In 1843, Karl Marx described “religion as the opiate of the people”
Nearly 125 years later, Guy Debord wrote that “The spectacle is a permanent opium war which aims to make people identify goods with commodities and satisfaction with survival that increases according to its own laws. But if consumable survival is something which must always increase, this is because it continues to contain privation. If there is nothing beyond increasing survival, if there is no point where it might stop growing, this is not because it is beyond privation, but because it is enriched privation”
This has been understood to mean that capitalism became the new sedative of the masses.
With protesters on the streets, and people occupying parts of cities around the globe, it has become increasingly clear that capitalism is losing its credibility at a frantic rate, which begs the question, what does the future hold for our societies?
The Occupy London protests have hosted an interesting development to this ongoing process; the integration of the Church into the debate. With members of the Church resigning rather than take a political stance over the protests, and with the news that St Paul’s will host a permanent platform for such debates, is it possible that people are finding sanctuary within an institution with strong moral values, despite their own religious views, or indeed lack of.
Met Police figures show that, although a safer area that other parts of Hackney, there is a strip through Hackney Wick that plays host to large numbers of robberies and personal assaults. Are these types of crime the product of capitalist values in the same way that the London Riots have been seen to be the underprivileged taking what they feel they deserve? Is the media, particularly marketing and branding forces, to blame for the types of crime that can affect us all?
With the Olympic Games on the horizon [both physically and temporally] Hackney Wick faces an uncertain future. Will it remain a trendy, artistic, independent community, or will it become polluted by the developer driven gentrification engulfing the area? And will we see the arrival of Topshop, McDonalds, Foxtons and Fitness First?
Anyone who has written a Design and Access Statement for a decent size project will know the emphasis that is places on ‘Designing Out Crime’. This would suggest that architecture can affect people’s behaviour. We acknowledge that a well designed prison can improve behaviour, so is it possible to use architecture to assist the moral values of an area?
Having begun this project by looking at objects and observation, and the power of shifting context, shifting time, perspective and displacement, I ask what elements have been displaced by the Olympics, and what values displaced by capitalism can be relocated in Hackney Wick.
This process will involve a gridded analysis of positive and negative values and their typological counterparts, to produce a kit of parts that can be deployed in a site specific manner. Most importantly however, is the identification of key, specific issues in the area that are to be improved upon.
At a moment in history where potential for paradigm shift looms, it is important to ask what you want to allow to change, and what needs to be preserved. Marx described our society as and economic ‘base’ that influences a moral ‘superstructure’. I ask, can architecture inspired by religion inject an area with the ability to prevail against negative values by increasing and protecting the positive moral code that religion is based upon, by influencing the make up of the economic base? Are vernacular aesthetics powerful enough to inspire a community, and if so, how can these be deployed in a modern and technically advanced way?
Perhaps the answer, at least programmatically, is an ecological cathedral of time, matter and energy; a space which connects people to the human and natural worlds, both within and outside the bounds of our atmosphere. Maybe, through such engagement with our world and also with society, it is possible to establish the principles of a progressive democratic and ecological political partnership, both as a means of governing but also as a way of making our world.
An economist says ‘more for you is less for me.’ But the lover knows that more of you is more for me too.