MOB - A Relational Institution
The project is based on the supposed death of both Blackpool as a town and of the museum as a democratic institution. Challenging both assumptions, the project proposes an alternative approach to regeneration through conservation, based on a 'relational' architectural strategy through the proposal of an urbanised museum.
The proposal of an atomised cultural institution redefines the existing brief of a Council and Heritage Lottery funded museum on the history of Blackpool. The proposed alternative institution aims to challenge, at the same time, the typical museum's model approach to time and revenue and the current town's regeneration policies based mainly on tourism-based income from entertainment heritage buildings.
Blackpool is a British coastal town with a really prosperous past which at present is struggling to survive due to a situation of both social and economic stagnation. Once the most popular seaside resort for the British working-class, it is now considered one of most deprived areas of the whole of UK. The process of re-branding of Blackpool as capital of amusement is mirrored into the conservation efforts of heritage assets located on the coast and centre, where most listed buildings are.
The result of this is the city deploying funding and resources in its seaside heritage and in events which seems to neglect the rest of the town, including its present state of isolation and failing public infrastructure.
The project therefore aims to achieve, through architecture and legal planning tools, a constant negotiation of space and time by local groups otherwise excluded from an authorised and revenue-based heritage discourse. The proposal stresses the importance of the negotiation of programs of the museum and aims to investigate how a cultural regeneration strategy can work making use of agonism as political theory. The architectural elements and spaces, achieved by the interface of the institution with the town, aim to re-establish links between the existing Blackpool community and its past (and possible) future heritage through the urban fabric of the town, whilst redefining what is considered heritage and its uses.
This was initially investigated by employing legal planning tools in the project which reformulate already existing and convoluted listing processes, at the moment inefficient in protecting whilst empowering popular organisations, together with the planning tool of use classes, a rigid tool and clearly able to be used only by the state. The project proposed a new use class at the level of national policy, which values the coexistence of multiple public programs in one single building envelope, aiming to produce a negotiation of space and time at local level modulated by councils with existing stakeholders.
Architecturally the proposal is developed though several interventions and strategies; the main train station becomes museum’s entrance hall and citizens’ advice bureau; a listed theatre transforms into performing arts gallery through the extension of its architectural elements on the street, creating a rehearsal space for local groups; a listed windmill at the edges of the city, memorial of a local author and currently unused, becomes literary hall, estate library and a piece of infrastructure aiming to tackle isolation; public toilets are repurposed as museum toilets, providing a passive surveillance against deaths from drug abuse; an artist residency program brings with it the refurbishment of several houses of multiple occupations, creating an interface between locals and outsiders, aiming to overturn the stigma against HMOs themselves.
The architectural tools make use of both stage design techniques and the mirroring and mixing of institutionalised and urban elements in order to speculate on the qualities of alternative cultural and public space in regeneration strategies.
The project challenges at the same time the role of the museum as a public institution and the role of semi-public space in the city, calling for an alternative conservation strategy which does not deny economic forces behind cultural institutions, but exploits their 'status' of supposed neutrality and the use of heritage funding in order to redefine the city itself as a space of conflicting yet democratic cultural production.