Culture + Commerce: Designs for a Different City

September 2013

  • Courtesy Flickr / James Holloway

'Culture + Commerce: Designs for a Different City' is a three-part series of evening salons. Launched in part in response to the controversy surrounding the removal of the skate park from the Southbank undercroft, and the increasing elision of commerce and culture, the series asks what measures we can take to preserve the city as an affordable site for living, experimentation and cultural production.

What strategies might we employ to waylay the transformation of the public realm into a private venture, and of culture into commerce? How can we design away from London's drift towards commercial homogeneity, and instead design-in diversity? And how can we re-design or re-route economic and political systems to better serve the city's inhabitants?

The Southbank Centre's stalled plans to relocate the skating community from its legendary undercroft location to replace it with retail and cafés could be taken as symptomatic of an ever-growing encroachment of commerce on culture within a global city. With the Centre needing to fundraise for its own redevelopment, it took the difficult decision to place some of its real estate in private hands, fully aware – one supposes – of the imminent public backlash such a gesture was inevitably likely to prompt. 

The irony of the post-2008 'financial crisis' is that it has enabled the logic of free market capitalism to entrench itself ever more deeply in the culture and life of the city. Reduced public funding demands that cultural initiatives and individuals become increasingly entrepreneurial; threatening the freedom the arts have previously held to experiment and innovate outside of the market. In parallel, ever increasing land and rental prices in the city make the built environment itself complicit in a potential 'brain drain' from London, forcing some talented people to look elsewhere for the space to take risks, and threatening the loss of many of the capital's greatest social assets. Institutions and independents alike are required to look for new ways to get things done.

Supported by

Brian Clarke Studio