Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Echoes of Bristol Past #takeover

I was born in Bristol twenty-one years ago. Not that long ago in the general scheme of things, but it feels longer every day. My parents cruelly exposed me to the arts from a young age, terrible people that they are. The audacity of them to take me to the Tobacco Factory to see play after play, the Watershed for foreign films that went way over my tiny head, Arnolfini for incomprehensible art installations that, to be honest, I don't think they understood either. To put a long story short, they made me the annoying tortured artist-type that I am today. I should sue.

Begrudgingly, I did grow to love these establishments over the years. My experience of the city is defined by those places of arts and culture as I'm sure they define the city for many of the terribly unlucky souls like me, born to middle-class ageing hippies.

I'm mostly kidding. I honestly do feel lucky to have been dragged kicking and screaming around these places as a kid, and thankful for the definition of this city that I do have as a result.

Anyway, in recent years, I've looked a little closer at the rose-tinted backdrops to my upbringing. In terms of architecture, there's a certain trend. The Tobacco Factory,  the Arnolfini and Watershed all have an industrial, bare-brick-and-pipes sort of feel to them. I don't know the first thing about architecture so I felt quite pleased with my observations of this pure and total coincidence. I shared my findings with a friend who pointed out that the 'industrial' look that I'd noticed was because they all used to be industrial buildings. “Duh,” they probably added!

When it was first constructed in 1831, the building we now know as the Arnolfini was to be used as a warehouse for an iron foundry, then a tea warehouse in the 1850s. The building only became the Arnolfini in 1975, the institution having previously been based on Clifton, then Queen Square. The Watershed was literally a big shed on the water once. Or two, more specifically, the E and W sheds used for storing goods ready for transport to or from the river. The Tobacco Factory? Well believe it or not it was a tobacco factory, that one's pretty easy. 

The point is, I quite enjoy the fact that the places that define Bristol for me as an arty-farty culturally-plugged-in sort of guy are the places that once defined this city on a wider scale. This was a serious industrial town, an important town, a purveyor of fags, tea and metalwork, apparently. You can hear all about our industrial history if you go to M Shed, itself a repurposed transit shed just like the Watershed. They didn't even bother changing the name with that one though.

I don't really go in for anything resembling spirituality, but poetically speaking I love the idea that echoes of the old industry city that was are resonating through those buildings to this day; as if to give a blessing to Bristol's current big industries of arts and culture. Maybe there's something to it, or maybe I spent too much time in galleries and theatres as a child, I leave that up to you to decide.

This post was written by young guest blogger Jack B Coll
@JackBColl for the #shapemycity #takeover.

Friday, 12 December 2014

Sense of place - the importance of the Number 1 bus #takeover

I’ve come to know Bristol as my home through growing up here, and through years of travelling across parts of the city on the Number 1 bus. From my house, into town, to school, to work. I’ve always travelled from home into town without really thinking; my daily journey to school was a mode of almost subconscious travel where often I’d find myself at registration without even realising. Little things I’d see and do on the bus every morning – the man who ALWAYS took up two seats even though it was quite clear he didn’t need them, the way I could perfectly judge how many songs I would listen to on my iPod between College Green and school, the way I could (usually) juggle my school bag, PE kit, DT folder, iPod AND hold on so I didn’t fall over – it all became habit.

This habit and routine of taking the same route every day meant that I got to know the very cracks in the pavement between home and the bus stop, and between the bus stop and school. I had a physical routine; I paced exactly the same steps each time. I always stepped up onto the pavement outside my house with my left foot – sounds obsessive but that’s just the way it happened.

My mental map of Bristol is centred upon the area in which I grew up; other areas are mapped in relation to it through the journeys I made to get to them. I had a true sense of place in the area where I grew up because I hardly even thought about it. It’s only now that I’ve moved house that I realise this. Now, I still get the bus into town, but I think about the route and what I’m doing. I leave extra time because I don’t know how long it will take. The journey is yet to come naturally to me.

I still see the #1 bus and for a second think ‘Urgh! Better run for it!’ even though it’s not my bus anymore. I worry that I’ll end up getting a taxi back to my old house after a night out, only to be sobered up when my key no longer fits in the lock! These routes and journeys are so ingrained into the way I think about Bristol. 

Everyone must make journeys like this – ones taken every day across the streets of Bristol without even really being noticed. It’s these journeys that form an important part of our relationship with our built environment – the relationship that makes us feel truly at home somewhere. It’s a weird one because once you realise it, you can’t do the journeys without noticing them. And then perhaps the sense of place is lost. But I think we should celebrate these Bristolian journeys. Our well-trodden routes are associated with memories and emotions, even if we don’t realise it at the time. They form integral parts of our lives; the parts which help to create a true sense of place.

This guest blog post was written by Architecture Centre volunteer Georgina Perry @GeorginaPerry1

Friday, 5 December 2014

A drift round my neighbourhood #takeover

I work and live in Bedminster, so I spend the majority of my time there. I walk to and from work, and to and from the shops along the same routes every day. In order to jolt myself into discovering and thinking more about my corner of Bristol I decided to go on a drift. A drift or derivé is one of the methods the Situationists used to understand more about the ways in which our environments affects out behaviour. Drifting means to travel without any specific destination in mind

I chose to let fate decide my route, to push me to places I’d normally never venture. I flipped a coin and created myself a set of directions. Heads meant left and tails meant right. I did this until it filled a page, not really knowing how long it would take to complete them all. The plan was to use these directions anytime I met a junction or dead end. I put on some comfy shoes, packed my notebook, pen and camera and started on a mini adventure from my own front door. Having no destination in mind meant that my focus was entirely on the journey itself.

The beginning of my route took me on a sort of circle around the residential area. I noticed that the houses all had names engraved above the door. Whoever built them must have had to think up so many. I really like these details in design, which go way beyond practicality or functionality and show thought and care. It’s as if each house has its own individual identity, and in a way that’s sort of what makes a house more like a home, than just a box to live in.

I kept walking, down a road that smelt like toast. I then bumped into a really friendly cat
that I’d met once before. This cat lives right by a school so must get a tonne of attention from the passing kids. It clearly loves it, I stopped to stroke it a moment and it followed me to the end of the road. About a quarter of the way through my directions I really started to get into unknown territory. This area was a little more run-down than the rejuvenated North Street, where people looking for cafés and delis are less likely to wander. It seemed like I’d chosen a bad time to start and met a crowd of school kids heading home. Luckily my next direction took me away from the crowd toward the dual carriageway.

After about half an hour of having no idea where I was, I started to recognise a bridge in the distance. When I saw that I had the uncanny feeling of suddenly being able to place myself geographically, I was only about five minutes from my house. I’d only got through half my directions and it had taken an hour. I’ll be honest, as this point, I gave up. I thought I’ll either commit myself to another hour or pick up where I left off another day. So I went home, having explored a whole new part of my neighbourhood. I now have in my head a much bigger map of the area and a few more ideas of what makes Bedminster, well Bedminster. 

This blog post was written by young Bristolian Ellen May Pye for #takeover