UCL Urban Laboratory


Curating the City research cluster runs first workshop in new Centre for Critical Heritage Studies

14 December 2016

The Curating the City research cluster in the new UCL/University of Gothenburg Centre for Critical Heritage Studies ran its first UCL-based workshop 22-23 November, focussed on the role of universities in 'co-curating' urban heritage with communities in the city

The university negotiates its evolving identity at HereEast

The workshop organised by Clare Melhuish (UCL Urban Laboratory), Dean Sully (UCL Institute of Archaeology), and Henric Benesch (University of Gothenburg Academy of Design and Crafts) was framed as the first of two which will explore how universities, as mixed communities of interest dispersed across urban sites, are re-evaluating their institutional identities and heritage in the context of place-based spatial development. The second is planned to take place in Gothenburg in the spring, followed by publication of comparative findings.

The workshops focus on two university campus development initiatives led by UCL and University of Gothenburg, which seek to engage with local people and neighbourhoods, and in turn participate in a re-shaping of ideas, narratives, and lived experience of urban heritage for the future. They will further consider the parallels between universities and museums as institutions engaged in the development of new urban imaginaries in postcolonial cities through collaborative processes of co-production with diverse local populations.

Universities, like museums, are increasingly engaged in efforts to model new kinds of hybrid and inclusive institutional and urban spaces. An increasing number of university spatial development projects demonstrate a critical need for qualitative understanding of the lives of fellow citizens, as well as evaluation of their own institutional identities and heritage. Following Holston (1996), we might describe this as an ethnographic, rather than utopian, approach to space and its occupation, driving a cosmopolitanist - as opposed to monolithic - vision of university identity in relation to urban neighbours, and its materialisation through built and lived space. It opens up potential to embed a view 'from the periphery' at the heart of the institution and its development agenda, recognising alternative narratives of heritage and identity which draw on diasporic knowledge and facilitate ingenuity and grassroots participation in seeding spaces of the possible.


The London workshop moved between university seminar rooms on its historic Bloomsbury campus, and a space at the emerging innovation centre at HereEast in the Olympic Park, which provided a base for exploring and experiencing the site of the UCL East campus and the nearby Olimpicopolis cultural quarter in the park. Participants included a mix of university campus project directors and public engagement staff; archaeologists who had worked on the Olympic Park; academics from digital media, anthropology and cultural studies, architecture, and design, of whom some were also residents local to the park; and curators from the V&A East project and its current artists in residence. On the first day the group focused on creating a space for critical examination of university discourses of heritage, identity, and civic engagement within the UCL/Gothenburg comparative framework, and by examining the real stories involved in the development processes at constrasting urban sites. On the second day, it focused on questions of narrative construction, representation, scale and territorialisation, comparing the UCL experience and public engagement agenda in the Olympic Park with that of the V&A, through its various initiatives. The workshop concluded with an evening lecture by Dominic Perring (UCL Archaeology), on the use of archaeology to construct narratives of memory and identity to support the urban reconstruction of post-conflict Beirut.

Workshop participants included: Johan Oberg, University of Gothenburg Campus Nackrosen, project director; Martin Summersgill, UCL East project director; Haidy Geismar, UCL Anthropology; UCL East Academic Steering Group; Jonathan Gardner, Archaeology South East; Adam Brown, LSBU School of Arts and Creative Industries, Photography; Gabriel Moshenska, UCL Institute of Archaeology; Sol Perez Martinez PhD IoE/Bartlett PhD by design; Toyin Agbetu PhD UCL Anthropology; Harald Fredheim PhD University of York Archaeology; Phil Cohen, LivingMaps, UEL Cultural Studies; Catherine Ince, V&A East; Ruhul Abdin, Kazi Arefin: PARAA, artists in residence V&A East; Minna Ruohonen, UCL Public Engagement (East); Mattias Kärrholm, University of Lund (Architecture).