The Architecture Centre Network (ACN) was an independent organisation representing centres of architecture and the built environment in the UK. ACN commissioned Atoll to prepare a series of retrospective case studies on the work on the network centres. Below is featured the first of six articles prepared in August 2006:
In 2004, George Ferguson, the president of the Royal Institute of British Architects, addressed a 200-strong audience at the Unitarian chapel at Newington Green in Islington, and praised the efforts of local campaigners who had brought change to their area – an example of what he saw as a national upturn in “pride of place”. He cited Newington Green as a prime example of how people power could reverse the fortunes of areas formerly defined by crime, poverty, drugs and prostitution. In this slow but important process, Islington Council 1 also believes that the community has a vital role to play in helping recreate and sustain healthy communities. This is reflected in the excellent programmes already implemented by them in and around Newington Green, and in the forged relationships with bodies like Newington Green Action Group.2
As an important part in this approach, Treasures was a small public art project developed over 3 years, up to 2005 – to explore the hidden beauty, myth and history of Newington Green, using micro-sculpture, with interactively-triggered spoken word and sound loops. The project was developed by Hackney’s Building Exploratory 3 and was funded by Islington Council and the Heritage Lottery Fund. In accordance with the published ambitions of Building Exploratory, Treasures was created to help people ‘make up the unique heritage that defines a place today and sets its path for the future’. Prior to 2002, the Building Exploratory had been working around Newington Green on the Building Memories aural history project – and this sowed the seeds for Treasures.
The 11 Treasures produced were made with the assistance of a local community steering group drawn from around Newington Green. These works were intended to reflect the changes that the area had seen, as well as the future it held. Created by lead artist Anna Hart working with icon artist Richard Tremlett, the Treasures are iconic images relating to the area’s history and culture – whilst the integrated sound recordings feature the voices, thoughts and memories of the multi-racial local community itself. Within the Green, the robust bronze icons are set into the ground, where the sound-loops are activated by directly pressing onto them. As June Lausch, of Newington Green Primary School said, “The treasures project is a wonderful way for our children to connect with their local environment. It is not only ‘hands-on’ but ‘feet-on’ too!” Workshops held with the community, helped form the basis for the icons. From this critical engagement, it quickly became obvious how much children considered the Green to be ‘their’ Green. This was reinforced on the opening night, where great numbers of the community turned up and actively participated, and by the fact that local year 6 children were also willing to be trained as tour guides. The long-term nature of this project meant that artist and people working on it became well known and trusted in the community and as a result, relationships and trust were formed on both sides. For the future, the ambition is that the Treasures ‘voices’ can be changed every 2 years, and will stay in the park for at least the next 10 years.
Since installation in 2005, the legacy of the project has been highlighted practically through positive changes made to traffic flow and in increased usage of the Green itself. However, it is the continued growth in pride in the community of the place that is most notable – as identified by George Ferguson, and as illustrated graphically in a quote received from one of the local residents on the Treasures completion: “I have stopped and discussed them with strangers who turn out to be neighbours”. Or as local poet John Hegley put it: “it’s good to see the ‘new’ in Newington Green”.
The 11 bronze ‘Treasures’ sculptures incorporate the following icons:
Unitarian Chapel – Reflects on the oldest non-conformist church in the country, built on Newington Green in 1708, as a result of the alternative religious community developing in the area before and after the critical Act of Toleration. The recording features a poem by Anna Laetitia, whose husband had been a minister at the Chapel.
Flower – represents both feminist writers (including educationalist Mary Wollstonecraft) and the papier mache and paper flower trade based in the area. The soundtrack features Wollstonecrafts famous ‘A Vindication of the Rights of Women’.
Words – reflects the area as home to a variety of celebrated poets, novelists and other writers over the centuries. A Samual Rogers poem called ‘Pleasures of Memory’ is featured on the soundtrack.
Abacus – recalls the 8 different school that have been located in Newington Green over a 400 year period – including Daniel Defoe’s own ‘School for Dissenters’. Recordings are of readings from Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe.
Bomb – represents the World War 2 bombs dropped nearby and the bomb shelter that was situated under the green. Included is a recording of a piece by 18th century writer Richard Price’s about freedom.
Routemaster 73 – records the passing of the historic bus and route running from the Green to central London. It incorporates recorded poems, made by famous local poets Alison Fell and John Hegley.
Olive Branch – representing the Green as a place of Turkish Cypriot settlement – and includes a poem by Turkish asylum seeker and writer Zeyel Can about London.
Wild Boar – recalls the Green as a medieval village set within a clearing of the ancient Middlesex Forest – through poetry from Newington Green School.
Piano – referring to the local piano makers (1880-1930) and the original Jazz Cafe at number 56, and features 100 words in English and Turkish used to describe the Green.
Numbers 52-55 – references the oldest surviving housing terrace in England that dates from 1658, and lists the names of various people who have lived there.
Ring – represents a diamond ring of a reported Henry VIII concubine, found at Mildmay House on the Green, and recalls the different jobs people have done on the Green over the years.