What are the different ways to read the street? How can we reveal the multiple dynamics, relationships and behaviours that form the contemporary London highstreet? The Streetspace workshop at the CASS (2nd and 3rd November) sought to examine and experiment with ways of analysing the street and sharing the results. The exercise, which took place in Dalston, was centred around three lenses: history, aspirations and perceptions.
As part of the perceptions group, we sought to explore the themes of culture and identity. After a walk of the area and through conversation, we chose to focus on Ridley Road market, a busy, dense ethnic market opposite the Dalston Station. Through conversations, interviews, photography and recordings, we attempted to map out the rich and complex composition of the market, of the street, and establish certain everyday practices that distinguished this space from a typical street. This unique urban situation exists against the backdrop of extensive future development and a highstreet in transformation.
Many of the conversations we had with traders revolved around everyday customs, of relationships with other traders and stories or histories related to the market. It was interesting to understand this perspective as it perceives and shapes the space in a different way to that of an outsider. This is reflected in the sounds, colours, products and languages present in the market. These different routines and ways of acting are reflected on a spatial level: stalls can encroach the shared road space, but continue into stores that have developed within the rear of residential buildings. One commercial unit stands where the kitchen, living room and bedroom of a house used to be.
These transitions are perhaps best expressed through the flooring. This almost becomes an archaeological study where the meeting point of tiles and carpet suggests these were once two separate rooms. Similarly, the smaller market stalls occupy old warehouse spaces, tight and compact but serving the smaller commercial function of these units (small record store, seamstress, incense shop…).
The sensation that life operates at a different scale here is immediately apparent: space is tight, units are compact, products will line any available space. Within a wider urban environment that prioritises larger, monumental gestures, particularly on a vertical level, this street feels and acts differently. Beyond materiality, the diversity of functions, people, colours, sounds further reinforces the feeling that what occurs here occurs specifically because it can, or rather because no-one has imposed a set of rules to prohibit it yet. Because it has not followed the same transition as the rest of the street, because it is yet to be invaded or corrupted by the apparent demands or expectations that have shaped the rest of the street in a particular manner.