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Wednesday23 July 2014

Richard Sennett pours scorn on Tech City plans

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Academic says scheme is death knell for Shoreditch

Richard Sennett has dismissed Architecture 00:/’s plans for a new technical and creative institute at Old Street’s ‘Silicon Roundabout’.

The day after prime minister David Cameron announced £50 million to green-light the scheme, the LSE professor poured scorn on the idea.

He said: “When the prime minister and mayor announced there will now be a dedicated space for creativity I thought, ‘This area is now over’.

“The idea of building a place where we put all the tech people contravenes why that area grew up in the first place. The reason the area is a centre for innovation already is that most of the firms that are here weren’t meant to be here. It was somewhere planners never expected them to go,” he told the Urban Age: Electric City conference which was held yards from the Old Street roundabout last week.

Sennett likened the idea to Masdar, the zero-carbon city masterplanned by Foster & Partners in the Abu Dhabi desert, or Songdo in South Korea.

“These are two versions of the stupefying smart city,” he said. “There is no stimulation through trial and error; people learn their city passively… The smart city is over-zoned, defying the fact that real development in cities is often haphazard, or in between the cracks of what is allowed.”

Announcing the money, Cameron said: “The UK is in a global race and I am determined that we as a government continue doing everything we can to equip the UK to compete and thrive in that race.

“That’s why we’re investing in creating the largest civic space in Europe – a place for start-up companies and the local community to come together and become the next generation of entrepreneurs.”

Alastair Parvin of 00:/ said it was an investment in cultural and economic infrastructure for east London. The plan is for a new civic space owned and operated in the community interest providing workshop and exhibition spaces, free workspaces, education and innovation accelerators.

 

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Readers' comments (15)

  • Mike Duriez

    More of a Silicone Deadend than a Magic Roundabout.

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  • Rumpy Stumpy

    Sennett has a point but is this not different? Songdo and Masdar are almost synthetic new cities with big boards saying please make innovation happen here. This sounds more like a themed infill regeneration project within London. Surely design will play a decisive role in how the development interfaces with the city and vice versa.

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  • Good for Sennett. As a follower of the late, great Jane Jacobs, he understands the importance of chaos and non-plan in civilised urban life. The very name "Silicon Roundabout" is provincial and passe'. Nothing interesting is ever going to happen there. But politicians are desperate to find evidence of growth - so for them (though not for anybody else) - Old Street and environs is dynamic, vibrant, etc.

    Very sad.

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  • Ptolemy Jones

    If we want to turn London into a Silicon Valley, one has to start somewhere? Where better than Architecture Zero-Zero-Colon-Slash's inoffensive pavilion, what-ho?

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  • Absolutely agree with Richard Sennett.
    Shows how desperate Cameron is to show he can improve the economy - instead he will no doubt throttle nascent innovation.

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  • The planners did expect them to go there. In the second half of the 1990's Hackney council planners were handing out SRB funded building grants to architects, media firms, and others including SCP and the cantaloupe bar. Use classes were also relaxed. This may have been picking up on a trend started by artists moving there when forced out of Butlers Wharf but some people still needed a little encouragement.

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  • The hinterland was the attraction and will continue to be so, but as it is already more expensive than parts of the city it's time to move on. Where next? Somewhere cheap and naff but well connected.

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  • I think this may be a knee-jerk reaction from Sennett - it depends on how the building is organised and run. If you believe 00:/, then it will be community-led with a socially linked agenda, funding etc. - in other words actually a bulwark of resistance against the gentrification of the area which (and here Sennett is correct) drives creativity out of informally established "thriving" districts. 00:/ certainly have a track record of sticking up for the little guy, so I would give them the benefit of the doubt before assuming they've sold out to bag a big commission.
    Undoubtedly a more stupid name than "Silicon Roundabout" coan hardly be imagined, and this implies the opposite of what 00:/ are actually talking about.
    Sennett's comparison of Shoreditch with Masdar is shocking in it's irrelevance - this district shares absolutely nothing in common with the pipe dream of an oil baron looking for somewhere to hide his money.

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  • When it comes to the actual building, there may be a need for it but it shouldn't take this form. The derelict and threatened Smithfield General Market building could be converted to house these functions comfortably, whilst preserving the original fabric intact and giving it a more 'vital' use than another bland shopping mall, or destroying it to build offices.

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  • what is it with architects and stupid practice names?

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