Walid Bhatt is an aspiring architect and artist with experience working on projects from Google’s Bay View to a floating city. He graduated with a BA in Architecture from Central Saint Martins in 2017 and has worked for international offices such as Adjaye Associates in London to Bjarke Ingels Group in New York. He was recently awarded the Charles Knevitt Architecture Award by the Chelsea Arts Club Trust.
“Born in a free world once the shackles of slavery and colonialism had fallen away, we played the game our way.”
- Darcus Howe, writer and racial justice campaigner.
In 1990, at a Test match between England and India, Conservative MP Norman Tebbit asked, “which side do they cheer for?” By ‘they’, Tebbit was referring to Britain’s recent migrant population. His controversial statement became popularly known as the cricket test in reference to the perceived lack of loyalty amongst South Asian and Caribbean immigrants towards the England cricket team.
The South Asian communities who came to post-war Britain had numerous ways of maintaining links with ‘home’ even as they put down new roots. One channel through which the relationship between old and new ‘homes’ was recreated was through the shared love of cricket many brought with them from their countries. The moral and ethical codes which ties a lot of cricketing discourse offered a language through which to reconfigure ideas of identity and belonging.
In the context of how this applies to space, cricket is an unlikely but powerful conduit through which discussions of Empire, race, class and identity can be explored by looking at the spaces and venues that have defined the sport by both immigrants and cricket fans on either side of the political spectrum.
'Who do they cheer for?' seeks to legitimise the often denigrated game of ‘street cricket’ - a version of the game most associated with British Asian communities who play in alleyways and streets across England.
In the cricketing world, Lord’s Cricket Ground, located in St. John’s Wood, London, is the ultimate place of veneration and pilgrimage. If cricket was the sport of the Empire then Lord’s is its spiritual centre.
The significance of Lord’s to cricket and the English sense of identity cannot be overstated. As the England epitomised by the rural cricket field was viewed as progressively under threat due to industrialisation, writers looked to cricket as a bastion of English identity. Faced with the loss of the Empire, writers eulogised cricket for its importance in preserving a particular view of England. Lord’s Cricket Ground curiously became a conduit through which writers harked back to provincial notions of the vanishing English way of life in an attempt to create a shared sense of Englishness that could be said to be both hegemonic and based upon ideas of de-individuation through the reconstruction of a singular English identity through cricket.
Prior to the construction of Lord’s Cricket Ground in St. John’s Wood in 1814, the venue was located less than a mile south in Lisson Grove.
What was known as The Middle Ground is now a housing estate called Lisson Green. From 1811-13 The Middle Ground was used by the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) for cricket games, after which Lord’s was relocated further north to its current location. The primary reason for the change was because of a decision made by Parliament to cut through the site of the cricket ground for the creation of the Regent’s Canal.
Today the site of Lisson Green housing estate bears almost no connection to the cricketing history of the site. Aside from a plaque that is placed conspicuously at the entrance, there is no way of knowing that this site was instrumental in the development of cricket. There are no cricket facilities in the modest play areas and no public facilities for the community or locals.
With the concentration of the community being from the South Asian and West Indian diaspora (both regions with strong ties to cricket due to colonialism) the absence of cricket represents an opportunity to bring the communities together (in the formal and informal spaces of the estate) through their shared love of sport. Cricket becomes an important vessel for ethnic identities to be expressed which, during the major periods of migration in the middle of the twentieth century was true for migrant populations. Cricket in my project begins to represent an important way for diasporic communities to cultivate a symbolic sense of cultural familiarity that is no longer expressed on the site and which promotes the reclaiming of mixed identities.
The possibility for these communities to celebrate their traditions and histories in their own spaces whilst also being proud of their British citizenship, becomes an important frame for my project and opens up the possibility to introduce shared facilities that promote play through the estate.
Playing on the unique typology of the Village Cricket Pavilion, the building is designed with the hybridity of programs in mind. To support the residents and locals and promote play, a sports pitch is introduced which is lifted up one storey to free up space on the ground level for a cafe, locker rooms and toilet facilities.
In plan, the proposed building mirrors the opposite buildings to form part of a cricket boundary. The building plinth is then cut to suggest the edge of the playing field.