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Irony in the Shoal

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My curiosity drew me lately to view this strange structure which is emerging in the middle of Stratford next to the old Shopping Centre. The architects (Studio Egret West) of this apparition describe it as ;

“…a vertical kinetic sculpture made of naturally coloured titanium, the Shoal, produces a linear edge that consolidates the fractured northern edge of the Stratford Island. The sculpture helps define the island and acts as decoy to the taller parking structures and buildings upon the island. Overall, the re-invigorated public realm together with the Shoal aim to change perceptions and establish Stratford Town Centre as a destination in its own right a benchmark for the quality of future designs that will not be compromised by change ahead.”

There exists a document; Stratford Public Realm Project, Welcome to the Island, Design and Access Statement, March 2010, where on page 25 (PDF) I am informed about a problem for which this curious structure is supposed to be a solution. It says

“…in its current condition, Stratford Town Centre runs the risk of being over shadowed by adjacent new developments, such as the Olympic Park and the Westfield Shopping Centre.”

The authors later tell of how,

“[We]..became interested in designing a strong visual delight that could see the image of Stratford Island transformed to encourage development from the outside in.”

I realise that I have come across before such fetish objects with magical powers to sway human souls and part them from their money. It was then called the Cargo Cult and I think we have here a contemporary version of the same process realised. Wikipedia informs me that; “A cargo cult is a religious practice that has appeared in many traditional pre-industrial tribal societies in the wake of interaction with technologically advanced cultures. The cults focus on obtaining the material wealth (the "cargo") of the advanced culture through magic and religious rituals and practices.”

The developers of the Shoal aim to seduce devotees of consumerism to re-invigorate the retailing of more and better stuff (cargo) by instrumentalising the glamour of these mechanical tree fish.

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The illustrations provided by the architects show some of the magical outcomes of their fetish. The sun always shines. All the traffic has disappeared except for one familiar London double decker bus half hidden behind an extensive copse. A few leisurely shoppers wander amiably about in this pedestrianised paradise of personal purchase. There is plenty of time and space for them to stroll down diminutive stairs to the distant welcome of the Stratford Centre.

Yet even in this dream of happy shopping there are worrisome anomalies one of which Diamond Geezer has spotted. Surely the tourist throng will easily spot that;

“The bleak offices of Morgan House still rise behind with all the charm of a housebrick,..”

This problem may well be taken care of after the Olympics in the discreet world of capital investments. Land Securities sold Stratford Shopping Centre to Catalyst European Property Fund last September for £91.5m. Catalyst say:

“As well as a strong tenant line up, the center also has excellent development opportunities”

Intensified competition for the cheaper end of the retail market combined with investments in improving the public realm will drive up rents. I am not convinced that ramping up the local retail spectacle in this way will drag more money from the pockets of the increasingly stretched local populace. It is those who live locally, often in overcrowded privately rented accommodation under short let tenancies, who are the most vulnerable to displacement by those able to afford higher rents for homes near to improved transport links and shopping centres.

I find this fluttering fish foliage a poor substitute for the lost spawning Bream shoals in the River Lea and the hundreds of trees felled to create the Olympic Park. Estimated to cost £3m for completion in November 2011 so far it has cost £4.5m and will take a while to finish.


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