slum clearances

White Horse Close

This close is a picturesque collection of buildings at the foot of the Canongate, but although stepping into its courtyard feels like stepping back in time, all is not as it seems. The close was heavily restored in the 1960s, focused on typical Scottish features such as crow-stepped gables, forestairs and pantiled roofs. The effect is described by one architectural historian as “…so blatantly fake that it can be acquitted of any intention to deceive.”

The close takes its name from an inn which used to stand at its north end. The White Horse Inn on the Canongate closed its doors in the late 1700s, but in its day it was one of the best known coaching inns in Edinburgh. Its location at the beginning of the Great North Road meant that a journey to London would start from its courtyard. The inn was built in the early 1600s by Lawrence Ord, who perhaps named the place after its association with Mary Queen of Scots, who was said to have stabled her favourite white horse there.

In 1639 the White Horse Inn was at the scene of the ‘Stoppit Stravaig’. This was a time of religious turmoil, with many in Scotland in open rebellion against King Charles I. A group of Scottish noblemen had gathered at the inn before setting of to negotiate with the king. But presbyterian ministers heard of the planned trip, and encouraged a mob of townsfolk to lay siege to inn and prevent the group from leaving. They were largely successful, with only the Marquis of Montrose escaping to join the king.

As well as the inn, the close also had some famous residents. John Paterson, who was made Bishop of Edinburgh in 1679, lived in a tenement in the close, and William Dick who founded the Royal School of Veterinary Studies in 1823, was born there.

A particularly intriguing resident was Ned Holt, a notorious showman in Victorian Edinburgh. During an eventful career, he left his apprenticeship as a baker to become an actor in a ‘penny gaff’ theatre, ran a small shop in the Netherbow and a kind of fair-ground booth in the Grassmarket. There people could pay to see a ‘living skeleton’, a 1,000 year old mummy or a demonstration of Holt killing rats with his teeth. Today he is best remembered for his sketches of Edinburgh street-life, many of which can still be seen in the Museum of Edinburgh.

As with much of the Old Town, White Horse Close went into a steep decline in the Victorian period. In the 1950s the city council started a programme of slum-clearance in the Canongate, but it was decided to restore White Horse Close. The surveyor sent to draw up measured plans found it “…a difficult task as the buildings were still inhabited by poor people living in deplorable accommodation.  No wall was the same thickness as any other, nor parallel or at right angles to any other and nor were the floor levels in any way related.”

Today White Horse Close is undoubtedly one of the most picturesque parts of Edinburgh’s Old Town, and yet because of its rather hidden location it is rarely visited by tourists. Whatever its authenticity, the close it is still definitely worth seeing as an imaginary vision of the past – or as one historian has described it: “…a Hollywood dream of the seventeenth century”.

THE MOST INTERESTING INDIAN FILMS RELEASED IN THE YEAR OF 2014

This year, I watched more films than ever before (over 65 if I’m showing off) and enjoyed every second of pouring over their details, scrutinising and analysing them and their merits, and just generally being a nerd. I did have a full list of ten (it included Haider, Jigarthanda and Dedh Ishqiya if you were wondering) but I had nothing to say about them. They were perfect, solid, inventively sculpted pieces of cinema. I agreed with their aesthetics and politics. But it’s really hard for me to say what makes them so great. They just…are!

So the films in this list are simply the most interesting; the films which are perhaps not always perfect, but could not have been made in any other way, for any other audience, in any other language or cultural climate. They are works that have surprised me, will continue to surprise me, and that I’m sure will prove to be of great cultural importance to the industries they were produced in. I hope that all makes sense! So here we go:

7. Oohalu Gusagusalade



Sometimes the most brilliant films are not those that try to be everything, to break new ground, or impress with breathtaking craft. Sometimes, a brilliant film will utilise simplicity in such a charming way that you don’t even wish it tried to be ‘better’. If you are making a romantic comedy, you need a good looking lead pair, some relatable romance and some comedy that is actually funny. You do not need a club song or incessant innuendos or suicide and heartbreak. Kudos to this lovely little film which knew exactly what it was and what it needed to do, while subtly and brilliantly assessing the place of a woman’s choice in arranged marriage. 

6. Bangalore Days


An ‘epic’ is generally considered to be a film with massive production values, conjuring up a huge sense of escapism and a time and a place you never dreamed of seeing, complete with a sprawling time scale and a vaguely existentialist battle between good and evil. But then there is another kind of epic; the kind that boldly attempts to encompass the entire human condition, from youth to adulthood. One of Bangalore Days’ many strokes of genius was casting the ever-popular romantic pairing of Nazriya and Nivin Pauly as cousins, deftly pronouncing the importance of family and friendships that so many Indian films leave at the wayside. Bangalore Days is a whole life lived, with a cast of characters who will feel like your own kin when it’s over. 

5. Kill/Dil


How did Shaad Ali imagine this film? Where did the ideas spring from? What kind of brain can envisage such visual composition, such a rich colour palette, and this bewildering sense of kinetic energy on a two-dimensional screen? Films like this, that have a genuine madcap ingenuity and creativity behind them (and I’m talking about the physical, tangible CRAFT of the art-form) are destined to be critical failures. But I wouldn’t want it any other way. God bless Yash Raj Films, India’s most commercial production house, for allowing a filmmaker to experiment, and ultimately fail in telling a story, but excel in the art of making images. 

4. Hasee Toh Phasee


Meeta and Nikhil sit down at a bus stand after storming out of the family home. Meeta has returned after disappearing for years without a trace. The wounds are still raw. Nikhil is attracted to her mystery, the fierce independence in her actions. He wants to know what is driving all these choices. To explain, she takes out a red rubber ball. She drops it and it bounces furiously around the bus stand. It doesn’t stop. It just keeps bouncing. He was not expecting that. This red ball, and indeed Meeta’s character, are almost metaphors for this film - a small but vital shot of total insanity amongst the mundane.

3. Punjab 1984


Masala films have a lot in common with the post-apocalyptic genre: those barren, hopeless villages where ordinary folk are terrorised by archetypal evil landlords or corrupt rulers, to be saved only by a singular righteous hero. Using no tricks, technical machinery or effects, Punjab 1984 conjures up this otherworldly atmosphere quite beautifully, employing a steadfastly Indian mode of storytelling which never dilutes or insults the real-life significance of the issue at hand. This film was hard to trust, given that it stars BJP-member Kirron Kher and (allegedly) Sukhbir Badal-supporting Diljit Dosanjh, but its even handed, delicate treatment of separatism makes its ultimately humanist message impossible to disagree with. Smaller budgets make sharper filmmakers, and regional cinema is now the place to turn for honestly made and truly Indian movies.

2. Madras


On the surface, this is just a perfectly sculpted story we’ve heard a thousand times before: two opposing political forces exploiting impressionable youths into carrying out their dirty bidding. There are two best friends whose ideologies drift apart, a romance that becomes a vessel of redemption, and a vivid backdrop of an urban slum and its cast of colourful characters from gangsters to nagging mothers. On this level its a good, engrossing film, but little else. But then, notice the Ambedkar portraits that hang in every house, the Christian names, the political literature that lingers on the bookshelves. These characters are Dalits, once ‘untouchable’ people. And this colourful neighborhood they inhabit is government sanctioned 'slum clearance’ social housing - a ghetto in the most literal sense of the word. The film gains a host of added nuances. Every heartwarming interaction between friends or relations becomes a middle finger to centuries of disgraceful oppression. Their ownership of their environment becomes a reclaiming of this prison. Madras is either a perfectly told saga of wasted youth and failed democracy, or an important document of the current state of the caste struggle. Either way, its a fabulous entry into a canon of cinema that could only be made in the Tamil language, and a fervently proud, rebellious and working-class masterpiece.


1. Highway


I’m going to have to try and be critical about a piece of work which moved me so deeply and profoundly that I was quite literally in tears for half of its two hour runtime. I’m going to have to try and be critical about a film which was so personal to me that whenever I thought about it over the next few days, I burst into tears all over again. I’m going to have to try and be critical about a film which beautifully summed up everything I have ever thought about our futile material existence on this Earth, a film which explores love and kindness and compassion between human beings simply and poetically. This is a story about the haves and have-nots, about the divide between rich and poor, about our priorities, the very nature of the things which give us happiness. It is a film about women, about innocence, about childhood, about family. And all of this from the man who gave us Love Aaj Kal? Ok I’m finished, that’s about as critical as I can get for a film which is so much more than just perfect.

Once again, this list really took over my life. There are of course some fabulous looking films I didn’t get to see (and literally tons more of crappy ones that I actually sat through). These are the films which inspired me, got me thinking, and really forced me to engage with them critically. I look forward to hearing what you think! Much love, and happy new year!!

New York. The New York Tribune Building, Park Row, circa 1965.

Horace Greeley’s New York Herald, which championed the early republican party, Hired Karl Marx as a London correspondent and survived until 1966, built this doll’s house of a building in 1875 as a 9 story headquarters. ( more floors were added between 1903-5. Homer and Charles Pace opened their accounting school there, renting a room in 1906 for a classroom, and eventually taking over the building, along with the old New York TImes Buildings across the street. 

In 1966, with some of the cute manipulations of Title 1 slum clearance funds that Robert Moses was so famous for, the building was demolished and the Brutalist One Pace Plaza complex built in its place.

2

Tekstiler Kvartal

Chris Dove / Thesis / Post Graduate Diploma / Mackintosh School of Architecture, Glasgow School of Art / Glasgow, UK / July 2014

The Tekstiler Kvartal of Nørrebro  is located in the centre of a large urban block in Copenhagen. The blocks of Nørrebro are of an unusually large proportion, and used to contain industrial buildings at their centres which would provide work for the district. These centres were completely lost in a series of over zealous slum clearance in the 1960s. The thesis looks to reintroduce the idea of industry in the centre of a block, to form a new urban strategy for Nørrebro.

The Tekstiler Kvartal creates a situation in the centre of a block, consisting of two large industrial components that occupy the territory in the centre. These large glass and concrete components contain the spaces for recycling and making of the textiles into raw material in which young designers can use. An archive of textiles is established. The introduction of glass and concrete, into the centre of the block, acts as a new typology of architecture in the centre of the block. These industrial spaces are contrasted by a layer of smaller scale, studio spaces, which connect the industrial centre with the retail and residential edge of the block. The studio components of the Kvartal are of a solid brick construction, reminiscent of the traditional Danish typology in which it sit. The studios look to act as an intermediate element between the centre and the perimeter through the use of scale, materiality and the introduction of outside shared spaces. These exterior spaces act as a common ground between the industry and the residential edge, encouraging the integration of the public into the industry, and with it the reinvention of Nørrebro.

6

Photos from my July - September 2016 visit to Cape Town, South Africa, here from its District 6 Museum.

From Wikipedia:  District Six is a former inner-city residential area in Cape Town, South Africa. Over 60,000 of its inhabitants were forcibly removed during the 1970s by the apartheid regime.  It was home to almost a tenth of the city of Cape Town’s population, which numbered over 1,700–1,900 families.
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After World War II, during the earlier part of the apartheid era, District Six was relatively cosmopolitan. Situated within sight of the docks, it was made up largely of colored residents which included a substantial number of colored Muslims, called Cape Malays. There were also a number of black Xhosa residents and a smaller numbers of Afrikaans, whites, and Indians.

Government officials gave four primary reasons for the removals. In accordance with apartheid philosophy, it stated that interracial interaction bred conflict, necessitating the separation of the races. They deemed District Six a slum, fit only for clearance, not rehabilitation. They also portrayed the area as crime-ridden and dangerous; they claimed that the district was a vice den, full of immoral activities like gambling, drinking, and prostitution. Though these were the official reasons, most residents believed that the government sought the land because of its proximity to the city center, Table Mountain, and the harbor.

On 11 February 1966, the government declared District Six a whites-only area under the Group Areas Act, with removals starting in 1968. By 1982, more than 60,000 people had been relocated to the sandy, bleak Cape Flats township complex some 25 kilometers away. The old houses were bulldozed. The only buildings left standing were places of worship. International and local pressure made redevelopment difficult for the government, however. The Cape Technikon (now Cape Peninsula University of Technology) was built on a portion of District Six which the government renamed Zonnebloem. Apart from this and some police housing units, the area was left undeveloped.

Since the fall of apartheid in 1994, the South African government has recognised the older claims of former residents to the area, and pledged to support rebuilding.

(Click on any image to enlarge.)

3

Tekstiler Kvartal

Chris Dove / Thesis / Post Graduate Diploma / Mackintosh School of Architecture, Glasgow School of Art / Glasgow, UK / July 2014

The Tekstiler Kvartal of Nørrebro  is located in the centre of a large urban block in Copenhagen. The blocks of Nørrebro are of an unusually large proportion, and used to contain industrial buildings at their centres which would provide work for the district. These centres were completely lost in a series of over zealous slum clearance in the 1960s. The thesis looks to reintroduce the idea of industry in the centre of a block, to form a new urban strategy for Nørrebro.

The Tekstiler Kvartal creates a situation in the centre of a block, consisting of two large industrial components that occupy the territory in the centre. These large glass and concrete components contain the spaces for recycling and making of the textiles into raw material in which young designers can use. An archive of textiles is established. The introduction of glass and concrete, into the centre of the block, acts as a new typology of architecture in the centre of the block. These industrial spaces are contrasted by a layer of smaller scale, studio spaces, which connect the industrial centre with the retail and residential edge of the block. The studio components of the Kvartal are of a solid brick construction, reminiscent of the traditional Danish typology in which it sit. The studios look to act as an intermediate element between the centre and the perimeter through the use of scale, materiality and the introduction of outside shared spaces. These exterior spaces act as a common ground between the industry and the residential edge, encouraging the integration of the public into the industry, and with it the reinvention of Nørrebro.