Digitally Remapping Steers Coastal Reports

Steers Coastal Map Building on the work to create a Digital record of the plotland movement in the UK, I have been working on digitising aspects of the maps produced by J.A. Steers between 1942 to 1946.

As noted in his 1944 presentation to the Royal Geographical Society (Steers, J.A., 1944. Coastal Preservation and Planning. The Geographical Journal 104, 7. doi:10.2307/1790025), Steers’ geophysical explorations of the coastline during the Second World War sought to graphically describe the ‘quality’ of the coastal scenery. These observations of scenic quality are underwritten by his observations of various elements that damage the coastal scenery including industrial areas, derelict mining areas, built up residential areas, and ‘areas of bad scattered development’.

Noted by Steers as X marks clinging to the coastline the location of these scattered developments almost directly relate to plotland sites around the coastline. By mapping these locations against the later work of Hardy and Ward we can begin to gain a wider picture of the extent of plotland sites across the UK at different points in recent history.

These new locations have all been added to the updated Plotland 2.0 map.


Plotlands Map 2.0

Following a long hiatus I have finally found time to resume work on the mapping of UK plotlander sites and have now published an interactive map of all currently known locations.

What is immediately apparent is Hardy and Ward’s focus on London and the South East in the mapping for their book ‘Arcadia For All’. Yet in beginning to map the location of plotland sites from other research and archive resources a wider picture extending beyond London begins to be suggested.

This has long been my suspicion: that the London-centric mapping of plotlanders perhaps only represents a part of the full UK picture.

If the extent of plotlander communities surrounding London can be seen as a response to the problems of industirlasition, poverty, and bomb damage faced by people (and in particular the working classes) living in cities between the late 1800s and post World War II, then it would suggest that all industrial cities would likely have experienced a similar process. This supposition begins makes sense of the sites in similar proximity to Manchester and Liverpool in the North West and the hint of sites around Newcastle in the North East.

It is hoped that many more such sites will be found in the future. To aid in the project of locating lost, forgotten, and previously unknown plotland sites I have now created an online google form by which people can submit the location of unknown plotland site locations so that the full extent of UK plotlanders can be mapped.

Forgotten Plotlanders – Just Published

Hot on the heels of this weeks release of ‘Architecture and Space Re-imagined’, today sees  the publication of ‘Forgotten Plotlanders’ in the Housing, Theory and Society journal.

Forgotten Plotlanders: Learning from the Survival of Lost Informal Housing in the UK

This paper marks the first journal publication relating to my post-doctoral research into informal space and housing in the UK. Whilst it builds upon themes of alterneity and informal space theory drawn from ‘Architecture and Space Re-imagined’ it reflects the first translation of these ideas into a UK context.

This trajectory of research supports and frames an upcoming AHRC funding application for ECR’s. Titled ‘Subsistent Places; Productive Lives’, this project will analyse the history of other plotlander sites in order to document the formalisation of space in the UK. This line of inquiry will support a critique of the UK model of speculative neoliberal mass-housing with the ultimate intention of proposing an alternative model of non-speculative development and positive anarchistic informality in UK space.

Once again, if anyone wishes to discuss the ideas raised in the book then please get in touch.


Colin Ward’s discourses on the Arcadian landscape of “plotlander” housing are unique documentations of the anarchistic birth, life, and death of the last informal housing communities in the UK. Today, the forgotten history of plotlander housing documented by Ward can be re-read in the context of both the apparently never-ending “housing crisis” in the UK and the increasing awareness of the potential value of learning from comparable informal housing from the Global South. This paper’s observations of a previously unknown and forgotten plotlander site offer a chance to begin a new conversation regarding the positive potential of informal and alternative housing models in the UK and wider Westernized world.

Architecture and Space Re-imagined – Just Published

I am extraordinarily pleased to announce that my first ever monograph book was published this week by Routledge.

Architecture and Space Re-imagined: Learning from the difference, multiplicity, and otherness of development practice

Whilst the writing and editing process has been challenging, in the end it has been a fantastic experience.

I hope that it will find its audience, and perhaps in time will become part of a wider discussion of alternative interpretations of architecture and space built upon ideas and practices that emerge from non-Western perspectives.

If anyone wishes to discuss the ideas raised in the book then please get in touch.

About the Book

As with so many facets of contemporary western life, architecture and space are often experienced and understood as a commodity or product. The premise of this book is to offer alternatives to the practices and values of such westernised space and Architecture (with a capital A), by exploring the participatory and grass-roots practices used in alternative development models in the Global South. This process re-contextualises the spaces, values, and relationships produced by such alternative methods of development and social agency. It asks whether such spatial practices provide concrete realisations of some key concepts of Western spatial theory, questioning whether we might challenge the space and architectures of capitalist development by learning from the places and practices of others.
Exploring these themes offers a critical examination of alternative development practices methods in the Global South, re-contextualising them as architectural engagements with socio-political space. The comparison of such interdisciplinary contexts and discourses reveals the political, social, and economic resonances inherent between these previously unconnected spatial protagonists. The interdependence of spatial issues of choice, value, and identity are revealed through a comparative study of the discourses of Henri Lefebvre, John Turner, Doreen Massey, and Nabeel Hamdi. These key protagonists offer a critical framework of discourses from which further connections to socio-spatial discourses and concepts are made, including post-marxist theory, orientalism, post-structural pluralism, development anthropology, post-colonial theory, hybridity, difference and subalterneity.
By looking to the spaces and practices of alternative development in the Global South this book offers a critical reflection upon the working practices of Westernised architecture and other spatial and political practices. In exploring the methodologies, implications and values of such participatory development practices this book ultimately seeks to articulate the positive potential and political of learning from the difference, multiplicity, and otherness of development practice in order to re-imagine architecture and space. 

Autogestive Practices; An abstract for an upcoming research paper

The following is the much revised abstract for the research paper I have been preparing for upcoming publication. Hopefully this paper will be completed within May, allowing me to progress on to other emerging research projects and papers.


The Emancipatory Politics of Informal, Spontaneous, and (maybe) Autogestive Space;

Critical intersections in the anarchist housing practices of John Turner and the socio-spatial Marxism of Henri Lefebvre

Abstract (150 words):

This paper critically re-frames anarchist development practices designed to support and facilitate informal settlements in the Global South as a potentially emancipatory alternative to the economically and politically co-opted architectural processes that produce Westernised space. In order to ground this discussion, the work of participatory development practitioner John Turner in 1960s Peru is posed as a practical realisation of the political potential of autogestive space advocated in Henri Lefebvre’s post-Marxist discourse. This analysis of the grass-roots political action of participatory development in the Global South reveals a critical intersection of autogestion and informal space, and subsequently a re-contextualisation of the socio-spatial contrasts of anarchist and Marxist theories. Highlighting this intersection of Turner’s anarchist self-build housing practices and Lefebvre’s spatial appropriation of Marxist autogestion also frames wider questions of Western assumptions of social and political interpretations of value, autonomy, choice, participation, and social sustainability. Thus, Lefebvre’s much cited post-Marxist proposition of the social production of social space is here critically re-framed against Turner’s seminal anarchist questioning of ‘Who Decides and Who Provides?’

Keywords (4-6):

Autogestion, informal space, self-build, participatory, anarchist, Marxist.

Subsistent Places; Productive Lives

This is the outline for an ongoing and long-term research project that I will be pursuing in the coming years. It is currently being prepared for UK research funding applications and pilot funding from my host university.


A critical analysis of the loss of informal space in the UK as a counter-narrative to the UK’s contemporary housing crisis.


This research project will pursue a critical enquiry into the relationships of informal space, land ownership, and housing practices against a framework of theoretical discourses concerning the political policy, ideology, and domination of the social production of space.

Using a GIS mapping methodology, the research will critically analyse a broad narrative of housing and land ownership in the UK, from the 18th and 19th Century Inclosures Acts, the Tithe Commutation Act of 1836, through the Allotments Acts of 1908 and 1922, and finally on to the Town and country Planning Act of 1947. This mapping process will analyse a specific range of case studies to produce a critical analysis of key informal spaces in the UK. The intersections of this mapping analysis against a framework of critical theory will be explored in order to highlight the social, cultural, economic, and spatial impacts of these successive acts on the UK’s collective social understanding of land ownership, home, and life.

This research process will conclude by posing critical challenges to the contemporary housing situation facing the UK and wider Westernised space: What are the social and political consequences of the loss of informal space and housing in the UK? What can we learn from the historical successes and failures of informal space in the UK? What political and planning policy changes are necessary to afford a change to this un-sustainable production of spaces and lives? How can we use the principles of informal space to create subsistent spaces to afford people to have productive lives?


Informal space, housing, plotlanders, allotments, anarchism, mapping

The Almost Anarchy of Car-Washing ?

SONY DSCFirst post in this new blog and we are starting off with a fairly sideways looking idea.

In the coming months I am going to attempt to pursue research into the rise and fall of washing your car by hand in the UK.

This research question is part of a wider discussion of space and society are affected by our values and choices.

It is the result of a fairly simple situation; my rented house doesn’t have an outside tap, so I have no hose, making it very awkward to effectively wash my car.

I was raised to wash cars yourself by hand. This is something my dad has always done and the ritual has stuck with me. I like doing it. It has a sort of ‘zen and the art of …’ feel about it.

But without a tap and hose I am struggling.

On the face of it this might appear to be a very small problem, but upon reflection I wonder whether it is suggestive of a much wider issue.

How many people today wash their car themselves by hand?

From childhood memories I seem to remember that the weekend was full of adults washing cars outside their houses, but this social ritual appears to have almost completely disappeared in recent decades.

What are the reasons for this I wonder?

A notable issue is the distinct lack of space and taps allowed for in new home developments in the UK. We are literally building homes where you cannot wash your car. Is this a conscious decision, or simply something that has happened without notice?

Is it even really a problem at all? The proliferation of hand-wash services at abandoned petrol stations and car lots across the country are seemingly constantly busy with people who are willing to pay other people (many of them hard working migrants) to wash their car for them. Is this simply part of the wider cultural acceptance to pay other people to do work for us, like having our shopping delivered to us rather than leave the house?

Against the overwhelming sense that washing your car by hand yourself is a waste of time, does this suggest that the act of still doing so is a socio-political act that runs counter to the existing hegemony? Is washing your own car by hand an almost anarchistic act?

As a very first step on this process I am going to try and push a citizen science data gathering operation using google polls and social media to gather information on whether the UK still washes their cars by hand.

I am going to collect postcode data and map this information onto the UK, and this will give me a project upon which to develop my GIS mapping skills, so it will hopefully be a fun and informative process in a number of ways.

Once I get all the systems in place I will launch the research here and via twitter, but in the mean-time I am just happy to have started working on this new research and to have placed the first post on this blog.