studying architectural details and street façades, considering what can be understood through analysing these features from historic, economic and social angles. A video ‘Before the Creative City’ recorded everyday life on the streets in Seven Sisters, revealing the production and display of culture through the unfolding of micro-dramas and the surfacing of human interactions that are otherwise invisible or unnoticed.

Other displays focused on the language of policy that shapes the sites and attitudes towards culture. An analysis of the Mayor of London’s draft London Plan 2017, revealed how infrequently the word culture is used – which is perhaps surprising in the current environment when the loss of cultural infrastructure is a focus of political urgency in London.

An interactive display asked visitors to the exhibition to plot their daily commute on to a standard, objective map of London, which city planners might use. Post-it notes were placed on the opposite wall for visitors to record their thoughts or feelings about their commute, in order to situate the self and create a more subjective map of the city based on lived experience. This display revealed the potential of the exhibition as a dynamic way to obtain information as part of the research process.

After the Creative City demonstrates how the MRes RCA Architecture Pathway offers a unique environment in which to carry out self-initiated and self-guided group research. It is one of four pathways of MRes RCA, a programme that offers early-career research students the opportunity to develop and demonstrate mastery in the theory, methods and practice of research within an art and design environment.

‘MRes RCA Architecture students come from hugely diverse backgrounds, both within architecture – from conservation and heritage to commercial architecture practices, those interested in pursuing a PhD in academia, and those who have recently completed part one architecture – and other backgrounds including communication and media,’ Dr Kaasa explained. 

‘Everyone comes with their own questions from that base in practice. They already have a lot of experience and skills that aren’t incommensurate to academic research. The MRes at the RCA helps students hone and practice those skills and introduces them to new ways of thinking from inside and outside the discipline. The core of the programme emphasises the politics and social processes of architecture, both through collaborative projects like this, and their individual research projects which they will present in September.’

Find out more about MRes RCA Architecture and how to apply.

MRes RCA Architecture Pathway Students 2018:

Xaviere Bouyer
Angiet Chen
Lavanya Kumaran
Paul Priest
Bat El Yossef Ravid
Anas Shrefahe
Caroline Ward