Blog and Events

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.

Coming soon – The Spectre of Non-Completion – UCL Institute of Archaeology, 26/01/2015

This coming Monday I’m going to be giving a paper in the IoA seminar series ‘Future Pasts/Present Futures: critical conversations on the ‘contemporary’ across disciplines’.

My talk will address the temporal uncertainty inherent in the construction phase of every used building; that point in time when work has begun and the building has a physical presence, but still retains the potential not to ever see the completion of that defined phase of work and the building’s intended occupation or use. It builds on previous work of mine where I have investigated the importance of planning committee meetings as places and spaces in which multiple, competing conceptions of a building or site’s past, present and future are presented, promoted and argued, often in very short periods of time, before a decision is taken by elected officials on which of those conceptions will be privileged with physical expression in the world.

Hopefully I will be able to explain the importance of this work and the perspective it promotes to the wider field of buildings archaeology, a field which most usually, taking a lead from art historical approaches to the same material, finds itself confined to the linear progression from architectural design to de-occupation, often with an emphasis on the former, without regard to the extreme precarity inherent in the whole ‘life’ of a building as it moves between different forms of being there and not being there. Is is possible, or even useful, to reconsider our approach to the entire built environment?

Also though, I’ll be discussing the work of some interesting artists who have engaged with the same phenomenon and asking whether their work can provide useful prompts to begin to understand it archaeologically and to present more widely the perspective it brings.

Institute of Archaeology, 4pm. See you there?

Marie-Jeanne Hoffner, 2008.
Marie-Jeanne Hoffner, 2008.

Conference updates 10/06/2014

Couple of quick info updates for those of you who like too much information.

Due to some very efficient organisation, the full conference booklet for the World In Denmark conference in Copenhagen this week can be found here: World in Denmark 2014_net (2)

Similarly, here is the conference booklet for my forthcoming Archaeology and Architecture seminar in Florence: EPUB_AACP2014_Abstract_Collection

Conference reports to follow.

Coming Soon – World In Denmark 2014 – Copenhagen, 12-14/06/2014

Scale and context are very important in urban development. It is always important to remember that any spaces being developed are within local, distinct places with their own identities, problems and aspirations. That very small scale, the one at which problems caused by bad development will be most keenly felt, must however be seen alongside larger scales such as city-wide or regional development and infrastructure. Further, at a very practical level, the need for developers and planners (whether companies or individuals [multiple scales again!]) to take lessons, practices and even visual styles learnt and developed in specific places in response to specific needs and apply them elsewhere creates an interaction between the local and the national and international that is played out every day in thousands of instances and in countless different ways.

Contemporary archaeology has a role to play in understanding that interaction. Using field methods developed over the last two decades and allying traditional archaeological perspectives with those of other relevant disciplines (in my case geography, politics and creative arts) archaeology can go a long way towards creating deep interpretations of what makes individual places what they are. We can add to the more obvious focus on the presence or not of ‘heritage assets’ with consideration of how, over time, built environments in the widest sense have shaped changing local politics, with particular houses, shops, roads or patches of grass becoming more or less important as suits individual ongoing issues. Following on from that, it becomes possible for archaeologists to investigate at that micro-scale the differing impacts of different kinds of developer, different development philosophies, different sources of financial backing, and specific architects or public artists.

In June I will be speaking on this subject at the World In Denmark 2014 conference, ‘Nordic Encounters: Travelling Ideas of Open Space Design and Planning’, in Copenhagen (information here), using my work in Bristol and international case studies to outline how important contemporary archaeological perspectives can be in understanding the multi-scalar contexts of new development. Specifically for this conference I will be adapting ideas developed in the UK to investigate the mediation between changing distinct, local places and the larger-scale project of developing an umbrella ‘Nordic’ urban design tradition. I will be speaking in my capacity as Senior Archaeologist (Built Heritage) at MOLA, who have kindly provided funding towards my attendance.

I am currently researching public art and community development projects across Iceland, Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Finland so please get in touch if you have any news of interesting case studies.