Coming Soon – Archaeology of Austerity walk for London Festival of Architecture

Next Sunday, 4 June, Kate Tiernan and I, in our first joint venture as the Centre for Social Archaeology, will be reprising our exploration of austerity and inequality in Tower Hamlets. We previously ran it as part of the Public Archaeology 2015 cross-London politics walk back in December 2015. The walk is taking place as part of the 2017 London Festival of Architecture.

LFA2017 Logo

Originally developed as a reaction the 2013 report of the Tower Hamlets Fairness Commission, the walk uses contemporary archaeological field practice to see what evidence we can see in the landscape for inequality and the impacts of austerity, and how the different narratives we can build from that evidence sit within the past, present and future of the borough.


Participants will walk with us from Canary Wharf to Altab Ali Park in Whitechapel. The central task of the walk is to collect evidence for a particular sub-theme, which will be given out to participants at the start, as in the image above from the previous walk. In collecting sounds, signs, flora, smells and more, we take this archaeological investigation beyond the perhaps more typical observation of architecture and other features and replace it with an investigation of the whole built environment; the life that happens in and around the buildings of Tower Hamlets as well as the buildings themselves.

We will also be adding a couple of stops along the way for walkers to hear more about the uses of site-responsive archaeology.

At the end of the walk, participants will put the evidence they have collected to use as we put together competing ‘rich’ and ‘poor’ narratives for Tower Hamlets and question the usefulness of particular kinds of evidence in developing an understanding of Tower Hamlets that can effect change in the present and future.

We hope walkers will take away a new, deeper understanding of this part of Tower Hamlets, but also a new way of looking at the contemporary built environment that can be applied elsewhere.


Sunday 4 June, 10am – 1pm, meet at the west exit of Canary Wharf underground station, between the Santander bikes and Reuters Plaza.

Hope to see you there!

Coming soon: HOUSERULES, 6 May 2017

Please come to HOUSERULES on 6 May, 2-6pm. Details here:


I’m going to be seeing how far I can get with following archaeological processes in non-archaeological (but not too distant) ways. The stages will look something like this:

1. Bounding

Exploring the limits of the site by reproducing the site boundary as a textual narrative. An alternative to red lines and mapping.

2. Understanding

Tracing lines through the site, interactions between the site and non-site, things going on regardless of the site’s existence. An alternative to metric survey.

3. Representing

An experiment with temporary, ephemeral archiving.

Coming soon: House Rules, 6 May 2017

On Saturday 6 May I’m going to be taking my ‘experimental field practice’ research to House Rules, an occasional, nomadic experiment in working creatively within bounded spaces. We’ll be working under the Eastway where it crosses the Lee Navigation. Watch this space for more details.


HOUSERULES embraces indeterminacy; bringing, but also questioning, freedom, action and play into the context of a given space. Each particular location will come with its own set of ‘house rules’ and will be the starting point for each artist’s response through his or her own artistic ‘lens’.

HOUSERULES invites artists from various disciplines to contribute. The individual works take on a variety of media, including dance/movement, film, installation, sculpture, written/spoken word and sound, all coming together to form a temporary situation of creative energy.

Coming soon – FAÇADISM: PRESERVE OR RENEW?, RIBA, 22 November 2016

On Tuesday 22 November I’ll be taking part in a panel discussion on façadism at RIBA, part of the events programme for their current exhibition We Live In The Office by Giles Round. Other participants include Gillian Darley and Will Wiles.

Mid-point of a facade retention project at St Elizabeth’s Hospital, Washington D.C.

Façades are interesting things. I’ve written before that ‘façades are for art historians’ by which I mean (or, rather, meant) that in buildings archaeology and built heritage, we put too much weight on principal elevations, architectural styles and architects’ intentions, so much . Archaeology is the stuff that happens behind them.

But also, façadism is an archaeologically fascinating phenomenon and one that needs to be understood and critiqued both to understand the nature of contemporary change in the built environment and to try to check the adverse impact of certain kinds of development on peoples’ lives.

The phenomenon has archaeological signatures of its own of course, as Sarah May and I wrote about in reference to Sheffield back in the mists of 2005.

Please let me know if you have examples near you. Façadism done badly and done well!

The event itself is ticketed I’m afraid, but you can get one here:

Coming soon – What’s the Future for the Past?, Cambridge Festival of Ideas,29 October 2016

On Saturday I’ll be at Cambridge Festival of Ideas taking part in a panel on the future alongside long-time compatriots Rachael Kiddey and Sarah May considering pasts, futures and the varied presents in between. I’ll be talking about Nina Pope and Karen Guthrie’s Prospection and our recent art-archaeology fieldwork on the North West Cambridge development site where I’ve been working for three years. The gist of my work there – carried out as part of a multi-disciplinary research team – has been to avoid standard archaeological recording and instead allow the site to impact on my own practice. On Saturday I will talk a little about this work and some of the concepts arising from it under the tentative (and maybe undeservedly grand) title, A Visual Manifesto for the Archaeology of Construction, and featuring such fun as the juxtaposition of different stages of completeness, erratics, seepage, palette and my favourite: construction pastoral.

Construction pastoral?

Here’s the abstract for the event. Tickets available here:

Who or what decides what data, what objects, will survive to tell future generations what we were like? How do we know what should or could become the ‘heritage’ of the future?

‘Prospection’ is a visionary art project tracking the development of the new NW Cambridge development and its inhabitants, by artists Karen Guthrie & Nina Pope. With their team of archaeologists, sociologists and creatives, they will visit NWC annually for the next 25 years, recording its places and people and storing these for posterity at Cambridgeshire Archives. Now into year 3, the Prospection team’s records have ranged from archaeological surveys to short films to soil samples.

Inspired by ‘Prospection’, this event presents a panel of leading heritage experts including Sarah May (Research Associate, UCL Institute of Archaeology), Rachael Kiddey (Research Associate, University of York & Editorial Assistant at the Independent Social Research Foundation) and James Dixon (Museum of London Archaeology) who will present a thought-provoking array of fieldwork and research exploring what the future holds for the past and what the past holds for the future.

The panel will be followed by refreshments and a chance to browse the boxes of the first two years’ findings of ‘Prospection’

Coming soon – World Archaeological Congress, Kyoto, Japan

I’m going to be at the World Archaeological Congress next week talking about urban archaeology, art and sustainability.

On Thursday 1 September I will be taking part in the session, Breaking the Frame: Art and Archaeology, with the following paper:

Site-specificity in an international context

This paper arises from a collaboration between four organisations in the UK and Japan which has, over the course of 2016, examined the practical relationship between art and archaeology in urban regeneration contexts in both countries. Drawing on group fieldwork, an international seminar in July 2016 and my own long-running research into developing art-inspired site-specific archaeologies, the paper will outline the results of the London-Japan project, present some initial conclusions arising from it concerning the practicalities of site-specific working in an international context, and detail the contribution of the project to wider debates in art-archaeology.

That sounds very generic, but the paper will be looking at whether different kinds of interpretive framework in art/archaeology give us different understandings of site and how we might work differently to overlap or join these. It will be looking primarily at the work of Nobuaki Date (Date-san), Toshio Matsui, Laura Oldfield Ford and Hilary Powell.

My second paper, part of a session called Urban Heritage and Sustainability will look at the idea of archaeology for sustainability, the different kinds of archaeology that we might develop in pursuit of environmental, social and economic sustainability, and the liklihood that these different archaeologies cannot be reconciled into one central effort. Abstract below:

Sustainability and politically-engaged archaeology.

Economic, environmental and social sustainability are different things and do not necessarily have the same motivation. Each benefits different people in different ways and what is objectively best for any people in any place at any time is rarely clear. This paper contends that different kinds of sustainability require, or create, different relationships with archaeology and require archaeologists to be socially and politically aware of the situations in which they find themselves working. Archaeology can mitigate or mobilise, provide direction or distraction. This paper will outline the benefits of promoting more politically-engaged practice from private consultancy to community archaeology.

My attendance at WAC is part of a collaborative research project on comparative art and archaeology practice between the UK and Japan supported by the Daiwa Foundation, MOLA (Museum of London Archaeology) and OCCPA.

Coming soon – Architecture, Archaeology and Contemporary City Planning, Valencia, Spain – 16-20 May, 2015

In a couple of weeks I’m heading off to Spain for the second installment of the Architecture, Archaeology and City Planning workshop, with colleagues from Italy, Sweden, Spain and Finland. Last year’s event in Florence was really great, lots of different perspectives on archaeology and architecture. Valencia will be equally stimulating I’m sure. Last year’s event has been published here.

Here’s my abstract for 2015:

Human-nature relations in built heritage and urban places, present and past.

The inter-relation of people and the environment is a central theme in post-industrial planning. This paper will examine this relationship archaeologically. First, the paper will outline the potential contribution of contemporary archaeology to developing site-specific understandings of this relationship that can be of use to architects and planners. Archaeological methods have the potential to be able to uncover the relationships between people and things in the present day in such a way as to help architects in their aims of making places good for people, but also in following what happens to these developments after they achieve physical reality. With reference to international architects Turenscape, Snøhetta and Jan Gehl, this part of the paper will explore how archaeology can become a more intentionally proactive discipline in place-making. 

The second part of the paper will consider the question of how contemporary archaeological approaches to post-industrial architecture can change our understanding of historic buildings, both in the past and as they endure as heritage assets in the present. Taking direct inspiration from Kongjian Yu’s architectural philosophy of bringing historical agricultural rhythms into modern architecture, the paper seeks to create a direct connection between urban ecologies of the present and past. The potential uses of this approach lie both in the interpretation and curation of historic buildings and landscapes, and in heritage-led regeneration and other kinds of development project. With this approach, we can begin to appreciate the past of any urban place not as separate from the present, or as representing distinct historical periods, but as part of an ongoing evolution of human-nature relationships with no clear start, end, or edges.