can we call the closure of london’s iconic club-kid haunts progress?

As the announced closure of The Joiners Arms and Madame Jojo’s gets us nostalgic over London’s lost club culture, Princess Julia investigates the pros and cons of developers moving in…

by Princess Julia
02 December 2014, 5:15pm

Our cityscape is changing fast and we miss what was once familiar. My timeline is jammed with the latest news on the dreaded developers moving in, businesses closing down and clubs disappearing, all in the name of progress. We have a hankering for everything to stay the same, to keep familiar landmarks and wonder at the flourishes of craftsmanship and design that we have grown up with, but what are the pros and cons of the new build and why are we all going on about our changing urban landscape?

Inevitably things do change but not always in a way that sits with the community that inhabits any given area that succumbs to the bulldozers. There does seem to be no consideration as buildings and communities are being obliterated.

Once upon a time - and it really wasn't that long ago - things seemed to move along at a much slower pace. News spread via word of mouth, we communicated with the aid of a letter, a printed magazine or newspaper. We hoped when we made a phone call from home to arrange a date, the other person wouldn't get lost. Mobile phones in the 90s weren't the things they are today. Technology has sped everything up, we hear about everything the moment it happens, we have instant communication with our friends and the world in general. This is a good thing, life in that respect has become informed, entertaining and rapid. It has also become a world of mass marketing. Anything and anyone living on the fringes of society has become a curiosity.

Inner city gentrification is of late however, undergoing some dramatic changes. In the space of a few years we have seen central London flattened.

The landscape of our cities seemed to be the one thing that took its time. Sure, buildings crumbled and places closed, but the regeneration process plodded along at a familiar and comforting pace. Strange when you wander through the streets of your childhood and notice the differences, something missing or something added, but nothing too drastic.

But Inner city gentrification of late is undergoing some dramatic changes. In the space of a few years we have seen central London flattened, with numerous clubs and landmarks destroyed in the process. Tottenham Court Road is now getting ready for a Crossrail terminal; amazing and sad all at the same time. The latest news is of the closure of Madame Jojo's and the redevelopment of Walkers Court, a central core in the life of old Soho's seedy side, which at once evokes a sleazy allure of decadence and the freedoms of a permissive lifestyle. In reality, that world has dissipated over the years but stories still prevail of gangsters, mafiosa, sex, Nell Gwynne, punk, prostitution and gay discos, which are embedded in the makeup of Soho. It's really why people gravitate towards the area, me included. I've had a look at the plans and they sadly have the same generic, identikit appearance of buildings popping up all over the place, only this time with the old Raymond Review Bar neon propped on the front as a reminder of times gone by.

On the one hand buildings are just walls, but on the other they encapsulate a history and memories. Characters from the past and recent friends alike seem to waft into consciousness as you enter a space. When you walk into an old building you imagine previous lives of the people who inhabited them, or maybe the memories of your own experience spring to mind. You take in the character of a building inside and out. A style of architecture can transport you to another time. I wonder what our modern, glass buildings will evoke in years to come or whether in fact they will actually stand the test of time?

Planners and developers see no value in the past. It would cost more to refurbish a building than to knock it down and build something new.

In Iain Sinclair's book Hackney, That Rose-Red Empire, he talks about the demise of Dalston Lane and describes various incidences where buildings had been allowed to fall down due to neglect and a series of unexplained fires, saying, "The developers want the old structures to fall down, so that they can build their rabbit hutches and make fortunes. They're not interested in the fabric, nor the history of the buildings. Planning only looks forward. If you are going to invest a million, you need to get it back within ten to fifteen years. There is no past." A rather pessimistic view and yet the same thing seems to be going on down Hackney Road with the demise of The Joiners and the derelict building next door. It's an old trick of developers to let buildings go to rack and ruin, because as Iain Sinclair says, "Planners and developers see no value in the past. It would cost more to refurbish a building than to knock it down and build something new."

You'd think architects would consider the fabric of an historic building - and in a sense they do, but it's all a bit of a joke. Keeping the facade of a property whilst demolishing what's behind. It's an 80s thing that doesn't seem to have gone away. The Queen Elisabeth Children's Hospital built in 1868 and currently undergoing a façade-overhaul is a case in point. The wrecking ball has already done it's work, although in the past few years locals have protested and endeavored to work out a way to keep it's original mid-19th century heritage intact, saying how disappointing it is that the site will be replaced by "such an uninspired, unlovely and unimaginative proposal." Some of these facade builds have been laughable, with historic frontage marooned against the mismatching windows of a new sky-scraping monster as a backdrop.

The Carbuncle Cup highlights the worst of these builds, but it's not all doom and gloom as we get all misty eyed over times gone by. Others have indeed been a success. It's easy to forget how run down certain areas of London were. Shoreditch was bleak and unlit 20 years ago, now it's a thriving area with a real atmosphere of creativity and even as progress calls time for some businesses, new ones are springing up with the community in mind. Let's not forget how difficult it was to get around Londoners - that overground is a godsend! As my flatmate said in so many words, "if things didn't change we'd all still be living in caves!" 

Think Pieces
Madame Jojos
Joiners Arms
princess julia