Writing Alexandra Palace: Plurivocity as a method of cultural recovery of buildings

This research examines how writing can be used to retrieve what a building has lost, the layers of its cultural significance, through creative and critical consideration of past uses and current possibilities, to aid in its cultural recovery and contribute to future use. It posits a new means of recovery through ‘writing the building’, and develops this method of architecture writing for use in practice, education and research, and as a tool in regeneration. Alexandra Palace is the case study (1873; rebuilt 1875, 1988; extensive redevelopment works by FCB Studios (2012–18).

The public spaces of the building are alive with users’ voices, and the polyvocal form mirrors this. ‘Plurivocity’ is part of an experimental approach to writing-as-methodology. As a method of writing the building, plurivocity is designed to respond to the building’s unique significance, to capture and represent different opinions and experiences, past or present, marginal or official. It is an imaginative method based on the factual; historiographical writing generated by the architecture in turn initiates and inspires critical, thematic and character-led writing.

Using materials from archival sources, interviews, site visits, observation and chance conversations, strands of writing respond to the building’s various iterations. This feedback mechanism is a crucial element in the plurivocal model, its subject as well as method. Instrumentalising writing like this is itself a form of reuse, and demonstrates how imaginative writing might contribute to programming and future uses of a building. Constructing a series of ‘characters’ brings more comprehensive sources into contention. Interviewees include those involved in the current refurbishment, along with volunteers and users, who are embedded into the category of makers of the building. The research and its outcome in writing practice establish a new form of architecture writing, suggesting and emulating the building’s multiple and particular layers, to create and occupy a new cultural and historical space.