Summer School Unit 1: Public House City
Unscene Architecture co-founders Madeleine Kessler and Manijeh Verghese taught a summer school titled Public House City as part of the 2015 AA Summer School in London. Public space is the stage on which the life of the city is played out. In parks, squares, theatres, stations and playgrounds, people interact, make connections, create communities and enjoy collective activities which are accessible to all. In London however, we are surrounded by private space masquerading as public - from gated squares in historic estates that are always tantalisingly just out of reach like Bedford Square or faux-institutional projects like Granary Square in Kings Cross, to large monocultural developments like Southwark’s More London or even entire areas like the financial hub of Canary Wharf where the streets also have a price tag, London is a victim of ever increasing privatised public space. At a time when capital and profit are the new drivers behind public space rather than communal activity, how do we make Londoners rethink what public space could be?
The pub or public house is a quintessentially English typology whose name suggests its role in the community as a focal place for people to meet and interact. As an 18th century evolution of the Roman tavern and Anglo-Saxon ale-house, every neighbourhood in London has at least one pub, with people frequenting their local for everything from an afternoon beer, an evening football match or a Sunday Roast. From living room to waiting room, meeting place to meditation space, games hall to wedding venue, there have even been pubs in tube stations to pass the time over a pint while waiting for your train, as well as pubs that only open in the early hours of the morning so that workers in the city’s meat markets could enjoy a beer after a night shift.
So what if the public space of the city was wholly contained within the public house? How can we reimagine the public realm of London as a series of public interiors? The spaces would still be privately owned but at least by individuals rather than big corporations, with local character instead of bland placelessness. The people could shape what types of spaces their local pubs should contain; hybridising the watering holes of the capital with parks, schools, playgrounds, doctors offices, bus stops, libraries and more. As urban planner Jane Jacobs said, “Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.” Over the course of the three week Summer School we deconstructed, remade and reinvented the pub typology as a space that both informed and communicated our future vision for London as a public city.