Empty Promise in the New Jerusalem is an ongoing collaborative project with photographer Daniel Benson. The project engages with the perceived failures of buildings and municipal spaces that were generated as part of Britain's post-war reconstruction, and explores a profound sense of loss, as familiar, if controversial, forms of architecture are lost from the public realm.
Whilst political in the sense that issues of social housing and social space are inherently political issues, the writing itself is structured around terms and phrases commonly used by architects such as Alison and Peter Smithson to describe their projects and processes. The writing also draws from personal memory to create a response that aligns with, but is not directly related to the images - a gesture toward the tensions that manifest between the concrete and the abstract as, as a society, we interact with these buildings and spaces and the cultural meanings that have proliferated around them.
"These were the gardens of the outlaw, a composite character with the power to galvanise. A figure risen repeatedly throughout history. Risen in many guises, through tales of resistance, giving hope to the poor. Defeated here, by the ghost of the greengrocer’s daughter, who haunted the halls and chased the merry men away. Here, now, the poor are robbed to feed the rich. But passing through this space, or my memories of it, it is difficult to think of the politics of architecture, or the architecture of politics. There is the awareness however, that I am negotiating empty promise, traversing a circumscribed idea, only ever skimming the surface, unable to message the past, unable to integrate, unable to fully appreciate. This is a place limited by the very structures that were to bring it life. Unfulfilled and emptied out, taken down, torn down, filled in, let out, let down, gone. The final manifestation of the symbolic castration that plagued the place from the moment of construction. This building could never be all it was to embody. Could never really offer a new life, despite its gestures towards it with smells and feelings and experience, the knitting together of what was already good. Unwittingly patronising in its search for the poetry of the ordinary. The forthright honesty of an industrial past. But can a building be honest? Can a building tell the truth? What truth would this place tell? A new gap in the landscape will be welcomed, will be a celebrated hole on the horizon, its absence will be historic. Unifying designs which divided. ‘Bang out of order’, like the lifts in latter years. Reflections. Times mirrored, mental roots unearthed, still hooked to the rosebay willow herb. To the children overturning wrecked cars. Still hooked to the smell of curry on the stairs. A new rejected tenement, everything it was never to be, the same fixes of district, identifying character, the same poverty, the same poor, the same patterns of association. Here is the failure. A sink estate with upstairs kitchens. The posh flats."