Howard Philips Lovecraft – Dalston Junion, in the first week of February, 2011. Weird Fiction. There is a connection.
At the end of last year, Lovecraft’s Necronomicon arrived on my desk. A shiny black square tome of a book containing the collected tales and chronicles of a demented mind. Lovecraft. I dread to think of this guy’s evenings, what came to him late at night. Unspeakable things. Truly, a darkness at the very edges of everybody’s waking life. Lovecraft’s is a modern horror. That places we know and visit can contain truly frightening and terrifying scenes and goings on. Into the Mauve Zone, it states that “The Necronomicon isn’t supposed to exist, but – like so many things that shouldn’t – it does. And how it’s come to exist makes an interesting, and troubling story“. This is apposite.
This Winter, something has definitely been happening in Dalston. A new era in the evolving story of this part of London is being ushered and in
and, with a certain reading, Lovecraft’s ideas can reveal a great deal.
Below is Dalston Square. Dalston Square amounts to “A breath-taking regeneration” – it becomes a noun – “of outstanding new homes with excellent transport links including the new station, Dalston Junction, built within the development,” according to Barratt Homes. For they have taken over this little corner of London.
Alongside the scaffold, and the fenced-off lifestyle zone you find the Rhodes estate.
Not even old Dalston, but still a master stroke of some woeful and piteously Hackneyed housing strategy from the 1970s.
Note the bat boxes, more on those later. The estate named after the nasty imperialist himself, Cecil Rhodes. The people here have had to put up with almost constant disruption, lives interrupted by the rhythms of the building site. Dust. Nights lit up with Neon. Their air quickly became charged with the energy of re-development and the language; that things in Dalston must be made better.
Can U see the Church?
The worst of it is, last November a meeting took place, here,
at the Rhodes Estate Community Hall to establish the grounds upon which Barratt Homes would come into the Estate and establish a series of new public spaces. As part of the Dalston Square development’s Section 106 agreements, the regeneration would help to make the little man’s world go round. The developer would give back to this impoverished urban community by providing them with new community facilities on the estate. This was the discussion that night, and, couched in the language of developers, how could anyone disagree with a community orchard?? It just sounds so nice. So, with an apparently successful agreement between the tenants of the Rhodes Estate and the representatives of Barratt Homes, the meeting ended and all present were agreed. Barratt Homes were to bring a new aesthetic regime to the area. And this was enacted as part of the “changing” of Dalston in the Winter of 2010/2011.
This is where Lovecraft and his twisted fictions come into play.
Present at the meeting that night was some crew from Shoreditch called Urban Lash.
They sat silently through the meeting, apparently lost in the PROCESS. At the end, at Any Other Business, one of them got up to speak and he presented a very different agenda…
Urban Lash would play quite a serious role in the regeneration of the Rhodes Estate. Urban Lash are an arts project which tries to inject a bit of random savagery unto the planning of new urban space. The represent a new approach in the urban regeneration industry and are beginning to pick up quite a lot of local authority contracts in places like Stockton-upon-Tees, Blackburn and Dumfries & Galloway. What they do is make the public spaces of new housing developments really demented and upsetting. To do this, they take a number of Fundamentals from the Urban Design Compendium – a non-statutory design manual, standard reading in the town planning field – and mess around with them. Like, really fuck them up. Part of this dementia is when they orientate and control all nature
and natural things.
It can be said, from this vantage point which hindsight affords, that there was a tendency, within the Urban Lash Crew, to take their level of community re-design, to the darkness and obscure occultist practice. Their pitch that night was this… Urban Lash were willing leave Shoreditch. To move onsite into new company H.Q. and work closely with Barratt Homes on-site management to recreate the parish land surrounding the Dalston Square development.
The ‘Process Church of the Final Judgement – Urban Lash’ was built at the heart of the new Dalston Square development.
The terrifyingly anonymous squat grey building has now become the living nucleus and brain of the whole building site.
Their design statement for the project went like this: Urban Lash’s involvement, primarily upon the Rhodes Estate, would take material expression in the form of a series of linked public spaces, installed by the developer Barratt Homes, in which the immediate experience of nature would be mal-aligned. Deadened. Urban Lash were basically in place to re-design and conceive anew all public space on the the estate. Anything green or natural is to be seen as the enemy and is in some way aesthetically criminalised. Urban Lash particularly don’t like the thought of people putting their actual hands into the earth of their estate, and getting them soiled and dirty.
The resulting public spaces are a series of pedestrian-hating, dead, grey, fenced-off little existence-zones. For the people to enjoy. They are neither lulled or visually seduced out from their homes, nor compelled to strike up a meaningful relationship with the large spaces outside of their living rooms. The Ground Beneath Their Feet. It’s gone now. Barratt Homes
A touch of grass, fenced off.
Terrible scorched whips of New-Build shrubbery.
Straight Outta Crompton: Barratt Homes’ manual.
Their working style was to have huge parties in the building’s main room. These would be frequented by young yuppies and new urban elitists, some of whom would rave there for whole weekends.
Everything. Alcohol. Ketamine, cocaine, a lot of cocaine, smack, other stuff; was provided for by Barratt Homes. During these parties, design sessions were held whereby the party goers would hold what can only be described as workshops. There, models of the new and existing housing blocks and the public spaces which were to be established in and around Dalston Junction, were debated and experimented upon. Urban Lash think that if you’re poor, then it’s funny to spend millions and millions of pounds not actually improving your life. So these workshops would come up with ways of producing really unpleasant places to live, and be around. That’s their idea. And after a process of months, these ideas and projects were duly contracted, awarded and built on-site.
And what has happened is that the residents of the Rhodes Estate have become actors in a debasement of planning, building control and the ghastly spires and murky grounds of the Churches in Dalston. Energy Design. Dalston. Kill Off Hippies and Space, just like Lovecraft had envisaged.
Regarde, the play area designed for the children, the habitantes of Rhodes.
Relate to the photo above, not so much as the gaze of Bentham’s panopticon. Here, the new yuppy flats have the gaze of the necronomicon. A deeply unsettling feeling pervades all public space on the Estate, Real people – Tony Romanov a.k.a. Horsefat proletariat – have to live under actual energy waves of scorn and derision which emanate from the balconies of Urban New Build. That particular business arrangement which was carved out in the early hours at the meeting at the Community Hall, unleashed a sickness of gothick proportions. The Dalston Square flats would forever tower above the Rhodes estate, and the people there would feel a strange sense of alienation and foreboding.
Death Stare grimness now bears down on the people in Dalston. It’s unease on the cold Winter breeze. Today, as residents on the Rhodes estate leave their houses and enter into the public realm, they are confronted with a grey surface of aesthetic ambivalence. A crude, unsettling street scene rendered corporate and blank through the involvement of Barratt Homes. The whole palette of the developers the same…
Bleak. Dour. Depressing.
Back to the designs for the Rhodes estate, those Urban Lash parties must have got really fucking heavy…
At one of them, people were laughing for hours at the idea of food deserts. In an estate like the Rhodes, there were simply never enough shops built to provide fresh fruit and vegetables for a population of its size. The response of Barratt Homes and Urban Lash is to force people to grow their own greenery to supplant their poor diets.
Food Growing Area, i
Food Growing Area, ii
Food Growing Area, iii
Here, they are growing dock leaves and hollihock, bitter and sour to the taste but essential if the people are to eat something that was really grown.
Is it any wonder that in the dwellings of the New Build, the residents must take their vitamins only in the form of fruit.
Tart Green Apples encased in mangled wire. To be modern, and to be doing well, is to be in need of a Philippe Starck lemon squeezer.
Architecture goes necronomical. It is towards the south side of the Estate where the Barratt Homes development becomes truly dark and unnerving. Rumours are still circulating in Dalston, that there must have been meetings, quite senior meetings, before Barratt Homes officially came into the area, between the Church authorities, Hackney Council and some high-ranking player in East London’s underground occultist scene. A little like the speculative meanderings of Ackroyd’s Hawksmoor, the Churches of Dalston have swung into play, with the machinations of development. Presumably in some evil riposte to falling attendances and a marginalised position in the local social scene, these Churches appear to be changing. Not outwardly, but inwardly. And currently, this is only tangible to the discerning resident or pedestrian.
See the photograph above, the Holy Trinity Church of Dalston never used to bear down on the houses of the Rhodes Estate. A certain weight or heaviness is now present where none used to be. Of itself, this is nothing to worry about, a slight change in atmospherics.
But other Churches are involved as well…