Bartlett architecture graduate Nick Elias has reimagined 1920s Slough, England, as the happiest place on earth by overlaying its industrial landscape with scenes from Winnie-the-Pooh (+ slideshow).
Conceived by Elias to promote the importance of "happy architecture", Poohtown offers a fictional alternative to the depression and social exclusion that characterised Slough after the First World War, when the town become a centre for little but industry.
"For the project, 1920s Slough is revisited to capitalise from the economy of 'happiness' as an alternative industry, using Winnie-the-Pooh as a metaphorical protagonist," explained Elias.
In the revamped city, visitors and locals are invited to take a nostalgic pilgrimage through some of the fictional scenes of AA Milne's classic tale, from a rabbit's picnic to a balloon launch.
This concept is based on the duality that existed between the happiness of the story and the real-life misery of the central human character Christopher Robin – Milne's son. "That's the reality of failure. He was tortured by it," said Elias.
Applying this same premise to Slough, the city is transformed from an industrial sprawl into a fictional wonderland filled with familiar characters and friendly architectural structures, designed to appeal to human emotions.
"PoohTown reflects on the potential of today's cities in prescribing policies of happiness alongside familiar amenities," said Elias.
According to the designer's initial research, most people are at their happiest when "playing a fictional representation of themselves" – from buying food at farmers' markets to putting on a new outfit – so a fictional pilgrimage is the perfect way to indulge this tendency.
As part of the project, Elias has produced a series of posters promoting the city. Based on the Metro-Land posters of the same era, these are designed to lure Londoners to visit or even relocate to the new Slough.
One image shows a jar of honey being poured over a ruined housing block, as a symbol of future development, while another shows the city as a sunset that can be seen from London's Tower Bridge.
"It is partly about perception," said Elias, explaining how the idea is also based on developing a financial model for the city. As well as creating places for fun, there are also a number of retail opportunities.
The designer believes the project offers a message for cities today. "We need to design for emotion," he said. "Glass and steel can only do so much, and all people really care about is happiness. It's worrying that cities don't really deal with that."
Nick Elias completed Poohtown as part of the Bartlett's Unit 10 – the drawing unit led by architect CJ Lim. He received a distinction for the project.
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