The Bartlett


Transcript: Taking up space

Exploring space and how communities create it


spaces, community, people, lgbtq, inequalities, bartlett, venues, built, understand, ucl, closures, systems, operating theatre, london, deliver, ideas, important, grant, pandemic, design


Lo Marshall, Christoph Lindner, Grant Mills

Christoph Lindner  00:07

Hello and welcome to building better a podcast about life and research at the Bartlett and how we are trying to build better. My name is Christophe Lindner, and as well as being your host for this podcast, I am the dean here at the Bartlett. In each episode, I'll be sitting down with other members of this community to explore a topic that captures a snapshot of what happens here, from innovative techniques to radical ideas to groundbreaking results. And for our first episode, we'll be discussing space and how communities are created.

I want to know how spaces can be designed to best serve the people who need them. And what happens when spaces are designed to shut people out or divide them. And to explore this I've invited researchers from the UCL urban laboratory, and the Bartlett School of Construction and Project Management, to hear about their work, redesigning spaces and understanding the communities that live in them.

And so let's start by getting to know our guests. First, I'm joined by Lowe Marshall, an urban geographer, postgraduate student, and the recipient of the Frank Carter postgraduate prize. Now Lowe is technically based in the UCL Department of Geography, but as part of their collaboration in the UCL Urban Laboratory works closely with our Bartlett colleague, Professor Ben Campkin.

Lo can you tell us a bit about your research?

Lo Marshall  01:43

Yes, so since about 2016, Ben and I have been researching LGBTQ nightlife in London. And the period we've been looking at has been since 1986, which was when the Greater London Council was disbanded by the Thatcher government, which obviously produced this real shift towards a neaoliberalisation of urban policy and governance. The work responded to a number of closures and threats of closures to LGBTQ nightlife venues. And so we initiated this project, kind of recognizing that there's a lot of anecdotal and isolated evidence, but really for action to be taken by the GLA, the Greater London Authority, or borough councils or for activists to work with, we needed a more robust evidence base. So that's really what we set out to do. And then through this project, we've done sort of mapping exercises looking at openings and closures. For example, part of the research, we were commissioned by the Greater London Authority to kind of audit venues across the time period 2016, to the present moment with which at that time was 2017. And we found that the number of LGBTQ venues in London fell by 58%, during that time period from 121 to 51. So quite a significant drop there. But what we're also looking at was, what are the processes, what was driving these kinds of changes in these closures? So that's really been the focus of our work. And, and our work is very much being kind of oriented towards producing publicly accessible outputs rather than things that gate kept and closed off in terms of like, academic journals and things like that, though we have published in academic places as well.

Christoph Lindner  03:29

Yeah, fascinating. So we'll be coming back to a lot of that in our conversation today. But I can't move on, without first asking 50% reduction in such a short space of time, what is driving that?

Lo Marshall  03:41

So the evidence that we found suggests that the closures have often been driven by those kind of longer term urban processes that have been driving redevelopment, regeneration and gentrification things like large scale redevelopment housing projects. For example, rent hikes have been a big issue, particularly in gentrifying areas of London. Suddenly, overnight, someone's rent has been doubled or tripled, and there is a lack of implementation of safeguarding measures in the planning system. So things like equality Impact Assessments haven't often taken account for LGBTQ venues that've been threatened by redevelopments. And landlords looking to sell and change the use of properties thinking that they would generate very more profit from that.

Christoph Lindner  04:26

Let me also introduce and welcome our second guest, Dr. Grant Mills, who is an associate professor in the Bartlett School of Construction and project management grant is using project management and planning to help improve health care. So, Grant, could you give us an overview of what you're working on at the moment?

Grant Mills  04:45

Well, personally, I'm really interested in how infrastructure is designed and delivered more effectively, and how it can be kind of reorganized around health services and new clinical procedures or advanced technologies to ensure that these buildings are doing the very best in terms of delivering health. And I suppose our healthcare system is has been under more pressure so much recently, that we've, we've started to think about not only the health care system in terms of how it's been delivering well-being mental health and physical health, but also in the potential harms that the systems are having. And so my interest really is how do you understand buildings influence on health? And how do you prevent and potentially stop influences of things such as COVID-19 on health.

Christoph Lindner  05:32

So that's obviously an area of work that right now is urgent, pressing, and all of us have a very intense interest in and I'm wondering, because you're interested in health care predates the pandemic by quite some time and now that we're almost a year into this pandemic, I'm wondering, what new things or perspectives do you have on health care and buildings that you didn't have before? In other words, what have you learned during the pandemic about health care facilities?

Grant Mills  06:00

In the pandemic, what was really incredible was the way that the system nationally or locally or globally kind of reorganized themselves and reconsidered the spaces very, very rapidly. I think what that demonstrated and being what we've known since 2006, and my kind of research in that area of reconfiguring healthcare systems is that how these systems are planned and how they're organized and reorganized needs much better coordination needs to be understood at those kind of micro, meso and macro levels.

In your meso, your policymakers, World Health Organization, the European Investment banks are pulling together data and information about where they're investing in assets across the world. But how effectively are we doing that? And what does that mean for kinds of national organizations of healthcare? We've just had an investment of 40 new hospitals as part of the hit program, the health and infrastructure plan. And the questions that we're asking now is, are they in the right place? Are they pandemic responsive? Are they able to cope with a very radical reconfigurations of ICU and theatres? My most recent project was looking at how operating theatres could be considered in in a very different lines, how can we deliver them using modern methods of construction? How do we rapidly deploy them? And how do we learn from other sectors? So, we compared the construction sectors view of delivery of operating theatres, against spacecraft engineering, as a way to try to understand are we delivering with the same level of intent, with the same level of understanding around the complexity of the spaces? And I think the answer is no, we need to find better ways to plan better ways to design and really a lot more value in that design decision making process earlier on.

Christoph Lindner  07:48

Well, that's really fascinating. Thank you.

So, Lo and Grant, you both work on very different dimensions of the built environment. And I can see a number of intersections between the work that you do and for me that biggest intersection is that you both share an interest in space, how space works, and what happens when space doesn't work. And so I'm wondering just as a way into talking about space, would you be able to share a little bit what you understand by that word. What is space when we are looking at it in the context of a community, a city, a built environment? Lo let me invite you in?

Lo Marshall  08:35

Well, I mean, I don't I almost don't know where to start? And it's such a big question. But it's such a vital question to think about as well, isn't it? I think when we're thinking about LGBTQ people, who often haven't been able to safely or comfortably move through the public world, because of a very real risk, because of homophobia, biphobia, transphobia, and such, having spaces where we can come together, build community, find friends, and partners, and produce and appreciate specific kinds of queer cultures, like drag, for example, which has now got a more mainstream audience, but it's something that is, you know, really come through LGBTQ spaces, having those spaces where there is privacy from those other more public worlds, has been absolutely crucial for LGBTQ people. And in thinking about the materiality of those spaces, quite often, and historically. But still, today, that privacy is very much about the design or tweaks to design spaces. So the kind of darkening out or blocking off windows, for example, have been important ways to enable privacy for what's happening on the inside. And historically, that's been about protecting against vandalism as well, much of the time. So there's kind of those kind of questions about privacy and visibility, that are very much crucial to thinking about that design, the materiality of those spaces, and also things like toilets, for example, when you're thinking about the way that those spaces are and aren't accessible, you need to think about the populations that are using them. And what that means if you're dividing toilets by this kind of binary idea of gender, or particularly social norms built on that which really ignore the social realities of gender diversity that have always existed, then you're not creating welcoming and inclusive environments for the people that use those spaces.

Christoph Lindner  10:27

So, would it be fair to say then, that in the LGBTQ spaces that you studied that there's a real tension between the public and the private, between visibility and obscurity, between safety and hostility? It sounds like the kinds of spaces that you're looking at are quite precarious, in the way that they bring people together and allow articulations of identity and needs to find a balance between enabling all these different conditions.

Lo Marshall  11:03

Yes, certainly. And there's a shifting conditions, right? There are certainly spaces that have this kind of more visible facade that have that kind of glass facade, but will often be quite deep spaces. You can see the front bit but you can't see the back there. And there's probably a basement as well. So there's, yeah, there is this kind of negotiation, that always operates in relation around like publicness and privacy and creating those spaces for a performer to be comfortable performing a kind of a drag act, for example. There are certain kinds of privacy that from the street that you need for that to be a comfortable experience for everybody, right? There's reasons why we can feel more at home being gender non conforming in various different ways when we have that kind of shield of privacy that people might be safe on the inside of that space, but then walking home can be a problem, you know, So yeah, there's a kind of tensions and a relationship that is always existing there.

Christoph Lindner  11:56

So that's fascinating because it also connects to the relationship of LGBTQ space. And surrounding spaces in the city in the streets at home and the workplace.

Lo Marshall  12:07

Yeah, absolutely. Yeah.

Christoph Lindner  12:09

Yeah. So, Grant, let me also invite you in. And I wonder within the context of health care, what does the word space mean to you?

Grant Mills  12:16

It's a really interesting question. And ordinarily, when you think of space, in health care system or health care building context, you're thinking about the qualities and the attributes and the things that go in that space under your thinking about what is the equipment? What is the kind of physical space? Or do you think we need to step back and walk away from that? And we need to think about what is the behavior that is being enabled and constrained? What is the surgeon’s role? What is the nurse’s role in inhabiting and encouraging a more caring and, and healthier environment? And then we start to challenge attitudes and values, why don't we start to see what is the purpose and what is the underpinning reason for these systems existing and it’s so interesting to hear Lo talking about these different ideas of privacy and separation and healthcare spaces, those settings have been never more challenged, have they? It's this idea of picking up the telephone to speak to your loved ones, when you're in a COVID Ward is the only way that you can communicate with them. And so that community and the other values that are exhibited by that space are so critical, and we just really need to learn lessons about what is space, how do we understand it? Multiple scales from the room all the way through, in healthcare settings, departments into buildings, where are they placed? And nationally? What are we prioritizing in terms of our system? It's such an interesting question.

Christoph Lindner  13:35

So it sounds like whether you're in a late night drag venue, or in a state of the art modern hospital, what we're looking for in spaces is well-being; we want the well-being of people, and that well-being can take many forms, it can be medical, it can be social, it can be physical, but it also suggests then that spaces can also be dangerous, hostile, and that these aren't neutral things, right? Space is not a neutral construct, how it's designed, how it's occupied, how it's organized, has a direct impact on the experience of people and that experience can be positive or negative and everything in between.

Grant Mills  14:17

Absolutely. And, you know, we build spaces around experiences and interactions and interaction is something that we really also need to understand in terms of transmission. So, ideas around teachers common rooms, around communal surgeons restrooms, we need to understand them in multiple different ways from your microbiologists through to kind of epidemiologists and public health experts, your understanding, where are we coming together? Where are we moving apart? So I think it's really interesting when I hear Lo talking about closed versus open darkening windows are accessing and dividing space, this space is a boundary that is inviting people into that space that can be private or can be public.

Christoph Lindener  15:00

So it makes me wonder then how spaces get built and, Lo, in the context of the nighttime venues that you're looking at. I'm curious about the history of those spaces, presumably many of them did not begin as LGBTQ venues and became those venues over time. So how do those spaces emerge?

Lo Marshall 15:21

Absolutely, rarely have LGBTQ venues been purpose built, or often. We've kind of occupied spaces, areas that are more stigmatized and built community and, you know, clusters of spaces and those areas, and they've historically shifted around London, right? So, if you look at a kind of later part of the 20th century, there's a move from there being a lot of particularly gay spaces in Earls Court towards Soho. And then you've got the clusters emerging in Vauxhall, and in East London, which started around Shoreditch and has other more historical clusters as well around London. So, there's like different areas that we've kind of seen these hubs have formed. And often it's been occupying spaces that are a bit cheaper or less desirable. So, basements, railway arches, sometimes spaces, there's a, there was a much valued and sadly closed space called First Out, which was closed due to cross rail. But the reason that they took up that space in the 80s was because there was always some kind of development plan there. So, it was built into the lease, there was an unpredictability now that meant that the rent was cheaper, but ultimately, that resulted decades later in the in the closure of that space. So, there's often quite particular circumstances around that. If we think about spaces that have been more kind of purposefully built or fitted. You could look to the London Lesbian Gay Center which was fitted out for the purpose of the community in the mid ‘80s and that was funded by the Greater London Council. And there were various facilities built in there. And the disabled access was one of the important aspects of that building, which was part of that retrofitting process that was really informed by thinking about differences within our LGBTQ communities or actually at this point very much a lesbian and gay community. And the people who are using those spaces.

Christoph Lindner  17:15

I’m really interested in what you were saying about queer communities, finding unwanted, unloved spaces, and bringing those spaces back to life and creating community activity, creativity. But I suppose isn't there something quite painful about those spaces being brought back to life and reclaimed and then being priced out? Because the neighborhood or even the building itself has grown in value due to urban regeneration?

Lo Marshall  17:49

Yeah, absolutely. I think that seems to be this pattern that happens over and over again, doesn't it? And I think it's been fairly widely acknowledged. But yeah, you know, communities are built around particular areas and spaces and clusters of venues that is safe. And then people are less able to access those spaces is a really kind of painful dislocation, I think. Or even, you know, I know that as a Londoner, and I've lived here for over 10 years now. Eevery time I've moved house, I've moved further and further out, because I've been less able to stay in the areas that I would like to and those are areas with queer community, you know, like, I can't afford to live in East London anymore. And that would be where the majority of my queer community is, I certainly couldn't afford to live in Vauxhall where we've got incredible spaces like the Royal Vauxhall Tavern.

Christoph Lindner  18:39

So it sounds like it's really important for us to understand that when you close down, or buy out the nighttime venues that you're studying, that you're not just closing down a space, you're actually breaking up a community. And that community needs to then work to find ways to reform or relocate, and hopefully find each other. And I'm wondering, in your research, have you come across examples where that breaking up of the community has not reformed elsewhere?

Lo Marshall  19:17

So is there loss that we're experiencing in the community, in addition to the loss of space, I think if we look at somewhere like Camden in thinking about the geographies of communities, what we do see is there's both a geographically located community, as well as people traveling from across London, because there are particularly important venues to the community historically, and Camden is a really important example of this, where you have the Black Cap that has been running since the 70s. And it was a really iconic and enormously important, queer performance venue that closed in 2015. And so actually, Camden had this whole kind of community and identity of much abundance culture, that then has, with the closure of the Black Cap, has been lost. There was briefly an amazing space called Her Upstairs, that was created by people who were very much involved in the Black Cap, but that wasn't able to be sustained. And regrettably, only lasted in a two year period that became an enormously valued, but unfortunately, closed, but we've also seen a community really ralley and gather around spaces. So again, if we look at the Black Cap, the Black Cap foundation had been holding, doing a whole bunch of different work, but up until COVID, holding a vigil outside the Black Cap every Saturday for a number of years since its closure to keep it kind of present and keep community around that space. So, it's kind of interesting, the ways that communities operate and have mobilized around the closure of spaces as well.

Christoph Lindner  20:44

So I'm curious Grant, whether the kind of activism that Lo is describing ever occurs around hospitals, do we have passion and movements designed to save hospitals or reclaim hospitals? How does this work in the health care space?

Grant Mills  21:00

It's so interesting, isn't it to make the comparison, of course, your hospitals have a community, don't they? And they have a community of people, which is your patients, as clinicians, nurses, there's people who support these hospitals, and there's a lot of passion around where they're located and what type of facilities are located where and what is so interesting is that way, when you have a kind of large population of people, it's almost expected that that population will have a hospital, district hospital, community hospital close to them. And so yeah, no, absolutely, there is that same level of activism and worry and frustration around the loss of a facility if clinical services have changed.

I think if we take hospitals as an example, you take district hospitals, as an example, we are seeing very different care pathways and ways of organizing. Not only Staff but also around different technologies. And so we're seeing new diagnostics hubs starting to be developed with investigating how to incorporate ideas of polyclinics, we've got much more advanced ambulance, and air support around the movement of patients. And so, critically, where these facilities are located is important. But we must also recognize that the system can only cope so much. And the question is around who pays? And for what, and that's the biggest question I think that we have in the healthcare system at the moment is, and I should say, that's not just in the UK that's across the world is what are we going to invest in, that is appropriate for our communities that are delivering the best health and kind of best prevention of harm, not every location is the same in its underlying infrastructure. Not every system has clean water, and not every system has good roads. And not every system has the number of clinicians and operators of these healthcare systems. And so we must customize and think very uniquely about community.

Christoph Lindner 22:59

So I'd like to move on to looking a little bit at the darker side of space. But first, you're listening to building better the Bartlett podcast, a podcast brought to you by The Bartlett Faculty of the Built Environment. If there's a question about life and research at the Bartlett, you would like us to answer Email us at Bartlett.comms@ucl.ac.uk. Or you can tweet at Bartlett, UCL.

So, I'm also interested in the darker side of space, when space breaks down when it doesn't work well, when it causes harm or division. And I'm curious Grant, looking at healthcare spaces, how does space create inequality?

Grant Mills  23:47

In terms of inequality, there's of course inequality in the distribution of healthcare services. Where health care is delivered from, will almost certainly differ in some developing countries to the kind of systems that we have in a Western developed world. But inequality is around here, the access to good medicine to good clinical care. And I think what we've seen during the pandemic is whole rethinking of how systems are organized. We've had cross London massive reconfiguration around remote care, and remote diagnostics, that has meant that people have been able to access care. So I'm really hopeful around this period of time, and thinking about how these systems can start to reduce some of those inequalities, by really thinking about how developing countries can leapfrog some of the very asset intensive systems that we have in the Western world that are not always so effective in treating patients closer to home. And so I'm really hopeful about potential for systems to really be reorganized more radically to think about how diversity can truly be addressed. I suppose in healthcare systems, these are very complex in viewing inequality. In a mental health setting is very different from viewing inequality in a kind of cancer, diagnostics and surgery setting is very different from viewing it in an elderly care or in pediatrics section. So, I think there are inequalities there, but the NHS is incredibly good in the UK, addressing those inequalities and making very sure that we can put resources in place to deliver better services and better assets.

Christoph Lindner  25:38

So not all space is open, accessible. Sometimes space is exclusive, privatized, securitized and sometimes we need to break open spaces in order to activate them positively for better public use and Lo in the context of LGBTQ spaces. I'm wondering how do queer communities who may have historically been denied access to spaces, create and take up spaces.

Lo Marshall  26:10

I think LGBTQ communities have done this in a bunch of ways. Often that's been about taking up spaces in areas that are stigmatized in kind of less desirable buildings. There’s been queer squatting communities, for example, there have been really viable ways of taking up space. And that's also been around like housing activism as well, in terms of taking up space, it functions in such a responsive way to whatever is happening in that moment, I think, so that we could think about taking up space in terms of forms of activism that have been as a historically marginalized communities, we've often been quite politicized and activists, and campaigning communities. And sometimes that's about taking up public space in different ways. If we look at groups like Act Up, for example, who are responding to the HIV AIDS crisis, particularly, or we might look at in response to the shootings at Pulse, we saw the community come together in Soho to hold a vigil and take up that space and take up space on the streets, right? So, I think, in many ways, quite a lot of flexible and responsive ways that we have taken up space, partly because we've had to be politicized because of the way that we've been oppressed historically,

Christoph Lindner  27:31

It makes me wonder, then how is power expressed or exercised through space?

Lo Marshall  27:39

In so many ways, I think that we can think about the materiality of those spaces. So, toilets are a really important way that certain people are excluded. And I think we need to think about designing materiality, not as just kind of neutrally reflecting society, we need to understand them as built on social norms that actually exclude particular people and exclude more kind of sex and gender diverse realities than are present in society. So, actually design and the built environment is complicit in reproducing those forms of power, they exclude and prioritize certain people over others. I think, as well, something that's been really important in our research has been not to just take the LGBTQ plus community as this kind of unified whole, you know, we're a diverse, internally diverse community of people. And power operates within our communities as well, and forms different kinds of inequalities that are within our community. So if we think about access to space, who the who spaces are predominantly used by oriented towards, who owns and operates those spaces, we see a dominance of middle class white cisgender gay men in terms of the operators and predominant uses of those spaces. So, when we think about the closures of spaces, we also see that yes, everybody is affected. But the same forces affect people differently based on their identity and their circumstances and their background. So, there's a real kind of absence of spaces that center women, trans people, people of color, for example. And obviously, these are overlapping groups. And that's really important. And if we think about currently in London, there's only one full time lesbian space, obviously, spaces aren't operating full time at the moment in the context of COVID. But in outside the context of COVID, we have one space for women that’s one LGBTQ space dedicated for women. And that is a pretty small basement venue. So actually, there's a whole bunch of women for whom that's not accessible, because if you struggle with stairs, then you can't access that space. So, I think it's really important to actually separate out and understand our internal differences in the way that power functions and shapes, inequalities, and the way that those are spatialized as well.

Christoph Lindner  29:58

So it sounds like architecture and design have a very big role to play in either making space, something that can empower its users or disempower its users. And I'm wondering in the context of healthcare Grant, are there examples of the way that healthcare spaces are designed that you think are particularly good examples of space empowering its users or the opposite, creating disempowerment, exclusion and so on?

Grant Mills  30:28

I certainly think there are and when I hear the question around power, we're talking about how do we make decisions about where things are located and for which communities probably the best example is, is around where mental health services are delivered from are they close to the patient home and to their community and to their family, where they can get access to those those support bubbles as well as the help that they need? Or are they centrally located in much larger buildings whereby you might have better access to medical technologies and better access to kind of interdisciplinary working around mental health, but the distance to travel back home to see your family or for your family to come and visit, you can make it incredibly difficult for these families. So absolutely. I know where things are located, what priorities are giving, given to what types of patients is a challenging thing in today's world.

Christoph Lindner  31:31

So I want to end by asking a more open question. And I'd like to invite each of you to answer the same question. And the question, is this looking to the future? What is the one thing that needs to change so we can build better? And perhaps Lo, I can invite you to answer first,

Lo Marshall  31:54

I think a really important thing that we should be focused on in looking to the future is breaking apart those ideas of sameness, and thinking how spaces and the built environment differently affect people, and particularly around questions of accessibility. And that might be about gender, it might be about sexuality. It might be about physical mobility, and thinking about these differences in the inequalities that they create, I think, understanding the built environment and spaces as complicit in reproducing those inequalities, but also as potentially helping alleviate some of them, I think it can be accessibility and building that into design is incredibly important. And we need to think more carefully about that as a priority.

Christoph Lindner  32:42

And, Grant, looking to the future, what is the one thing you would like to see change so we can build better?

Grant Mills  32:47

I think the first question is always we need to understand what we value and the second is I really see the importance now of valuing design and valuing design in context of healthcare, but also about the systems that inform it. I hear a lot about how we can deliver faster, cheaper, how do we standardize? How do we deliver hospitals quickly, which of course is really, really important that we are delivering efficiently and effectively, but really designing it, really thinking for data today and what it means for future pandemic situations or your future orientations of new healthcare delivery or, or new potential patient organizations is so, so important. So, I think valuing the role that design plays would be the most important thing I see.

Christoph Lindner  33:46

Lo and Grant, brilliant insights. Thank you so much.

You have been listening to building better the Bartlett podcast and this episode was presented by myself Christophe Lindner, produced by UCL with support from the Bartlett communications team and edited by Cerys Bradley.

It featured music from Blue Dot Sessions with additional sounds recorded by the UCL IEDE Acoustics Group led by Professor Jian Kang with Francesco Aletta, Andrew Mitchell, Simone Torresin and Tin Oberman.

I was joined today by Lo Marshall and Dr. Grant Mills.

And if you'd like to hear more of these podcasts, subscribe wherever you download your podcasts or visit us@ucl.ac.uk/bartlett/buildingbetter. And you can also follow us on @BartlettUCL. This podcast is brought to you by The Bartlett, UCL’s Global Faculty of the Built Environment and UCL Minds, bringing together UCL knowledge, insights and expertise through events, digital content, and activities that are open to everyone.

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