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ADS0: Rooms and Windows – Framing the Everyday Catastrophe in a City of Interiors

Oli Cutter

Oli Cutter graduated from the University of Manchester in 2015 before moving to London to spend 2 years working for Stephen Marshall Architects. There he gained experience working on high end residential projects and art galleries. 

Outside of his studies he is a keen documentary photographer, shedding light on current social issues around the world. Witnessing people who are not only dealing with the devastating effects of climate change, but also subject to human rights violations has deepened his thoughts and questioning on how architecture can solve or alleviate these problems. 

At the RCA, he has brought his interests together, developing a practice at the intersections between investigative journalism, architecture and art. 

I believe that architecture can be used as an analytical device, through a range of methods and mediums to investigate social change, human rights violations and that cuts through architectural, journalistic and legal fields, shifting between critical reflections and tactical interventions.

The project understands catastrophe as the commodification of food production and consumption and looks at the current food delivery systems that dominate our urban spaces. By investigating current exploitation and working conditions that have arisen due to platform capitalism the project then focusses on an alternative food system that is designed for human need rather than profit. 

The project challenges the wage and class struggle by turning Clapham Common back into common ground, a site for growing. The current allotment site is greatly increased to cover half of the common, reverting the use of the park back to the days of the 1940’s Dig for Victory Campaign. Structures are positioned across the site with a range of programs, from cooking and dining facilities to educational and day care cabins. These pavilions also act as a social welfare space, catering for nutrition, mental health and early detection, providing an alternative socio-cultural function in sharp contrast to our current food system.

The aim of the strategy is to foster greater food citizenship, increase community cohesion, engage individuals with agriculture and nature to enhance the consumers sense of place. By bringing the production of food back to our daily lives it will not only democratise the food system, but also allow our cities to achieve food security, a topic which has been highlighted due to the pandemic.

The project builds on existing cooperative food networks in South London for the residents of Lambeth and Wandsworth. Members who grow on the site will have access to freshly cooked meals, food boxes, learning facilities and dining cabins. Free meals are given each week to those who work on the plots, hold cooking classes, construction and cultivation classes or provide day care for children.  

This new system will not only be beneficial to our diets and the climate, but it also allows for a transparency to know where our food is coming from and support local economies, by undoing the commodification of food, where we all become growers and producers, the class struggle can be rewritten and chefs and food workers will not be exploited.

— With a small kitchen that becomes untidy when cooking meals, a busy work schedule and the growing desire for instant gratification, ordering in food has become more convenient than cooking.
— Customers sit impatiently at home, refreshing their screens as an underpaid, overworked rider cycles tirelessly to reach them within the strict time of 20mins.
— Deliveroo targets well known restaurant brands to open satellite kitchens, pushing out competition from smaller independent restaurants, forcing them to close down.
— FRANK Algorithm not only managers the workers but also disguises where our food is coming from.
— Late night office workers are bribed to work longer hours by having fast food delivered to their offices. This is a widespread crisis of social reproduction where low skilled, precarious workers are put to work delivering food to exhausted proletarianised (working class) professionals
— "Dark kitchens" are strategically positioned across the city near offices and residential areas to reduce delivery times.

Across our cities a cut throat battle for supremacy is taking place. Food delivery platforms are using strategies to control certain territories across London, in turn changing the way food is prepared, cooked and eaten.

Delivery riders have become a ubiquitous part of urban life, especially during the Covid-19 Pandemic, where more people have been forced to find work in the ‘Gig’ sector. This leaves them more vulnerable to exploitation, however their story is only part of a wider crisis.

Dependence on an increasingly globalised food economy is also growing, leading to a gradual decrease in essential life skills such as the ability to cook a meal.

The research uses documentary film as a medium to give an artistic and journalistic observation of this food system we increasingly rely on, and to investigate social change and human rights violations taking place within the Gig Economy.

By depicting interior spaces within the city I created a multimedia film using card models, digital animation, projection and found footage to tell the story of food delivery workers and consumers. 

With a fixed camera, the models rotate on a turn table as footage of deliveroo riders and protests are projected onto the interior spaces, representing the continuous cycle of exploitation that is taking place.

Dining Cabin — The cabins are rented out in summer months for economic gain, where dinner parties, and social events can take place, with views stretching across the allotments and parkland.
Construction Workshops — Further across the site, cabins are constructed near the allotments, for food and tool storage. Construction workshops are held for community members to provide them with life skills and potential employment.
Storage Cabin — These cabins provide growing and storage space for vegetables during colder months to maximise production.
Cooking Cabin — Timber cabins provide spaces for community cooking classes and nutritional learning.
— A 25m canteen stretches from the recreational area into the main pavilion, leading users into the building. The canteen starts as a table, a kitchen counter, a storage cupboard, before becoming a food preparation facility with sinks and ovens regularly spaced at intervals for park users to cook at. The structure of the partial canopy, not only blurs the boundaries between internal and external space but can also be used for growing climbing plants and vines.
— As the building progresses, it gradually becomes more covered, with polycarbonate sheets providing shelter and an environment for growing food inside. Below the main structure, smaller timber cabins are positioned along the pathways that intersect the building. These provide spaces for child day care, cultivation and nutritional learning. Learning facilities interact with cooking areas where production and consumption are then merged to allow for a transparency of where the food we eat is being grown.

Although my implementation of productive landscapes starts at a local scale, the goal is to develop a productive and continual urban city network of ethical food production. At the largest scale, it should include a new social network of open spaces throughout the urban fabric, that foster greater food citizenship, increase community cohesion, engage individuals with agriculture and nature by creating a visible and mental connection to food, putting agriculture back into our cities and minds.

Healthcare, nutrition, social welfare and skill building are all tackled within one initiative that at its core was designed around resisting platform capitalism and challenging the class struggle that gig work exacerbates.

This new system will not only be beneficial to our diets and the climate, but it also allows for a transparency to know where our food is coming from and support local economies, by undoing the commodification of food, where we all become growers and producers, the class struggle can be rewritten and chefs and food workers will not be exploited.

The important tasks of our time; reversing climate change, increasing natural habitat, creating a healthy food system are now part of the architectural profession. This project not only tries to engage with these current issues but could also be a test site for initiatives to take place across our urban areas, where the role of the architect is not only in building and designing but is also a provocateur for policy change.