Susie Cox’s graduation project at TU Delft imagines a new common framework to create meaningful change in London’s neglected communities and counteract neglect through webs, knots and entanglement.
Can you explain your choice of subject?
UK government policy has stipulated that new development in London should take place on sites of neglect in areas of multiple deprivation. One area that has been highlighted for development is Wood Green, where I chose to situate my work. The provision of care in these areas is vital, but space for care is often disregarded in favour of highly profitable residential and commercial units. With limited state funding, the provision of care is squeezed into smaller and more isolated spaces, with problematic results. This is the context in which the majority of UK architects are working, so it seemed important to reframe our approach to care and speculate on an alternative way to provide space for care.
The theories of care explored in this project, can act as a guide to intervening in landscapes of deprivation. Instead of compartmentalising or isolating those who are struggling, architects can meaningfully counteract neglect by entering into lives and re-configuring existing issues. The focus of development for London’s authorities has often been on erasing issues and replacing them with new models instead. Maintenance and re-configuration of the existing context are overlooked. By working within existing structures architects can allow existing social resources to meet their potential and enact wider changes. Over time this becomes a self-reinforcing process, intervening at one point of neglect strengthens a web of relations with broader implications.
Entering into lockdown in the second half of my graduation process only highlighted the importance of my topic. The pressure on the care system has emphasised its limits and the need to extend care beyond its designated spaces. In this landscape, we can begin to consider how the meshwork could reconfigure the known social structures of care.
What or who are your sources of inspiration and can explain this?
Caring practices are diverse and I’ve tried to reflect this in the diversity of source materials I’ve used. An important source of inspiration has been from intersectional scholars of care and relation, particularly Tim Ingold. The texts I’ve read have enriched my reading of the world, allowing me to be better advised by, and responsive to the world in which I am designing. They also write extensively about the process of creativity, which helped me to overcome many mental blocks. I have taken inspiration from the innumerable companions who have chosen to care about me over the course of my graduation. The questioning, criticisms and insights of my friends, family and teachers are a never-failing source of inspiration.
State the key moment in your graduation project.
My graduation project developed alongside many inquiries and correspondences, which are all vital parts of the project you can now see. My favourite moment was my introduction to Tim Ingolds’ concept of ‘meshwork’ in the book ‘The Life of Lines’. I had been struggling to spatialise a proposal based on academic theories of care, which established that care operates within a web of relations, and the needs of existing networks of care in Wood Green. Ingold changed my perception of these existing institutions and unlocked new potential for me to consider caring architecture as a process of unbinding, extending, loosening boundaries and sharing resources.
Meshworks of care imagines a new common framework to create meaningful change in London’s neglected communities. A new development approach weaves disparate care institutions and neglected public land into a unified terrain, recomposing existing structures into a new caring framework. As the framework expands over former boundaries, impressions of mutual support become legible and reconfigured practices of care can occur.
Austerity and high land values in London have seen space available to care institutions minimised, privatised and restricted in the name of efficiency and profit. This project argues that care within architecture needs to be reclaimed from the closed practices that are framing it, and inhabited in its multiplicity. This work is situated in Wood Green, North London, where existing care institutions have struggled to survive public funding cuts. Rather than supporting existing infrastructure, the local authority has attempted to solve deprivation with costly new blocks and buildings.
Instead, this project considers how existing networks of support can be sustained and cultivated. This is imagined as a new form of governance and inhabitation, which I describe as a ‘meshwork of care’.
Sited in a typical urban block in Wood Green, the meshwork operates at a neighbourhood scale. Care institutions collectivise and apply for ownership of the public land between their plots, weaving them into a unified terrain. This diverse uninterrupted surface underpins a new caring framework, flowing through side streets, pavements, parking spaces and backyards.
Existing and potential future groups share and inhabit the caring infrastructure, building new structures and expanding opportunistically. This is a process of loosening boundaries, sharing resources and working collectively, all the while challenging the notions of space for care as bounded and singular.
The structure grows over time, alongside the caring actions and practices occurring in Wood Green, as a multigenerational sequence of investments in public space. The first constructions are the knots, as sturdy points from which to configure, adjoin and expand, followed by adaptable frames, as space for community care. Frames are imagined as extrusions of the knots and existing structures, mimicking the repetitive, pitched roofs of the surrounding buildings.
Over time, the framework grows across Wood Green. Frames are joined, swapped and separated, reconfiguring the known social structures of those who care, those who are neglected and the spaces that they occupy.
TU Delft / architecture
What are you doing now?
I am currently working for a small urban design and architecture practice in London, building affordable housing on complex infill sites as part of the Greater London Authorities’ Small Sites x Small Builders Programme. A few groups have expressed interest in my graduation work, and I’m excited to see how our communication evolves.
What hope / do you want to achieve as a designer in the near and / or the distant future?
I would like to work in the public sector where I can be more closely involved in the wider structures of care provision and planning. Within architectural practice, I hope that my work can encourage a sensitivity for existing connections within sites of neglect, through maintenance, continuance and entanglement, rather than demolishing and imposing form.