I've started to see how it's not just at home where space isn't working for me anymore as well as I'd like it to. It's happening with architecture and general planning. And it's bugging me a bit. Not because I think the world should be built around me (seriously, I don't) but if it's bugging me, it has to be bugging other people? Surely?
I really noticed it on Monday when I went to London for an open space event regarding Fun Palaces, a nationwide festival to commemorate Joan Littlewood's 100th birthday next year. There's more on this here and Samantha Ellis has done a fabulous blog post on Littlewood here. We're planning something with Agent 160 and Arts Council Wales enabled me to attend (thank you!) so on a very early train I went. The event was at (where else?) Theatre Royal Stratford East so I had to cross London. This in itself is mind-numbingly normal, but I hadn't been to Stratford for years. I gave birth during the Olympics so missed seeing the regeneration work. I came out of the tube and Stratford didn't look as I'd remembered it and then -
Oh dear God. Westfield.
Okay, here's the thing with Westfield. I hate it. Every single mall. I remember going to the one in Shepherd's Bush just after it opened and having to come out with a migraine. It was as if all the brand names were screaming at me. How do people breathe in there? And here we were again. Westfield's staff looked bored witless, as if every inch of personality had been sucked out of them by this capitalist temple. And then I headed to Theatre Royal, a place saved from destruction by Littlewood's team and the public back in the 70s, and people in there were smiling, happy - themselves, comfortable. The corridors, alcoves, stage promoted a sense of discovery, of self-discovery too which was visible in everyone's body language.
|The open space event at Theatre Royal Stratford East|
Transformation of space to make it playful was a huge talking point throughout the day. When I took part in sessions or drifted in and out of them, everyone kept coming back to space and how it links to play. But play for adults too. And play as thought about by children. Some attendees worked a lot in education. They pointed out how, even in modern playgrounds, play is constrained - a slide is a slide, a swing is a swing. It's functional play. It doesn't promote imaginative use. It's an adult's version of a child's thought. We're locking children in. Getting back to that child's vision seemed to be an almost spiritual endeavour for a large proportion of people there.
As a mum, this piqued my interest. And then, heading back to Cardiff, I picked up my Kindle on the train and finished reading Quiet by Susan Cain who argues that the way we arrange our classrooms and work spaces is detrimental to general happiness and productivity, especially for introverts. And I realised how much I had hated sitting on a table with other children at school and how I prefer some time on my own first before discussing anything. And yet every office I've worked in has had desks clumped together, even - I shudder at the thought - hot desking. I've never produced anything I'd call imaginative in these surroundings. And I think my work would have been better if I had.
These are just musings and I'm sure I'll think about this all a bit more as Fun Palaces approaches and different palaces take shape. In the meantime, I'm starting to wonder whether space and some architecture is sucking the life out of us. On Monday, I kept thinking about Matthew Pillsbury's Slides in the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern back in 2007 and how he'd said he didn't understand why the slide couldn't be used instead of the lift in a lot of buildings; why we couldn't all have those few seconds of fun release. We're all creative. Wouldn't it be wonderful if we celebrated that through our surroundings somehow?