In Coventry, the River Sherbourne is missing. Approaching the city from the west along Meadow Street at the perimeter of Coventry’s ring road, the Sherbourne unceremoniously disappears—underground. About a mile away, on the eastern edge of the city center, the Sherbourne re-emerges from a tunnel near where the ring road meets Sky Blue Way. Between these points, the Sherbourne transects Coventry, but invisibly; there is no sense of the river in its dense streets and pedestrianized central district. Here the Sherbourne is lost, hidden within a culvert system constructed after World War II. The once bucolic Pool Meadow adjacent to the Sherbourne was drained and now serves as Coventry’s central bus station and car park. Like numerous other urban watercourses, capping the Sherbourne had once been championed as visionary modern city planning—but no more.
This paper discusses our participation in efforts to re-expose the Sherbourne as a part of wider calls for urban leisure spaces via “daylighting” schemes for hidden urban waterways (Cox, 2007). Cox (2017) spotlighted campaigns to uncover hidden urban rivers and create pocket parks in Sheffield, New York City, Seoul, Auckland, Zurich and London, among other cities. These river daylighting schemes are widely celebrated for creating green corridors through cities, acting as flood-relief channels, restoring natural habitat, providing public parks and paths, promoting passive cooling to help combat the urban “heat island” effect, and complementing urban architecture. Where once city planners sought to cover urban rivers, it is increasingly fashionable to uncover them. They have become foci for intense debates about urban leisure spaces and architecture.
Although there is longstanding interest in urban spaces (e.g., Johnson & Glover, 2013), there has been almost no leisure scholarship on the relations between leisure and architecture (for exceptions, see Gilchrist & Ravenscroft, 2013; Walters, 2017). Where scholarship has focused on architecture and leisure spaces—e.g., skateboarding (Borden, 2001; Borden, Rendell, Kerr & Pivaro, 2001; Jones, 2016; Shirtcliff, 2015)—it has taken place largely outside of leisure studies. Others, have written of “social architecture” (Jones, 2009) that shapes, and is shaped by social, historical and political forces (see also Jones & Card, 2011). Yet, here too leisure takes a back seat to the political economy of urban space. Our research foregrounds leisure in urban spaces and architecture as activist politics.
We collaborated with postgraduate architecture students in the (Re)Activist studio at Sheffield University to design and build a mobile bicycle cinema apparatus we call the “kino-cine-bomber” (see Figure 1). The kino-cine-bomber consists of a Danish (“Christiana”) freight bicycle with an added wooden tower to elevate a 2000-lumen projector; a car battery powers the projector, 50-watt sound system, and radio transmitter (for anyone wishing to listen in via radio). In a series of Situationist-inspired interventions (e.g.,détournement,dérive, constructed situation), (Re)Activist students pedaled the kino-cine-bomber through Coventry, first to suggest locations where the Sherbourne might be rediscovered. Then, in a second excursion, they projected architectural designs for (re)new(ed) communal spaces centralizing civic leisure spaces to counter the consumer-driven “zombification” of urban living (Lashua, 2016; Maak, 2015).
The prefix kino evokes the “kino-eye” in the pioneering documentary filmmaking of Dziga Vertov (Hicks, 2007). Vertov filmed everyday life for working-class people, often utilizing revolutionary mobile camera work. We redeploy Vertov’s kinesthetic sensibilities through filmic (cine) projection, mobilizing cinema in “uncanny” ways to de-familiarize familiar urban spaces (Huskisson, 2016). Rather than filming, our bicycle cinema deviceprojectedfilms and architectural designs onto the urban fabric to highlight buildings that might be removed. That is, we engaged in “culture bombing” to re-imagine the built environment and offer alternative visions for leisure spaces. Culture bombing is adétournement, aSituationist technique that diverts or reroutes mainstream cultural conceptions.
We also use the term “bomber” metaphorically to refer to the architectural subtraction of redundant buildings from the urban environment (Easterling, 2014). This has particular resonance with our case study site. Coventry was among the most heavily bombed British cities during World War II. The worst event, 14 November 1940, caused hundreds of deaths and witnessed the destruction of around two-thirds of buildings in Coventry, including its cathedral, approximately 4300 homes and over one-third of its factories (Hasegawa, 1996). Following the vast destruction of World War II, Coventry is notable for its groundbreaking reconstruction masterplan, the “Gibson plan.” Written in early 1940 (before the Blitz) and named after Donald Gibson, the first City Architect and Planning Officer, the Gibson plan was a dramatic re-envisioning of Coventry’s core. It aimed to alleviate the congestion and overcrowding in Coventry’s medieval center. Like many UK cities, Coventry had unprecedented and largely unplanned growth due to rapid industrialization, particularly between 1860 and 1900. By the 1930s many UK cities were struggling with issues from substandard housing to the spread of roadways to accommodate automobiles. The Gibson plan was radical—the first masterplan for the city center; it involved the separation of cars and pedestrians and the introduction of traffic-free shopping precincts. Its characteristic ring road and pedestrianized center became a dominant model in urban redevelopment throughout the latter half of the 20thCentury. Although initiated before the destruction wrought by German bombs, the extent of wartime damage to the Coventry’s built environment enabled fuller implementation of the plan. In this postwar redevelopment, the River Sherbourne was culverted and capped within the city’s ring road.
We aimed use the kino-cine-bomber as a device to help identify infrastructure and buildings no longer fit for purpose that could be subtracted from the urban landscape, where segments of the River Sherbourne could be uncapped, revealed, and celebrated as urban leisure features, contributing to the social, cultural, and economic vitality of the city. The subtraction of redundant buildings and obsolete infrastructure produces two distinct urban design possibilities: (1) theamplificationof a new public domain focused on the ‘’neutral’’ common land of the river corridor and (2) thedensificationof surrounding developable land resulting in anintensificationof activity – a new vibrancy evident through two distinct and complimentary conditions. Leisure spaces are central to both possibilities.
In what follows, we trace theoretical foci in urban architecture, leisure and “cinematic geographies.” Next, we turn to Situationist methods that underpin theory-in-action with the kino-cine-bomber in Coventry, including discussion of two sorties conducted by architecture students from the (Re)Activist Studio. As befitting a paper on leisure and contemporary politics, we conclude with a manifesto for urban leisure spaces.
Perhaps the foremost metaphor for the metropolis is the palimpsest. In textual studies, a palimpsest is superimposed writing over effaced writing: two or more successive texts have been written, with earlier layers erased but still partially legible, creating a multi-layered record (Dillon, 2007). Viewing the city-as-palimpsest involves recognizing the many layers of built environment added through time over earlier layers that are never fully erased. Through these layers “time becomes visible” as “cities are products of time” (Mumford, 1938, p. 4). Over time, despite attempts to plan and restructure them, most cities have “lost their spatial coherency” (Koeck, 2013, p. 76). In constant flux, initiatives to homogenise and return cities to coherence are absurdly utopian (Koeck, 2013) and run toward a kind of “zombification” (Harvey, 1988), displaying an artificial homogeneity, sterilized and repackaged for consumerism. This strips the city of its sociality, favoring spaces of individualized consumption and institutional control. The Situationist political activist Guy Debord (1931-1994) called this commodification and homogenization “the society of the spectacle” (1995). Debord and the Situationists attempted to disrupt thebanalizationof the city, through arts, playful—and always political—interventions or creative urban subversions (Gilchrist and Ravenscroft, 2013; Loftus, 2009; Mould, 2017).
Recent years have witnessed both the spectacular growth of cities—e.g., by 2020 over half Earth’s population will live in cities (United Nations, 2014)—and dramatically shrinking cities (Pallagst, 2013). Whether shrinking or growing, cities are becomingdenser. For Dovey and Pafka (2014, p. 66), “maximum and minimum measures of density have been linked to qualitative aspects of cities including health, safety, creativity, vitality and sustainability.” If cities are to become more densely inhabited, challenging questions remain over where, what kinds, and how much public space is given over to leisure. While leisure scholars have a longstanding tradition of interest in public spaces (e.g., from parks to parkour), recent scholarship has been increasingly concerned with the political aspects of urban leisure spaces (Johnson & Glover, 2013; Johnson, Glover & Stewart, 2014; Peters, 2010). For Johnson and Glover (2013, p. 191), the concept ofurbanspace is innately connected withpublicspace, and urban public spaces “stand out as particularly meaningful locations of everyday life, for they provoke citizen involvement.” Against the backcloth of privatized, consumerist urban centers—what Harvey (1988) and others (Lashua, 2016; Maak, 2015) have described as “zombie spaces”—leisure research has not adequately explored how architectural space produces citizen involvement.
Gilchrist and Ravenscroft (2013) contextualized the politics of urban leisure spaces and advocated leisure-as-disruption. They theorized activist politics via the “Space Hijackers”, a group of culture jammers in London. They followed the Space Hijackers as they “delivered a variety of performance subversions, intervening in the everyday life of the city to reveal how the use of urban public realm is being narrowed by corporate interests and complicit power brokers” (2013, p. 9). The Space Hijackers adopted the Situationist’s playfully disruptive techniques “to open the possibility of an alternative use and existence” beyond the demands of the everyday life (2013, p. 9). They staged unauthorized “Midnight Cricket” matches to disrupt the streets of London’s financial district. Our project shares this attention to Situationist methods and disruptive leisure interventions; it adds attention to urban architecture in the production of leisure spaces.
Our interdisciplinary research also spans theoretical frames including scholarship on leisure studies and cinema (Lashua, 2013; Lashua & Baker, 2014; López-Sintas, García-Álvarez & Hernández-López, 2017). For the Situationists, “it is obviously in the realm of the cinema that détournement can attain its greatest effectiveness and, for those concerned with this aspect, its greatest beauty” (Debord & Wolman, 2006, p. 19). In this, cinema becomes active in the production and contestation of urban spaces (Lashua, 2013). Therefore, we frame our interest in the politics of urban spaces through “cinematic geographies” (Clarke, 1997; Roberts, 2012) and “cine-scapes” (Koeck, 2013). Cinematic geographies are concerned with relationships between urban landscapes and the moving image (Clarke, 1997), conventionally the ways that cities are representedinfilms. Roberts (2012) inverted this understanding, arguing cinematic geographies should not be primarily about films, but instead foreground cities and their histories as principle focus for inquiry. Instead of reading the city through its representation in cinema, we can use cinema to “read” the city, to understand lived urban spaces ascinematic. Similarly, Koeck advocates “using film as a lens through which we look at architecture and cities” (2013, p. 4). Koeck describes this way of seeing cinematic spaces in urban architecture as “cine-scapes” in which “we should consider the use of film and cinematic principles as a natural instrument to facilitate engagement with architectural spaces” (2013, p. 69).
This use of cinema to engage with architectural spaces is precisely what we set out to do with the kino-cine-bomber. In order to offer alternate leisure spaces, we introduce another concept: architecture by subtraction (Easterling, 2014). Architecture by subtraction involves the practice of renewing the urban landscape by removing redundant, disused, or over-engineered elements. It embraces negative space or deconstruction, rather than additive architecture or construction. This approach invites renewed consideration of the city as palimpsest, written, partially erased, and rewritten, many times over. Urban river daylighting schemes are exemplars of Easterling’s concept. The subtraction of infrastructure candensifythe city andintensifycultural activity. The spaces that are created and revealed require carefully considered architectural design; although “bombing” suggests a violent and messy removal, architecture by subtraction remainsarchitecture; it requires thoughtful design, planning and vision of what a deconstructed space may look like—and be used for.
In combination with cinematic geographies and architecture by subtraction, we use the kino-cine-bomber to envision possible re-use for daylighted, pocket parks and the re-instatement of Pool Meadow in Coventry. These are not only revealed spaces, but alsore-activatedspaces. Correspondingly, we make conceptual links to “zombie spaces”—dead spaces brought back to life—re-activated specifically through new communal leisure spaces (Lashua, 2015; Maak, 2015). Scholars (Collie, 2011; Harvey, 1988; Lashua, 2015) have used the zombie as a cinematic metaphor to provide critical commentary on “lifeless” existence in neoliberal urban spaces. In cinema, zombies illustrate powerful critiques of capitalism and places of mindless consumerism, exemplified inDawn of the Dead(Romero, 1978), where much of the film’s action (and critique) takes place in a shopping mall. To counter the “zombification” of city centers as sites of rampant consumerism, we turn to different urban visions via cinematic geographies re-activated through the kino-cine-bomber. First, we introduce the Situationist methodological frameworks that underscore our excursions in Coventry. Then we provide description and discussion of two sorties made with the kino-cine-bomber.
The kino-cine-bomber was conceived by the authors, then designed and built by postgraduate architecture students in the (Re)Activist Studio at the University of Sheffield (see Figure 1). Similar to Ravenscroft and Gilchrist (2013), our methodological approach borrowed from Situationism. The Situationists were a group of radical artists, intellectuals and political theorists active from the late 1950s into the 1970s. As a loose collective the Situationists advocated “for a right to view the city as a space for democratic possibilities, a social geography of freedom within which the rules of everyday life would be turned upside down and restored into a ‘realm for play’”(Coulton, Huck, Gradinar & Salinas, 2017, p. 2). Anti-capitalist and anti-authoritarian, the Situationists sought to catalyze a shift from consumerism to direct lived experience and authentic desires (Wark, 2015).
One approach to direct engagement was psychogeographical, tracing routes that resist intentional lines of movement through the city, by wandering or meandering—thedériveor “drift”:
In a dérive one or more persons during a certain period drop their relations, their work and leisure activities, and all their other usual motives for movement and action, and let themselves be drawn by the attractions of the terrain and the encounters they find there. Chance is a less important factor in this activity than one might think: from a dérive point of view cities have psychogeographical contours, with constant currents, fixed points and vortexes that strongly discourage entry into or exit from certain zones. (Debord, 1995, p. 50)
Allowing attempts to flow or float through the streets of Coventry, with passage carried along by the channels of streets, buildings, and currents of urban movement, thedérivewas well suited as method for the kino-cine-bomber; a dérive is river-like, in its drifting movements. The psychogeographer Butler (2009) rowed along an actual river in adériveto encounter the changing London docklands, following floating rubbish and pausing wherever it touched shore to speak with locals. (Re)Activist students traced a hidden river in adériveon December 7th2016 by cycling through Coventry, stopping to project films upon walls and buildings, speaking with passers-by, and observing infrastructure that could be removed (see Figure 2). Later, potential sites for architecture by subtraction were plotted against a map of the River Sherbourne’s underground route. Sites identified during thedérivethat aligned with the hidden river were then used to produce new architectural plans—design manifestos—for communal leisure spaces centered on river daylighting and pocket parks.
A second kino-cine-bomber sortie took place January 24th2017. Thisdétournementdeveloped another Situationist approach: “constructed situations.” For Debord (1995) and other Situationists, the commoditization of “spectacle” could be undermined and transformed through creating rebellious artistic situations. These situations include performances and other innovative demonstrations that shift peoples’ interpretation of the world away from complacency, conformity and acceptance. Debord argued that unexpected, situated disruptions could reach people on an emotional (sensual) level and create spaces for critique and social cohesion (Gilman-Opalsky, 2008). Gilchrist and Ravenscroft’s (2013) account of the Space Hijackers’ midnight cricket matches in London’s financial district are an example of constructed situations designed to shock, arouse, amuse and challenge bystanders to step out of the defined order and constraints of prescriptive spaces.
In constructed situations with the kino-cine-bomber, architectural designs and images were projected onto derelict buildings in Coventry that could be removed, showcasing what might be there instead (see Figure 3). These designs centralized potential communal leisure spaces to resist the zombification of urban space. As manifestos they are extensive documents including contextual materials, legal and local planning policy considerations, drawings, designs, budgets and more. We can offer only a brief snapshot here; note that the manifestos relate to one another, forming a series of interrelated spaces across the city.
One manifesto (Kutbi, 2017) designed an experimental open-air theatre space delineating a pocket park leading to the daylighted river. The “Sponge Theatre” would be a resource made of the city’s fabric to challenge and change public perceptions of how to organize the city (Kutbi, 2017) (see Figure 4). A sponge, Kutbi adds, feeds off the energy of life in the water passing through it; so too, the Sponge Theatre. This space “literally rips out the stage from the heart of the theatre and relocates the production around it” allowing an “urban landscape of open accessibility allowing all to join into its entertainment and leisure” (Kutbi, 2017, p. 53).
Nearby, would be a center for civic activism—“the Political Platform”—for citizens to mobilize public protests (Taylor, 2017). A mixed-use development, the site would consist of event space, exhibition space, library facilities and offices, offering facilities for advocacy groups to form. Adopting a similar approach, another manifesto (Craig-Thompson, 2017) envisioned an “Institute for Transient Workers”—a civic institution for Coventry’s flexible workers to address the precariousness of the gig-economy. For Craig-Thompson (2017, p. 2), this would be a leisure space for: socializing, exchange of ideas, place to shelter, and shared resources. […] The Institute becomes a civic heart for Coventry, reaffirming the intertwining of urban economic and social praxes. It addresses the malign forces of contemporary capitalism both in planning and economic systems, with an approach that creates something greater than the sum of its parts.
Also (re)occupying space adjacent to Taylor’s and Craig-Thompson’s political spaces (see Figure 4), Jones (2017) designed a “make-space” for citizen broadcast media. The derelict Co-Operative Society department store would become “a place of creation and innovation: Coventry Independent Broadcast Co-Operative” (p. 5). It offers: a platform for independent broadcast in the center of Coventry. Neither institutional, nor fringe, this center offers a living experience - exhibition halls, big tables and project spaces, alongside a print house and homegrown radio station; traditional, local, media is made relevant again in an age of globalized ‘fake news’. (Jones, 2017, p. 5)
Two manifestos moved beyond pocket parks to imagine broader daylighting schemes. Chee (2017) provided radical plans to restore Pool Meadow (currently Coventry’s central bus station) to urban wetland and open “freespace” (Chee, 2017). Here daylighting marriesdétournement, where freespace falls outside defined planning classifications (sui generis) and users can freely design the space for cultural activities. In this space, “the practice of architecture can generate a more inclusive environment, and hopefully an inclusive community” (Chee, 2017, p. 39). Wong (2017), noting Coventry is among places farthest from a beach in England, envisioned an “Urban Beach Corridor” as an alternative to Coventry’s City Council’s ambition of building a city center waterpark. In re-imaging a re-exposed River Sherbourne: the Urban Beach Corridor blurs the natural and manmade by proposing to divert and de-culvert the city’s river as a green infrastructure. The Urban Beach Corridor also becomes situated within the wider aspirations of the city by responding closely to Coventry Cultural Strategy and Coventry Sports Strategy, functioning as a public space for culture and sports/leisure activities to flourish” (Wong, 2017, p. 2)(see Figure 5, below).
Urban beaches are often used in European cities as temporary recreational space for low-income local residents unable to afford leisure travel. As a related set of plans for pocket parks and river daylighting areas in Coventry, these design proposals share playfully (de)constructive aims of subtraction, re-imaging and re-activating the city center through spaces for communal, public leisure. The kino-cine-bomber was used to project a different vision, offer a catalyst for conversations, and to think through, and with, the city as something “other.”
During the radical protests that swept through Paris in May/June 1968, graffiti around the city declared: “Sous les pavés, la plage!”—beneath the streets, the beach! (Wark, 2011). The phrase was a tongue-in-cheek directive to rip up cobblestone streets to build barricades, or throw them at charging riot police; it was also an imaginative invitation to tear down the existing order and build a new one (Shepard & Smithsimon, 2011). The phrase exemplifies Situationism: rebelliously playful, creatively visionary. In this phrase, we recognize architecture by subtraction, leisure and activist politics, and a call for change reverberating through the design manifestos by (Re)Activist architecture students. The Marxist philosopher and sociologist Henri Lefebvre (1974, p. 167) articulated this re-activation:
An existing space may outlive its original purpose […] which determines its forms, functions and structures; it may thus, in a sense, become vacant and susceptible to being diverted, re-appropriated, and put to a use quite different from its initial one.
Like an obsolete building that becomes a pubic cinema space with the kino-cine-bomber, or a former department store that may become a center for citizen media-making, Lefebvre described how protesters transformed a Paris produce market “into a gathering-place, and a scene of permanent festival—in short, into a centre of play rather than of work” (Lefebvre, 1991, p. 167). In the increasingly dense urban center, such playful re-imaginings of obsolete architecture afford new spaces for communal leisure.
In this paper, we have argued that the relationships between leisure and architecture are under-explored. We introduced the kino-cine-bomber to focus on the hidden River Sherbourne and daylighting schemes, and as a vehicle to explore broader issues of urban public leisure spaces. We set off, on a kind ofdériveof our own, through literature on architecture by subtraction, urban leisure spaces, and cinematic geographies, employing Situationist methods to highlight the work of the (Re)Activist students with the kino-cine-bomber in Coventry. In keeping with the Situationists, we close with a manifesto for urban leisure spaces:
As Lefebvre (1995, p. 126) reminds us, the city is constant flux: “‘Transform the world’—all well and good. It is being transformed. But into what? Here, at your feet, is one small but crucial element in that mutation.” On the pavements, young Parisians imagined socio-political change in 1968 through the cry “Sous les pavés, la plage!” In Coventry we might exclaim “beneath the streets, the river!” just as we have, more broadly, used the kino-cine-bomber to declare, through cinematic projections, “beneath the city, leisure!”
The kino-cine-bomber was funded through an interdisciplinary research cluster project award (Creativity, Protest and the City) from Leeds Beckett University. We’re grateful to Sheffield University (Re)Activist Studio students: Yee Hua Chee, Alexander Craig-Thompson, Abdulbari Kutbi, Chris Jones, Emma Taylor, and Wanqing Wong.