Let’s discuss ‘Reclaim Brixton’ with Johannah Fening

Aerial urban view with Reclaim Brixton campaign by Johannah Fening.

Reclaiming Space and Culture: An Architectural Intervention in Brixton

A Catalyst for Social Reform: Reclaiming Brixton

In the heart of London, Brixton stands as a beacon of cultural diversity, rich history, and vibrant community life. This district, however, is not immune to the forces of gentrification that threaten its unique character. Johanna Fenling, a recent graduate from Oxford Brookes and a part 2 architectural urban designer, takes us on a journey through her project, which was nominated for the 2020 RIBA Silver Award. Her work, inspired by the architectural and social fabric of Brixton, seeks to challenge and disrupt the prevailing models of development that favor gentrification over genuine community enrichment.

Understanding Acculturation and Its Impact

Johanna’s research delves into the process of acculturation, examining how Black migrants in the UK adapt to and are influenced by their new surroundings. Dr. JW Berry’s model of acculturation serves as a foundational framework, proposing four possible outcomes: assimilation, integration, separation, and marginalization. Through detailed case studies, including Brixton’s market arches and Peckham Palms, Johanna explores how these outcomes manifest in urban redevelopment and the preservation or erosion of Afro-Caribbean culture.

Brixton Arches: A Tale of Resistance and Loss

The redevelopment of Brixton Arches stands as a stark example of gentrification’s impact. Network Rail’s refurbishment plans, which included a significant rent increase, effectively pushed out many small local businesses integral to Brixton’s identity. Despite community resistance and partial concessions from Network Rail, the essence of the arches and their significance to the Afro-Caribbean community were fundamentally altered. Johanna’s critique of this redevelopment process underscores the need for a more inclusive and community-centric approach to urban planning.

Peckham Palms: A Model for Empowerment

In contrast to Brixton Arches, Peckham Palms emerges as a successful model for preserving and celebrating Afro-Caribbean culture in the face of urban development. This initiative, supported by Southwark Council, created a new home for Afro-Caribbean hairdressers and barbershops displaced by redevelopment near Peckham Rye station. Peckham Palms not only provides a vibrant space for these businesses but also promotes black female entrepreneurship and ownership within the hair and beauty industry.

Reclaim Brixton: A Vision for the Future

Johanna’s project, “Reclaim Brixton,” proposes a series of architectural interventions aimed at disrupting gentrified developments and re-appropriating them for the marginalized Afro-Caribbean community. Through the creation of a cultural public square, an Afro-Caribbean hair hub, and a music and broadcasting hub, her vision seeks to protect and empower the community. These interventions are not mere physical constructions but symbolize a broader struggle against the erasure of culture and the marginalization of black communities in urban spaces.

Beyond Architecture

Johanna Fenling’s work transcends the boundaries of traditional architecture, challenging us to consider the socio-political dimensions of urban development. Her project is a clarion call for architects, planners, and community activists to work collaboratively in creating spaces that genuinely reflect and nurture the diversity of the communities they serve. In reclaiming Brixton, Johanna offers a blueprint for social reform, where architecture serves as a tool for cultural preservation and community empowerment.


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