What Does It Mean To Reclaim A Space?

Credit: Paul Blakemore

Credit: Paul Blakemore

Whilst at The Rooms, Cai started to think about how we should be looking after our old buildings and where the line is between gentrification and regeneration.

When I was younger, I spent my journeys home looking at the empty and derelict buildings that littered my bus route. I would pass them imagining what these spaces could be and the potential that those spaces had to become something. I’d pass the old Metropolis building in Stokes Croft. There was a row of old shops I’d walk past on the Wells Road. And I’d pass the old bath house on the Gloucester Road. All of these buildings were empty and all of them have the potential to become something.

Redeveloping a building or an area doesn’t simply mean putting a Costa or a Tesco into some unused building then turning round going ‘look at how we’ve improved this community’.

Bristol has so many old buildings that have just been left there. Left with enough care to keep them standing, but not enough to stop them from falling apart at the seams. Some of these buildings are beautiful, but are just missing a little care and attention.

But redeveloping a building or an area doesn’t simply mean putting a Costa or a Tesco into some unused building then turning round going ‘look at how we’ve improved this community’. Because all they’ve really got is a place to drink okay coffee and get their groceries. These buildings have histories to them. These buildings have souls. When you implant these corporations into them, it’s so easy for them to cover up any history in these buildings instead of celebrating it.

This weekend, The Rooms is taking place and it features 53 digital projects that have been created over the past four years. To show them off, they’ve made their home in the Old Fire Station, The Magistrate’s Court and Police Station.

As you walk through the different rooms, you get a real sense of what the space used to be as well as what it’s become. These rooms have cracks in the walls, tiles missing and patched up parts everywhere, but you look beyond that. You walk through the newsroom and you see a grand entrance hall. You explore the maze and you can feel what it was like to be locked in the cells. You can understand what the building was used for before, as well as what it’s used for now.

What The Rooms does is celebrate the space and it’s history.

The Rooms doesn’t cover up its history. They didn’t come in and plaster the walls and fix it up. The spaces that they create sit within the old history. I feel that’s what people misunderstand when trying to reclaim a space – they can be so quick to cover up everything. To renovate an old building and turn it into nice overpriced flats. What The Rooms does is celebrate the space and it’s history.

Reclaiming a space is not done by injecting a load of money into it. A load of money helps, but to truly reclaim a space it has to be done by a community. Whilst I was there, there was a huge sense of that community at The Rooms. These people had been working closely for years, and it became a project that they were passionate about – it became their space. People working together can create a space that feels truly welcoming and where you can belong.

Credit: Liz Mizon

Credit: Liz Mizon

Watching them put together the space this week has been amazing to watch, because it’s a bunch of people from a variety of different backgrounds working together to produce something new out of something very old.

So I’m not suggesting that the future of architecture is about sitting in buildings that are falling apart around us, but care needs to be taken when reclaiming a space. Through projects like The Rooms where we celebrate old buildings and adorn them with innovative ideas and creations, that is how we can truly reclaim spaces.

What do you think? Are there any spaces in Bristol you’d like to see reclaimed? Has a space that you love been “redeveloped” into something that you don’t agree with? Let us know using @rifemag

The Rooms is open Friday 6th November from 4pm till 1am and Saturday 7th November 10am till 6pm so be sure to head down and have a look.

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