Twentieth-Century
muf (1995–1999)

 

fig. 1 – Purity and Tolerance exhibition

 

One hot summer, many years ago when the Architecture Foundation inhabited a long, low below-podium space in the Smithsons’ Economist Building, all the architecture students still about – doing their year-out, a summer job or looking around, were entertained by the frequent opening parties of a series of six short exhibitions called ‘Public Views’.1 According to the Architecture Foundation’s founder, Ricky Burdett, these were designed for ‘showcasing collaborations between young architects and designers,’ and participation was a great source of pride and excitement, envy and 

for Architecture Foundation archival material about the 'Public Views' series, click here.

anticipation amongst London’s jostling young architects. The fifth slot – 7–17th September 1995, was taken by the only womanly group of collaborators on the list, who were calling for and questioning the idea of Purity and Tolerance.2 Juliet Bidgood talks about it. 3 

Walking south down clean and elegant Bury Street to see what this could mean led to an encounter with the gallery’s street-side window, which was covered with a messy field of hand-written text, corrections hastily made, that obscured the view of whatever was within.4 Round at the entrance to the sunken gallery the crowd was being squeezed out and still it was impossible to see what was going on. Eventually, pushing through, you found yourself in a white cave, its ceiling bulging down and hazy with condensation (or was it leaking?), sometimes shiny with a hint of stretchmark. Was this women’s architecture? It was perfect and deliberately flawed; working, but ambiguously so. This is a confident gambit, we said to each other, admiringly.

This public debut was produced by the intersecting imaginations of four women – the founding members of muf architecture/art: artist Katherine Clarke, architects

for information about the Purity and Tolerance exhibition, click here.
from an interview by the author,  28 May 2014 with Juliet Bidgood, click here to read Juliet's full comment, and here to see it.
to read the text on the window written by  Kath Shonfield click here.

Liza Fior and Juliet Bidgood,5 and writer Kath Shonfield. Liza and Katherine remain at the heart of the muf studio; in 2002 Juliet left muf (and later London), and in 2003 Kath died.6 7 

The role that each one of them performed then in this early collaboration was significant, and the special way of looking sideways at the world that muf is known for grew from that original constellation. The way that Purity and Tolerance came about has been discussed before by Kath 8 and other commentators, Juliet reiterates the process.9 For the newly-formed muf, summer 1995 was a busy time in their first official studio,10 for as well as preparing Purity and Tolerance, they were working on their design for the New Art Gallery Walsall, for which they had been shortlisted in competition with an otherwise all-male group: Alsop and Stormer, Pierre D’Avoine Architects, Caruso StJohn Architects, Shay Cleary Architects, Tony Fretton, and muf. Although they did not win the final commission, they would contribute to the construction process art strategy, and Catherine Yass, an artist member of their team, would show her photographs in the building’s debut. 

a portrait of Katherine, Liza and Juliet is held in the National Portrait Gallery collection, click here.
to read Kath Schonfield's obituary in the Guardian, click here.
to read Kath Schonfield's obituary in Building Design (12.09.03) click here.
Katherine Shonfield ‘Two Architectural Projects about Purity’ in, ed. Jonathan Hill, Architecture: The Subject is Matter (Abingdon: Routledge, 2001) pp. 29-44
‘Ties of Friendship’, muf et al, This is What we Do, a muf manual (London: Ellipsis, 2001) p. 8
to read Juliet's memories, expressed in an email to the author, part 1 click here, for part 2 and Carl Middleton's memories, click here.  To see an excerpt of Juliet's interview, click here.

Permission

By the time the Architecture Foundation exhibition took place, these four women had been collaborating for about a year. Their first project was an entry for a competition to remodel London’s South Bank Centre in 1994. A concrete plaza high above ground level connects this group of concrete buildings, which all face north over the river. Now crowded with visitors, this raised ground was then an empty and wind-swept place traversed only by curious students of architecture and commuters crossing the river to Charing Cross or Waterloo stations. Its under-croft and radiating tunnels were inhabited by the homeless, and roamed by young graffiti artists, miscellaneous loiterers and skateboarders. The South Bank ensemble – its arts amenities but more especially its ambiguous and disregarded public spaces that crossed over but did not inhabit the river’s banks, was a symbol of early-1990s London, a city where the coin had flipped. Replacing the in-your-face consumption of the disposable and the glossy, fizzy or fast that the rising classes of the late-1980s revelled in was a more traditional middle-class inclination towards 

plainness.11 Salvaging, saving and reusing; there was a rising from the ashes sense of possibility, but also an atmosphere of waiting. Waiting for the money to come back.12 In the Independent newspaper, early February 1994, Jonathan Glancey wrote a piece on the competition, saying, with relief: ‘if the South Bank had been redeveloped along the lines proposed in the late Eighties, it might well have been turned into a Thatcher-era shopping mall, with a bit of culture tagged on’.13 

For Juliet and Liza, the temptations of a competition to transform the South Bank called on preoccupations that they had been exploring in an on-off collaboration dating from their two years together studying at the Polytechnic of Central London (PCL), between 1985 and 1987. During their first year they had both taken David Greene’s unit 14 and Doug Clelland’s in the second year, where the project was to design ‘a public building’ next to the wall of Wormword Scrubs prison. This was unusual at the time, as Juliet says, ‘public buildings weren’t really being discussed then, it was the time of ‘no such thing as society’. An acknowledged influence on them, David Greene taught a method of 

This idea is discussed in detail by Pier Vittorio Aureli in his essay ‘Less is Enough, on Architecture and Asceticism’, click here
see: Raphael Samuel ‘The Pathos of Spitalfields’, click here
to read Jonathan Glancey's article, click here
to see the Archive of David Greene's work at the University of Westminster, click here. David Greene, “The aim in Unit 9 is to deconstruct the protocols of cultural production within the context of architecture or to put it another way like Coca Cola in the medium of soft drinks to search for the real thing".

enquiry about design that was non-prescriptive and without preconceptions. ‘He was looking for something innovative, socially perhaps,’ says Juliet, ‘ he was politically catholic. His favourite artist was Gordon Matta Clarke, and he was interested in landscape artists like Mary Miss.’ 

 Liza describes David Greene as giving her permission to study architecture (after discouraging moments in her architectural education that included a suggestion that she give it up and become an architectural illustrator) and according to Juliet she and Liza ‘spent a lot of time on double-decker buses going round London, talking about what you could do. It was an on-going conversation about public spaces, the left-over spaces around housing estates and those kinds of things. London was extreme at the time, in an extreme state of inertia, everything had stopped for a while. We’d fantasise about what you could do if you were allowed, or if you allowed yourself.’ 15In 1990s London – a city sprinkled with empty and abandoned spaces whose ownership lay relatively undefended and whose financial potential, which had been clear in the 1980s but was now ambiguous – unsolicited permission was a tangible

this quote is from an interview by the author with Juliet Bidgood, 28 May 2014

possibility, and in those disregarded places they saw permission to enter, permission to inhabit, and permission to transform. For Liza, this issue had been in her mind for a while. She remembers when, as a child, ‘all the houses were emptied except for ours and the house next door, and so then we, my siblings and friends, had eight deserted back gardens. We’d walk along the back wall that connected them, and which separated them from the long garden belonging to the big house at the end that ran the full length of the terrace and from which the girls were banned. The owner allowed boys to use it for cricket. The garden sheds and gardens of these empty houses were a lyrical place, of understanding how built form allows you in or not. I see the edge of that wall as the footprint for what I went on and did later.’16

In 1990 Liza and Juliet found themselves with an opportunity to collaborate as architects and test out some of their architectural ideas when Liza got them a project for the design of a gym below Charing Cross station. As an interior under the railway arches the project posed none of the problems of waterproofing, just enclosure, and their research into how to join metal panels

 

this quote is from an interview by the author with Liza Fior, 28 January 2015

diverted into other ways of joining things, into tailoring techniques and the qualities of lining, seam-making and ways of folding that that entailed. According to Liza, Juliet had arrived at PCL wearing tweed suits of her own making. At the same time as they were working on the gym, Juliet taught first year and then ran an undergraduate studio in architecture at the University of North London, and Liza was teaching at the Architectural Association – between 1990 and 1992 with Mark Brearley and Peter Beard in first year, and then Intermediate Unit 8 with Dominic Cullinan (and Katherine Clarke, Catherine Yass and Kath Shonfield) between 1992 and 1995. 17

Juliet reflects that this was when Liza started to develop her thinking around the choreographed placement of figure and view, where the experience of being in a place is constantly unfolding from the perspective of the mobile spectator. In the gym this was manifest in a sequential narrative of movement from the entrance to the lockers that was punctuated by specific views, culminating in a characteristically provocative two-way mirror between the women’s changing room and the gym floor. 

to see examples of work done by students of Liza at the Architectural Association, click here.

Inner Side

Katherine Clarke started teaching at the Architectural Association in 1991, a year after Liza, after having studied fine art and film at Goldsmiths and Bristol School of Art. During that time, aside from cackling with Liza in the library, Katherine worked on an exhibition together with photographer Catherine Yass. This was called Inner Side, and took place at 36, Bedford Square between 28 September and 27 October 1993. Katherine’s piece – a life-sized photograph of a white horse bathed in natural light – reclined against the wall of the Members’ Room on the first floor. The backdrop in the photograph, of a fireplace and a chimneybreast, replicated the space that seemed to be behind the photograph itself. The light in the image appeared to come from the window in the room that the photograph inhabited, which looked over Bedford Square. In a contemporary review, Mark Pimlott argued that the image of the horse, through its art historical references to representations of power and ownership, but also by its ambiguous and ghostly but real presence, challenged the traditional relationship of viewing subject to 

represented object by making the horse itself into an inhabitant of the same space. Playing this character, it escaped from its subservient role as the viewed object.18

This work belonged to an early stage of Katherine’s artistic practice, which as her collaboration with Liza, Juliet and Kath developed, would start to take on a more overtly political and critical form in which the processes of empowerment would become not merely represented but enacted. Here though, in her contribution to Inner Side, there were several recurring themes and the most formal is the horse (and the huge photograph accompanies the muf studio to its different homes around London 19). The horse as motif reappeared ten years later, in 2003, in a muf project for the Broadway Estate in Tilbury, whose commissioning motive was that the area was being ‘blighted by anti-social behaviour.’20 21

muf were commissioned by the residents and tenants associations through the Broadway Multi-agency Partnership and funded from the Single Regeneration Budget 22 to carry out consultation on the housing estate. This was structured around events and art projects held with local

Mark Pimlott, review of Inner Side AA Files 27, Spring 1994, pp. 61–4, to read the review, courtesy and © of AA Files, click here.
The horse photograph accompanies muf from studio to studio, click here.
to read Kieran Long's review of the Tilbury project, click here.
to see the CCA page on Tilbury, click here.
for a definition of the Single Regeneration Budget, click here.

children so that they could discover the hidden culture, or potential pleasures, of their local area – a research process described as The Horses Tail. 23 The children took part in an afternoon of horse races, they documented the horses of Tilbury at the local secondary school and, in the summer, a group of children made horse costumes and photographed themselves in the area. These photos were displayed in local bus shelters giving the project presence in the community. The reconfiguration the community garden – the architectural part of the project (although this separation into component disciplines is not severely delineated) incorporated the half-wild and half-owned horses that lived on the adjacent marshes by creating a dressage arena, which lies adjacent to a meadow for ball games, and an undulating play area for children.24

This process of working belonged to a later stage of Katherine’s art practice, which grew out of the muf collective and developed after leaving the Architectural Association in 1995. No longer engaged in the production of conventional art commodities, but with her work still present in exhibitions, Katherine’s politically-engaged practice 

to find out more about A Horses Tail, click here.
to find out more about the Broadway Community Garden, click here.

as an artist moved out of the  private art market and into the public realm, in which the artist’s income came not from a straight-forward financial exchange of art work for money, but from the interplay of complex public funding strategies. 

Preceding and simultaneous with this transformation in Katherine’s own work was the radicalisation of public art programming in the USA. In 1990, the Dia Art Foundation in New York, wishing to engage in the then current art practices, commissioned Group Material 25 26 – a collaborative of visual artists and a musician who themselves had abandoned the gallery in 1983 as a place to develop an alternative and political artistic process. They were concerned with creating what they called ‘an excess of democracy’ through social organisation, both to counter right-wing cultural activism, which was successfully appropriating for Reagan-administration times the left-wing strategies of the 1960s, and also to initiate action around issues like AIDS, which both brought to the fore and created its own patterns of inequality. This process of creating excess democracy included a series of Town Meetings as a call to

to find out more about Group Material at the Raven Row Gallery, click here.
to read more about Group Material in Frieze, click here.

creative actions, which are precursors to the artists' dinners that muf have been holding in Hackney Wick since 2010.27

Group Material’s protest was continued by the Culture in Action project curated by Mary Jane Jacob in Chicago in 1993, running simultaneously with Katherine’s own decisions-making as an artist,28 which set out to generate a representative and active culture from within communities themselves, rather than instate an artist’s outside interpretation in the form of a statue or memorial. This means of working, defined by its indefiniteness, activity, and seeming non-productiveness provided a backdrop for muf’s British and hybrid interpretation. As part of a collective, Katherine’s perspective and the issues she sought to address were placed alongside those of her architect colleagues, which affected the kind of work that she as part of muf looked for, and which as a group felt themselves ready to take up. The act of collaboration for Katherine was not only the two-way relationship with the public as co-artists and consultants, but also with Liza, Juliet and Kath. In this situation, the ego of the artist as author and financial beneficiary of the work that they produce

see the Art Camp section of this publication
to read more about the Culture in Action project in Frieze, click here.

is replaced by the self-effacement and relative anonymity of shared authorship. By making a collective: muf architecture/art, authorship is both assigned and diffused. 

This approach also has a radical British legacy, and the Raven Row Gallery in East London has held several exhibitions since 2010 that have explored this. These include Polytechnic, 2010, where the curator Richard Grayson examined the use of film as a means of artistic incitement;29 The Individual and the Organisation, 2012, which exhibited work by the Artists Placement Group;30 and A History of Irritated Material, 2010, which featured work by Group Material.31 As Liza says, ‘When muf go and make their first ground investigation, the ground conditions we measure are the political and the social and the economic, as well as the physical.’32  Katherine defines it as ‘place that’s important. It goes back to ownership. What constitutes someone’s sense of belonging to a place? Who cares about the place? If you want people to care, how would their attitude to landscape have to change? How do you engender a sense of ownership?

to read about Raven Row Gallery's Polytechnic exhibition, click here.
to read about the Artists Placement Group, click here.
to read about Raven Row's A History of Irritated Material exhibition, click here.
for a description of muf's working practice in the 1990s, click here .

Then it becomes to do with social infrastructure and accommodating conflicting uses.’ 33

In assessing the success of the kind of artistic and strategic process that muf were developing during the late 1990s, a preoccupation with concrete outcomes is perceived as a sign of trivialising the more ephemeral, long-term effects that are both desired and almost impossible to quantify. In the muf manual of 2001, their response was clear. At the very beginning a fax is reproduced illustrating a long question sent from Blueprint magazine at the end of 1998: 

 

‘Over the last years we have all ‘enjoyed’​ editorial, from yourselves and other publications, of Muf’s magnificent achievements. These have been of the type, (or should we say of the hype): – ‘Muf designs park bench’​ – ‘Muf have taken a photograph – could this be the future of architecture as we know it?’​– ‘Muf : confirmed : 100% Female’. It is sad therefore, that when it comes to reporting something that may actually be quite interesting ie: – The story of their having been fired off the Millenium Dome project, that there appears to be stony silence. 

‘Are you going to tell us about it or not?’

from an interview with Liza and Katherine in Icon, click here to read it.

Today this quote might easily be filed under everyday sexism, in the sense that whatever they did it was not enough. The answer was not written in a sentence or a letter, maybe the whole book was an answer. Ultimately, the answer is not the point because it is always changing, irrelevant as it is articulated. In art historical terms and for public art projects answers are not expected. In architecture it is almost the opposite: a brief is a set of requirements made to be answered. Katherine’s collaboration with muf, with architects, meant an engagement with urban landscapes in a physical and transformative way, and her approach as an artist plays a fundamental role in exploring what could be permissible in a public space. The process of two-way engagement begins by identifying groups of people and individuals – and especially through what muf call the child’s eye view – for whom the possibilities of permission, or even its existence, have not yet been imagined. 

During the 1990s, several strategies were initiated to discover who to listen to, and how to listen and respond to them, which were focussed in a conventional sense around the process  

of public consultation required for small and large-scale developments in London. These included self-directed films, map-making, event-planning, digital expression and dressing up. In the muf manual, Katherine describes the process of an early collaboration on a public art strategy called Wide (and an associated project called Borrowed Pleasures), made for South Shoreditch, London in 1998, which was one of several art strategy commissions that Katherine and muf developed together during the late-1990s, and in which they also commissioned and collaborated with other artists as well as making projects themselves. For Wide, muf responded to an advert in the Guardian newspaper, which led to a series of discussions in the studio about whether ‘to formulate strategies with projected outcomes’, which was ‘countered by the desire for more speculative and experimental engagement.’ 

The strategy for overcoming this was to pair an artist with a council officer, which allowed a number of interpretations, and as Katherine says in her description of the project, to have a ‘use value [that] exists both in the provision for practical needs and in making space for imaginary pleasures.’

Women in Architecture and Building

fig. 2 – Museum of Women's Art

 

For many of us leaving university and going into architectural practice at the beginning of the 1990s Liza and Juliet were mythical and inspirational figures – women who were being architects on their own terms, and making up the terms as required. Liza’s first child was born in 1994 (when Juliet, Katherine, Kath and Liza got together to work on the South Bank project she was pregnant), and we talked of how she took her baby around to meetings and with her into the office – perhaps the baby even lay on the desk in front of Liza while she worked, we speculated. It is still unimaginable. Architects today remember Liza in meetings with her baby, defining the terms of conversation, and Liza herself discussed the experience in the muf manual34 

from an interview by the author with Liza Fior, 28 January 2015: “Again and again in those first 18 months, reflections on my identity as mother and my efforts to make space for Rae became exercises in the collation of research, experience by experience, it was archived as spatial receipts. Seldom just for the mother and child, these were made to include other identities as well. So the space between wall and window in Walsall and at the Museum of Woman’s Art was a space for breastfeeding and also a space for an assignation.”

Being pregnant had spurred Liza into initiating the muf project. By introducing Katherine, Kath and Juliet to each other, this seemed both the most exciting and the only means to continue working. She was right in her intuition – they operated as a true collective, sharing income – Katherine put her pay from Chelsea College or Art into the pot – and together paying for a babysitter from their first fees.

Talking about it recently, Juliet felt that she became unconsciously politicised after leaving university by her experience as a newly qualified architect. ‘I was politicised without me realising it, because when you chose the course to be an architect, you set yourself on a path where you have to confront how gendered it is, you have to confront how you take up a place within it. I don’t think I knew that I was going to have to do that. I thought that I was going to stroll into it. But I think that when I graduated into the world of work, and those first three years I had working, were quite a wake-up call. I started to realise that being an architect was contested and competitive. As soon as we graduated the equality between male and female architects suddenly was eroded, and you started to realise that you

had to fight your corner if you wanted to achieve some kind of creative agency.’ 35

Today, Liza asks ‘were we chippy at an exclusion from what looked like a private club or just awake to reality?’

What it meant to be a woman architect, and the role of women’s creative work was a much-discussed issue at that time, in the 1990s, but the terms of the discussion changed over the decade from a radical feminist agenda to a more diffused embracing of diversity. In 1993 the Women Architects Group was set up within the RIBA, and in 1994 a new award to highlight the success of women in the profession called the Jane Drew Prize was announced. By 1996, however, its remit had changed from an overtly and gendered one to a far looser encouragement of innovation, diversity and inclusiveness.36 In 1994 muf initiated a feasibility study and applied successfully for an Arts Council grant to fund proposals for a Museum of Women’s Art, which had been raised as a possibility by Monica Petzal and Belinda Harding, whose campaign and business plan were the brief. 37 The feasibility study was both a proposition for building which would have worked ‘well enough’ and met the 

from an interview by the author with Juliet  Bidgood, 28 May 2014
to read about the fate of the Jane Drew Prize, click here.
to read about the Women's Art Museum debate, click here.

lottery guidance of the time, but which was then was in turn interrogated and found wanting – it was a feasibility study which concluded with the argument not to build a building. The question was what to do with this hidden art once it had emerged from its hiding places, or in the words of Liza, ‘we came to the conclusion that there was too much irony in the idea of taking all the women’s work out of the basements where it was, not being shown in the museums, and just putting it into another container.’ 38 

Although featured in an exhibition curated by Lynne Walker called Drawing on Diversity, Women, Architecture and Practice, June 4th – July 26th 1997 at the RIBA Heinz Gallery in Portland Square, the Museum of Women’s Art remains itself a relatively hidden project, with just one drawing recorded in various libraries and archives, and on the Family Tree on the muf website. Perhaps this is because isolation, for muf, is not a solution.

Although issues around how women can manoeuvre within formal architectural practices remain unresolved the muf studio still provides a loose and fluid environment for women to test out how they want to practice –

the context for this quote is here.

as architects or artists, and the careers of former collaborators (such as Cathy Hawley and Mel Dodd) can be followed via the Family Tree on the muf website. At a time when both Liza and Juliet were more explicit about their role as women architects, Juliet came to lecture about the work they had been doing together to a group of students on a part-time access course I was running at the University of North London (which was, until 1992, the Polytechnic of North London). Its origins lay in a course devised in the late 1980s by architects Yvonne Dean and Susan Francis as an opportunity for women to enter the architectural profession, which was called Women Into Architecture and Building (WIAB). This drew women aged 21 and over from diverse and unconventional educational backgrounds into the world of the architecture school, and worked with their skills and experience to develop an approach to drawing, history, design and practical work such as carpentry, plumbing and bricklaying that could then be continued in undergraduate courses at the polytechnic. By the time I took over, in the late-1990s, the remit had widened to include various definitions of minority within the profession: 

not just women, but also black and Asian students, and the accommodation to the expectations of this relatively academic environment, once they left the access course and continued their architectural training, was all theirs. 

The course had started out with an explicit and simple agenda of positive discrimination – to encourage women into architecture and building on their terms and responding to their knowledge as mature students, but changes in legislation and funding associated with the demise of the polytechnic widened and diluted its remit. Despite the existence of such courses, there remains a commodification of minorities beyond the boundaries of these academic environments, where all students must travel to continue their education and then their professional life, that allows it to be ignored as an issue requiring resolution. As long as there are glamorous representatives that play the role of the successful professional, the actual existence of minority and exclusion can be perpetuated. muf still seek, in their practice, to undermine this process, and a lot of muf’s early work was about testing the boundaries of the roles people play, 

and maintaining the practical element of building within this, rather than moving into the abstract realm of representation. They encouraged people to assume a slightly different definition of their role in order to understand others – such as the artists and council officers in Wide, but also in a project carried out a year later called associate, a project curated by Smith + Fowle for the nascent Walsall Art Gallery, who were devising way to link their new gallery building with the life of the town. Here, a range of ephemera including badges, flags, adverts and video screenings recorded and generated a process over ten months that initially was about young and old people recognising each other’s social value, and which became about friendship, ‘love at first sight.’

 

 

The Architecture Foundation

The Architecture Foundation was established as a charity in late 1991 with a remit to examine contemporary issues in architectural theory and practice, and their relationship to each other as played out in the urban environment.

In a different way, these had also been themes important to its precursor – the 9H gallery, 1985–1991, and the 9H journal, which published its first issue in 1980. Run by Ricky Burdett, who was also on the journal’s editorial board along with David Chipperfield, Yehuda Safran and Wilfred Wang, the 9H gallery was situated in Cramer Street, off Marylebone High Street, and shared its building with David Chipperfield’s studio and the Blueprint magazine offices. The difference between the two institutions was principally one of permeability. Where 9H, the gallery and the journal, saw themselves as introducing new or historically unknown European architecture into a provincial and insular architectural scene, by translating texts and holding exhibitions for an audience of architects about Europeans such as Eileen Gray, Alvaro Siza, Herzog and de Meuron, Josef Frank and Caccia Dominioni, the Architecture Foundation created a stage for architects within the wider cultural and commercial life of London, and sometimes beyond. 

The first exhibition held at the Architecture Foundation, in its below-podium gallery at the Economist Building in Mayfair, was called

Architecture of the Public Realm. While it was concerned principally with museums in Frankfurt its name told of the preoccupations to come, which would provide opportunities for action in the urban environment, and commissions which began to stretch the role of architecture in a way that resonated with the newly forming muf collective. The Architecture Foundation played a fundamental and provocative role in the London architectural scene throughout the 1990s, and for muf the seeding of debates, structuring of competitions and challenges to the way things are done that they generated also created the conditions for many of the commissions which they took up during that time.

Following from their participation in the Public Views series in 1995, muf continued to be invited to participate in the Architecture Foundation’s generative activities. The first opportunity arose the following year, and was sited in a neglected, post-industrial area on the south bank of the river called Bankside. Its potential had become enhanced by the decision in 1992 to develop a new branch of the Tate museum on the site of a former power station, whose future was defined

in 1995 by the winning designs of Herzog and de Meuron and their proposal to transform rather than demolish the building. The then Director of Regeneration of the London Borough of Southwark, Fred Manson, collaborated with the Architecture Foundation to put together a competition for ideas about how to address the quality of its public realm. This was formally called an Urban Design Initiative, and received financial and moral support from the Department of the Environment’s Government Office for London. Following an open competition, seven design teams were commissioned to develop practical proposals for the improvement of public space, which were exhibited in a disused carwash on Southwark Street curated by the Architecture Foundation in the summer of 1996 under the title of Future Southwark.39 Four schemes reached physical fruition. One of these was muf’s Shared Ground, a proposal that stretched for 1 km along Southwark High Street.40 This commission enabled muf to test out methods of consultation inspired by the possibilities of an extended democracy. In order to map the desires of the then current inhabitants of the Bankside area 

for more about Future Southwark, click here.
to read about Southwark High St, click here.

and somehow embed them into the physical reality of this new place, the various imaginations comprising muf worked together and individually to devise ways of recording and interpreting them. Katherine made a series of montages (and later films) that, according to Juliet ‘weren’t literal in the sense of proposing a reality, they just showed relationships and juxtapositions of things in order to get a reaction, a response from people.’ Later, Juliet presented my access students with beautiful and delicate drawings – including one called 100 desires for Southwark Street, and talked about the metaphor of the beach – a place for lingering – a shared ground and also a memory. The beach represented the north, the sunny side of the Thames, where the money was. It was an echo of muf’s South Bank proposal from 1994, which made the back into the front, looking south towards what was disregarded as hinterland, but which was in reality someone’s neighbourhood. An equally valid reality. She also talked about the material qualities of the built structures – brute, poured materials. 

In the autumn of 1998, the Architecture Foundation held an

exhibition managed by its new director Lucy Musgrave called Fuel for Thought, which launched another open competition seeking to challenge London’s status quo. 41

This was called Car-free London42 and muf were one of the five winning entries to be exhibited in the culminating exhibition in spring 1999. Their approach did not propose merely accommodating the usual alternatives to travel by car such as cycling, trains and other forms of public transport, but instead dismantled the car itself and what it means to the travelling individual. They focussed on the reasons why the car is desirable and turned it inside out, distributing its psychology – the social journey, across the city. Again, it is themes of desire and pleasure, this time with counterparts security and mobility, that feature in the analysis, which included an audit of places that felt safe alone at night, and proposals that are a rereading rather than a replacing of the existing London topography. Many of these ideas were worked through in Security, Mobility, Pleasure, 2002 43).

Earlier the same year, preceding the Car-free London exhibition, the Architecture Foundation held a

to see the Car Free London brief, click here.
to read more about Car Free London, click here.
to read the Security, Mobility, Pleasure report, click here.

retrospective show of three years of muf 1996-99, called Emotional Storage.44 This, they said ‘focused on muf’s unconventional approach to client-architect relations, which led to strong design ideas that reflect community interest.’ It included the work that muf had been doing in partnership with the now defunct Scarman Trust, which was set up by Lord Scarman in 1991 to pioneer support for grassroots social entrepreneurs and to develop proposals for social investment banking in the City of Birmingham. This collaboration belonged to the research process of their biggest job to date – the Local Zone for the Millennium Dome, designed by Richard Rogers in the recently developed London Docklands, still three years to completion when the original commission was made in 1997. Again, the proposal was to turn the situation inside out – what is local, and where can it be found? For muf, this involved working with different kinds of people in the places that they lived in, on estates around Birmingham, and far from the Isle of Dogs. The themes they explored included the Restless Youth Club – mobile facilities that created alternative, unofficial, secret and temporary places for

to read about the Emotional Storage exhibition, click here.

 young people (these ideas were later developed in a strategy called Open spaces that are not parks in 2004 45), and other ways of finding sites for income-generating activities specific to a locale, rather than a policy.

Differences in opinion about what constituted answers to these questions about the local, and an anxiety about the

possible corporeal outcomes of an open research process with intangible parameters that were partially framed as a challenge to the whole premise of the local, meant that an agreement would never be reached (the protracted process of sacking is described in the muf manual 46). In the end, the Local Zone in the Millenium Dome exhibition was comprised of a cardboard city orchestrated by Spence Associates, Philip Gumuchdjian and Shigeru Ban, with the help of the Blue Peter team, that addressed issues of sustainability and environmental concerns to show the individual how they could make a difference to the world around them.

Consummate exhibitionists, but only as a collective, muf were equally able to create a show about someone else. In 1995, muf were commissioned by the

op. cit, click here.
muf manual op. cit. p. 190

Royal Academy of Arts to design the Sir Denys Lasdun Retrospective, which was being curated by Rowan Moore. Treating Dennis Lasdun’s work as a part of (rather than as a specific landmark within) the built environment, they set out to discover and reveal how the buildings had been made and who had made them, and then how they had been inhabited since their construction. They designed a long table (reflecting the plan of Lasdun’s Hallfield School) that curved across the large, formal room that they had been assigned upstairs in the Academy. They covered up its door frames, and leant huge images informally against its walls that dwarfed the room’s scale and broke down its monumental presence. Covered in drawings, models, ephemera and videos made by Katherine, plus a portrait of Lasdun by Catherine Yass, the table was a metaphor for the creative mind, a dense collection of minutiae that together provided, in the words of muf, ‘a way into the scale of the formal gesture.’

 

by Helen Thomas

 

 

Notes

1 for Architecture Foundation archival material about the 'Public Views' series, click here.

 

2 for information about the Purity and Tolerance exhibition, click here.

 

3 from an interview by the author,  28 May 2014 with Juliet Bidgood, click here to read Juliet's full comment, and here to see it.

 

4 to read the text on the window written by  Kath Shonfield click here.

 

5 a portrait of Katherine, Liza and Juliet is held in the National Portrait Gallery collection, click here.

 

6 to read Kath Schonfield's obituary in the Guardian, click here.


7 to read Kath Schonfield's obituary in Building Design (12.09.03) click here.

 

8 Katherine Shonfield ‘Two Architectural Projects about Purity’ in, ed. Jonathan Hill, Architecture: The Subject is Matter (Abingdon: Routledge, 2001) pp. 29-44

 

9 ‘Ties of Friendship’, muf et al, This is What we Do, a muf manual (London: Ellipsis, 2001) p. 8


 

10 to read Juliet's memories, expressed in an email to the author, part 1 click here, for part 2 and Carl Middleton's memories, click here.  To see an excerpt of Juliet's interview, click here

 

11 This idea is discussed in detail by Pier Vittorio Aureli in his essay ‘Less is Enough, on Architecture and Asceticism’, click here

 

12 see: Raphael Samuel ‘The Pathos of Spitalfields’, click here

 

13 to read Jonathan Glancey's article, click here

 

14 to see the Archive of David Greene's work at the University of Westminster, click here. David Greene, “The aim in Unit 9 is to deconstruct the protocols of cultural production within the context of architecture or to put it another way like Coca Cola in the medium of soft drinks to search for the real thing".

 

15 this quote is from an interview by the author with Juliet Bidgood, 28 May 2014

 

16 this quote is from an interview by the author with Liza Fior, 28 January 2015

 

17 to see examples of work done by students of Liza at the Architectural Association, click here.

 

 

 

18 Mark Pimlott, review of Inner Side AA Files 27, Spring 1994, pp. 61–4, to read the review, courtesy and © of AA Files, click here.

 

19 The horse photograph accompanies muf from studio to studio, click here.

 

20 to read Kieran Long's review of the Tilbury project, click here.

 

21 to see the CCA page on Tilbury, click here.

 

22 for a definition of the Single Regeneration 

Budget, click here.
 

23 to find out more about A Horses Tail, click here.

 

24 to find out more about the Broadway Community Garden, click here

 

25 to find out more about Group Material at the Raven Row Gallery, click here.

 

26 to read more about Group Material in Frieze, click here.

 

27 see the Art Camp section of this publication


28 to read more about the Culture in Action project in Frieze, click here.
 

 

29 to read about Raven Row Gallery's Polytechnic exhibition, click here.

 

30 to read about the Artists Placement Group, click here.

 

31 to read about Raven Row's A History of Irritated Material exhibition, click here.

 

32 for a description of muf's working practice in the 1990s, click here .

 

33 from an interview with Liza and Katherine in Icon, click here to read it.

34 from an interview by the author with Liza Fior, 28 January 2015: “Again and again in those first 18 months, reflections on my identity as mother and my efforts to make space for Rae became exercises in the collation of research, experience by experience, it was archived as spatial receipts. Seldom just for the mother and child, these were made to include other identities as well. So the space between wall and window in Walsall and at the Museum of Woman’s Art was a space for breastfeeding and also a space for an assignation.”
 

35 from an interview by the author with Juliet  Bidgood, 28 May 2014
 

36 to read about the fate of the Jane Drew Prize, click here


 

 

 

 

37 to read about the Women's Art Museum debate, click here

 

38 the context for this quote is here.  

 

39 for more about Future Southwark, click here.

 

40 to read about Southwark High St, click here.  

 

41 to see the Car Free London brief, click here

 

42 to read more about Car Free London, click here

 

43 to read the Security, Mobility, Pleasure report, click here.  

 

44 to read about the Emotional Storage exhibition, click here.  

 

45 op. cit, click here.  

 

46 muf manual op. cit. p. 190