When urban was a dirty word
This year, Urban Splash celebrates 25 years of transforming towns and cities around the country. To celebrate, RIBA is hosting an exhibition in Liverpool, exploring our RIBA Award winning projects in the context they were created – and against the specific challenges and opportunities of the day.
This new blog series celebrates the occasion, with a collection of musings from our founders Tom Bloxham MBE and Jonathan Falkingham MBE.
In this first blog, Tom reflects back to a time when 'urban’ was a dirty word...
Though it’s very much on the right side of the vernacular now, when we started out, ‘urban’ was a dirty word; ‘urban blight’, ‘urban deprivation’, ‘urban decay’ – we had a big job to do to challenge the meaning.
Conversely for us, cities were places of promise and excitement – and that’s why we were happy to make the deliberate, provocative move of adopting it our name – confident that cities would evolve into places people wanted to live in, work in and play in.
It’s hard to think back into the mindset that was around when we started. Today we think of cities positively, as drivers of growth and places where the good life can be lived – that was absolutely not the case in the likes of Manchester and Liverpool when we started.
When I first arrived in Manchester for example, as a student in the 1980s, it was a far cry from the vibrant, buzzing city it is today. And, as much as I loved the place (it’s been my home ever since), I’d often walk around, perplexed at how quickly it became a ghost town each night. There was very little nightlife or culture – least of all a dense urban population.
What there was however was a plethora of beautiful old buildings, but they were dark, dreary and unloved; they cast even more of a shadow on the city each night and something had to be done.
Thankfully, meeting Jonathan and starting to tackle the transformation of those buildings (without any real plan might I add!), we were able to be a part of the shift.
For the full story of what happened next, head to the free exhibition. It’s open now until 16th June.