Jay Gort from Hackney studio Gort Scott Architects argues that the beleaguered British high street is actually a thriving location of "collision and conflict" in this talk filmed by Dezeen at our Designed in Hackney Day last year.
Gort begins his presentation with an image by documentary photographer Mishka Henner showing onlookers at a gay pride parade in the English town of Oldham (above). "I’ve put this in here because I think it’s a really priceless photograph," says Gort, who has worked with Henner on a number of projects.
"He uses the camera to strike up conversations with people, and to try and capture the places as well," explains Gort. "That’s something that’s really important about our work, that whole idea of valuing what exists to start with."
He goes on to show two drawings of London high streets (above and below) made by Fiona Scott, the architect with whom he founded Gort Scott Architects in 2007.
"I think these drawings start to show some of the amazing characterfulness and juxtapositions of different uses and building types that exist [on London's high streets]," he says.
"A lot of people say the high street is dead," he continues, "[but] nearly 60% of all London’s employment goes on near high streets, and there’s an amazing richness and vitality that is far from dead, actually. If you go down to Tooting, or up to Cricklewood, you’ll find a high street that isn’t about shopping – it’s about the representation of local communities in that area."
The high street is a "physical device" where communities meet and where "collisions and conflicts happen", he adds.
Introducing the Tottenham Public Room project (above) in north London, he says: "It's a public space that can be used to try and encourage a trading of skills. Volunteers from the Tottenham area are trying to help a disenfranchised community, which was really splintered after the riots [in 2011]."
"We want to do buildings that have an impact, but we realise we have to operate a little bit by stealth in terms of getting into different areas," he notes.
He goes on to introduce two very different forms of architecture that have inspired his practice, noting that he is most of all interested in atmosphere.
"Atmosphere is dictated by the structure, the scale, the light, the materiality, the orientation – where you’re placed within the city itself – and how all those things start to combine to have an impact on the kind of space," he says, comparing a grand palace in Genoa (above) with a room of scaffolding props (below).
He finishes by introducing his firm's most challenging project to date, a house on the Isle of Man (below). "Whereas Tottenham Public Room was going to be built for a temporary setting, this is going to hopefully last in a really harsh climate on the southern tip of the Isle of Man for a hundred, two hundred, three hundred years," he says.
After experimenting with lots of different materials, the architects realised that the most successful buildings on the island were made out of traditional stone. "We thought, why not just build this thing out of stone [and] use a Welsh slate roof," he says. "To just work with that palette of materials was really rewarding."
Dezeen's Designed in Hackney initiative was launched to highlight the best architecture and design made in the borough, which was one of the five host boroughs for the London 2012 Olympic Games as well as being home to Dezeen’s offices.
Watch more movies from our Designed in Hackney Day or see more stories about design and architecture from Hackney.