‘Free exorcism with every Taylor Wimpey ghost home’
Colourful banners hang from the balconies of Bowater House: 'Under London, heaven's light, grow life, not loot,' one of the 21 slogans says. Another: 'One day will this shadow fall.' The building is part of the Golden Lane Estate, a Grade II-listed social housing complex designed in the 1950s and built on a bomb site in the City of London. Bernard Morgan House opposite is shrouded in white sheets bearing the logo 'Taylor Wimpey'. The developer is about to demolish the building, which housed key workers between 1960 and 2015, and replace it with a 10-storey luxury block called The Denizen.
The display on Bowater House was designed by Fraser Muggeridge Studio and curated by Clare Carolin. Artists and writers including Fiona Banner, Tom McCarthy and Iain Sinclair came up with the slogans. The installation, entitled Spectres of Modernism ('A spectre is haunting the cynical overdevelopment that characterises London’s buy to leave property boom, the spectre of modernism!'), was created to support Save Golden Lane, a campaign against The Denizen.
Taylor Wimpey will sell all its 99 apartments privately, meeting its obligation to provide social housing by contributing £4.5 million towards 14 council flats to be built somewhere else. The most expensive properties in The Denizen – a 'refined haven in the heart of the City' – are going for over £2 million. The building as currently designed will overshadow Bowater House, Prior Weston School and Fortune Street Park, where local children often play after school. The park will lose afternoon sunshine between September and March.
The sun was still shining in the park when I met Stewart Home there. Concerned that the new apartments will be sold to investors and remain unoccupied, he came up with the slogan 'Free exorcism with every Taylor Wimpey ghost home’. The developers' marketing strategy relies on the artwashing of urban decay in an area branded as 'Culture Mile'. 'Fashion designers, Turner Prize winners ... and you', a slogan spotted at another development, was co-opted by Eleanor Vonne Brown for Spectres of Modernism (her fellow artists include two Turner Prize winners, Jeremy Deller and Elizabeth Price).
Across the road, another council block is emblazoned with banners reading 'Save our sunlight' and 'Stop overdevelopment'. The residents of Burnhill House are objecting to plans to redevelop Finsbury Leisure Centre. Islington Council consulted them about the project, but the revised proposals ignore their suggestions. A short distance away, yet another scheme threatens Bunhill Fields, where William Blake and Daniel Defoe are buried. The public garden will be deprived of light by two tower blocks about to be built on its edge. Boris Johnson approved them in February 2016, using his power as mayor to overrule Islington Council. In May 2017, after taking back control, the council gave permission to extend the nearby Finsbury Tower from 16 to 28 storeys.
Permission to build The Denizen was granted by the City of London's planners, several of whom are associated with consultancies acting for Taylor Wimpey. (The borough has one of the highest approval rates for planning applications in England.) The only way to stop the process is through a judicial review. The campaigners applied for it in October and are waiting to hear from the Planning Court.
Home and I walked around the neighbourhood, stopping by two new Banksy murals; rumour has it they were commissioned by the Barbican to promote its art exhibitions. We passed people sleeping in doorways opposite the offices of Shelter, and returned to Bowater House to see another campaigner, Emma Matthews. She showed me a letter from the charity indicating that, should a judicial review be granted, they would support the claimants.
We talked about Taylor Wimpey's report estimating that The Denizen would reduce the amount of sunlight in Bowater House by up to 62 per cent. That was blamed on the 1950s balconies; the planners agreed that the developers needn't worry. In fact, the balconies have overhangs that prevent the flats from overheating in summer while letting light through in winter. Bernard Morgan House, although not part of the estate, was designed to complement it. Matthews showed me pictures of the two buildings in alignment, a sight that would have pleased Le Corbusier.
The activists are raising money to cover legal costs if their application is successful. The banners will be taken down on 10 December and sold on 2 February at the Raven Row gallery, along with other related artwork. As that may not be enough, donations are welcome.