Monday, 23 December 2013

DipArch - 161213 - Exploring Mile End - Cavities in Urban Dentistry

Within the smile of a given city, the analogy of 'urban dentistry' offers a great deal of metaphoric mileage to speak about the life of the city and to descriptively diagnose dysfunctions in the health and form of its fabric. Organically emerging as calcifications to serve a given purpose, these teeth, and the architecture of their incisive analogue, would conform to a simple symmetry except that they come to be weathered and worn, braced and polished, refurbished or removed as they go through the trials of life. The mandibles of Mile End have faced just such a history of rash development, bombing, overcrowding, regeneration and neglect; and thus the toothy grin of East London's streetscape speaks a fascinating oral history of trauma, notions of hygiene and efforts at restorative cosmetics.

The interest of our group was particularly in those buildings which were like teeth hollowed out, rotted within, shot through with the cavities of disuse. Unlike a missing teeth investigation which notes the absences, omissions and demolitions; this inquiry looks to the ruins and remains that hint at what was: which offer scope for adaptive reuse, imaginative reinvention, and building back better. We are interested in those sites which represent rotted teeth ready for gold-fillings.

Dental ontology: a tooth is alive, and regularly, it would itself maintain the integrity of its pearly white outer and the root which that protects. However, it can happen, by trauma or neglect, by accident of circumstance or  the specific conditions of its immediate location that the structure of enamel comes to be damaged and gradually demineralised, or otherwise, from within the life of the living tooth inside is cut-off or poisoned. This relationship between integrity of external form and successful function of its internal use is true also for buildings.

Mapping the site, the so-called rotten teeth make their neglect conspicuous: the wildly overgrown St Clement's Hospital Site, the richly graffitied office block opposite Bromley-by-Bow station, the locked and rusted underground toilets at Bow Church. In each of these places the original life has gone out of the organ and left it vulnerable to the parasitic colonisations of squatters and the natural elements. On these sites, our investigation proposes to imagine a new life by a new use, which would restore in gold the neglected teeth, rendering them as the crowning glory in the smile of Tower Hamlets.

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