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Artists give a human face to neglected east-end estate.

Boarded-up housing estates are symbols of doom and gloom in the modern urban landscape. However, there are those willing to change this perception as seen in the installation I am here (pictured) by artist collective Fugitive Images (FI). Their installation replaces 67 bright orange boards that have covered the windows of empty flats in Samuel House on Haggerston Estate in Hackney, London, since April 2007, with large-scale photographs of residents of the estate.


Samuel House transferred to housing association London & Quadrant Housing Trust (L&Q) in October 2008, however it is not scheduled for redevelopment until late 2011. In the meantime, there has been 'a gradual wearing-down process', as artist Lasse Johansson calls it, in order to get residents rehoused before development work begins. As long-time residents, Johansson, along with FI colleagues Andrea Luka Zimmerman and Tristan Fennell, have lived through the flats being bricked and boarded up. For the past six years, they have been documenting the drive toward the estate's redevelopment through a variety of media. In addition to the I am here project, they arc also collaborating on a book and a film, both aimed at catching this particular moment of imminent change in Hackney's urban landscape.

Johansson is surprisingly candid and captures the crux of the underlying problem with urban estate housing. 'I've learned lots from this project, but also from just living here,' he says. 'My views on redevelopment were initially very black and white and I began to feel very nostalgic for what we would lose, but I could also see that residents who have lived here for 20 years deserve better facilities.'

Speaking about their inspiration for the project, Zimmerman explains that it stemmed from a desire to confront this pessimism, which seeped from the estate's residents as well as outsiders. The charming top-floor flat Zimmerman and Johansson share faces the Regent's Canal and both say they often struggled with comments made by passers-by. 'People were always speculating about who lived here, whether anyone lived here,' Zimmerman says, 'but there was also the issue that those who do live here were unable to project any kind of positive future for the estate; a view that everything would still be the same even in 10 years' time--we wanted to challenge these preconceptions.

'People saw a failed building and immediately equated it with failed inhabitants--we needed to challenge this one-way dialogue and thought, "How can we make a work that addresses this idea and involves the individuals in the community?"' adds Zimmerman.

Armed with signatures from 98 per cent of the estate's residents, FI took advantage of a Community Growth Fund set up by L&Q for residents and presented their project proposal in February this year, where they were granted one-third of their budget and the rest of which was fundraised.

Johansson says the project has altered people's perception of the estate, but he also points out that, because of city space and collective memory, the project has an infinite number of receptions. 'It's like Melanie Counsell's installation at Matt's Gallery [in London, 1995] when she lowered the ceiling,' says Johansson. 'For those who were familiar with the gallery, there was a realisation of what had happened to the building, a different level of understanding for those in the know.'

Zimmerman adds: 'There are two clearly defined audiences for our project: those who live here and the outside world. Some of those who didn't live here will remember the orange boards and notice the difference immediately, while others who have never seen the orange boards have a completely different reaction to the photos.

'A question that interests me, especially about social housing, is whether it is the building itself or the people who live in the buildings that makes it architecture? Perhaps the obvious answer is a bit of both and this project is about highlighting that,' she adds.
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Title Annotation:LONDON, UK; artists Andrea Luka Zimmerman and Tristan Fennell
Author:Bennes, Crystal
Publication:The Architectural Review
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Nov 1, 2009
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