Architecture Week: Interview with Panos Tzortzopoulos and Tom Morgan

Panos Tzortzopoulos and Tom Morgan are recent graduates of Goldsmiths’ BA Design programme. Their final project — which featured in the Goldsmiths degree show - ‘Hyphen’ (16 June - 19 June 2017) — explores the notion of community within the dichotomous contexts of the Isle of Dogs and the Isle of Grain. The project interrogates the relationship between established communities and the ambitions of developers and suggests that collaborative, human-scale approaches to urban planning should be implemented to strengthen communities and allow residents to retain ownership over the areas in which they live. In this interview we discuss the methodologies behind their project and their ideas about ‘Hub Planning’ and its applications.

Image courtesy of Panos Tzortzopoulos and Tom Morgan

MP: What initiated the project, and why did you choose to focus on the Isle of Dogs?

PT&TM: We began our project with Michel Foucault’s concept of ‘Heterotopias’. Described as ‘places of otherness’, Heterotopias are places that exist outside all other places, making them other than the ordinary, but in comparison to utopias they exist in reality. We therefore began our project looking specifically at the Canary Wharf estate as we found it to be an extreme of the urban environment: a ‘place of otherness’ and an entirely insular social structure with a modular purpose. We then looked to find a rural extreme with which we could juxtapose Canary Wharf; the Isle of Grain became this site, a small village isolated on the Eastern most point of the Medway Peninsula in Kent. The Isle of Grain occupies a similar geographical footprint as Canary Wharf, though in contrast with the estate it has seen little change over the last few decades. With little in terms of transport, and a single road in and out, the village is tranquil with few visitors.

We began by creating visual juxtapositions of the two extremes of the urban and rural; one of the images we created we found to be reminiscent of the view from the Isle of Dogs towards Canary Wharf. This image became a definitive turning point in our project as we subsequently came to look at the Isle of Dogs as a mediatory site where elements from both the urban and rural extremes of Canary Wharf and the Isle of Grain coexist in a single location.

We documented all three sites utilising the same first hand methodologies and processes that we had generated over the course of the project, however, we saw the Isle of Dogs to be unique in comparison with the other two areas. Having attended the ‘Ask the Mayor’ session (8/2/2017) on the Island we found that it is home to the biggest development in Western Europe and soon realised that the opposition to development in South Quay* was the commonality that brought the community together; we therefore saw the area as the perfect location to question the relationship between community and development.

*The South Quay development is a residential-led housing development currently being undertaken on the Isle of Dogs. The scheme is being developed by Berkeley and is designed by the architectural firm Foster + Partners. The development includes three towers, one of which will be the second tallest residential skyscrapers in Britain upon completion.

Image courtesy of Panos Tzortzopoulos and Tom Morgan

MP: Could you explain further how your research of community centres and spaces manifested in your work at the Hyphen show? I was particularly interested in the book and the film that you had produced.

PT&TM: ‘Community’ is one of the most repeated words in planning documentation and development proposals. Its repeated use and the lack of its definition brought us to question this immaterial concept and its relationship with the built environment.

When we attended the open panel discussion with the Mayor we posed the simple question: what is community? The Mayor of Tower Hamlets was the first person we asked, and from this point onwards we asked the same question to those that we talked to for the remainder of the project; this culminated in the film What is Community?.

Post the ‘Ask the Mayor’ session, we turned our attention to the places and spaces in which this immaterial concept existed, the most prominent of these being the community centre. By documenting the community centres we soon realised that there was a lack of publicly available information. One of the things that was highlighted during the ‘Ask the Mayor’ session was the lack of infrastructure to support such a vast amount of growth in population. Subsequently we began mapping the areas: health services, education, community centres, pubs and playgrounds in order to understand the spread of services compared with that of development.

The book responsive methodologies is a complete collection of our utilised methods and processes over the course of the project from our original photographic documentation of our two chosen environments, to our collaging that led us to look at a third, as well as the mapping, workshops, etc.

Image courtesy of Panos Tzortzopoulos and Tom Morgan