Wandering around South Bank London on a damp evening, Crimcast stumbled upon a compelling sight-- a small lake constructed out of timber in the middle of an urban scape. Nestled next to a stone archway for commuter trains to and from Waterloo station, "The Lake" featured lounge chairs, a cafe, and playground. A sign indicated that this was an urban oasis, built by architects, carpenters, and other artistic visionaries to bring the notion of being on holiday directly to the people. Had we arrived just a couple days earlier we would have seen the many community members enjoying some late summer sun and floating homemade model sailboats. The privately owned land has been donated to a collective called EXYZT whose manifesto calls for utopian imaginings and community experimentation.As such, the gates are open for all comers who may wish to relax, enjoy a tea, or take on a project in one of the many work spaces underneath the railway arches. We particularly liked a piece in the gallery space created by a local artist featuring a baby stroller resting on a treadmill on cardboard.
Architect Nicolas Henninger explained that the members of the collective, who have spaces throughout Europe, live on-site and bring their brand of enthusiasm for building social capital to local people. "We had families here throughout the summer who made small boats and enjoyed themselves. It's temporary installation so we will have something new next year."
Whether the The Lake, or previous years' projects featuring gardens and faux Lido seasides, the zeitgeist is one of anti-commodification and collectivism through art and design. Playing and building together forms a key part of the collective's modus operandi. A game of "Anti-Monopoly" was ready to go in the tea shop.
A passing bicyclist who stopped to explore along with us couldn't help but notice The Lake stood in poetic contrast to The Shard looming above it-- a brand-new sky-scraper, purportedly the tallest in the European Union. It houses a hotel, residences and offices. Talk quickly turned to the hundreds of millions of pounds it cost and that one can buy a small space there for a mere £8 million. The bicyclist was concerned that The Shard would create problematic traffic flows for the area and that once inside the complex it would isolate people from interaction with the existing Southwark community around it.
Although Southwark has come a long way from its Dickensian roots, the borough's revitalization is happening in two distinct ways represented by The Lake and The Shard. One envisions social capital the other panders to global capital. One empowers locals to work and play together in a low-key, creative space; the other is a silver cage for the cosmopolitan elite, rising above the neighborhood and barely grounded in it.