Occupy or Avoid: Reflection

Olivia Hingley revisits 'Occupy or Avoid' from Issue #3 Conflict/Resolution with some questions for Ivy Pottinger Glass.

Occupy or Avoid – Crumble #3 Conflict/Resolution

In light of the current Black Lives Matter protests, your provocation that ‘We politicise our architectural landscapes insofar that in times of conflict, buildings themselves are transformed into sites of symbolic importance.’ proves highly pertinent. Has the movement reinforced your arguments AND/OR reformed your stance compared to when you wrote Occupy or Avoid?

I think what I wrote about the politicisation of the built environment back in 2018 has definitely been reinforced by the Black Lives Matter protests. Debates around whether buildings should be renamed to honour BAME figures and communities instead of racist institutions and individuals highlights the extent of the political significance of the built environment and how systems of power are reified and reinforced through this very environment. The occupied protest in Capitol Hill in Seattle that happened recently, whilst being an area rather than one specific building, again speaks to the idea that space is political and our ability to occupy space can be a very powerful means to enact and intensify protest.

Having experienced another set of academic strikes this past year, did you observe the built environment as having played as central of a role in the actions of the protestors?

The strikes that took place this academic year were hugely enacted through and onto space. Multiple buildings were seized in occupational protests throughout the university campus in an attempt to disrupt the use of these spaces. I think occupations are a really important and powerful tool in protest, as they aim to cause maximum disruption and draw attention to the protest in an active and prolonged manner where marches or rallies can often be more time limited or transient.

How do you think the “politicisation of buildings” relates to the Covid-19 pandemic, with its limiting movement and essentially ‘entrapping’ people inside?

It’s been interesting to think about privilege when it comes to quarantining inside buildings. Economic disparities are represented oftentimes in people’s environments. Who has access to what space is political. So, whilst some wealthy families and individuals might be lucky enough to have a large house and garden to spend the duration of lockdown, other people might be stuck in small flats without dedicated outdoor space. I think a lot of people were quick to judge others for how much time they were spending in parks and public outdoor spaces at the beginning of lockdown, but what wasn’t talked about so much were the differences and inequalities that might be behind people acting differently from one and other in the given circumstances. Obviously keeping safe is a priority, but this is highly influenced by privilege. Also, the privilege to work from home or to stay inside rather than go to work in person is greatly stratified by intersectional inequalities. The way in which Covid 19 has disproportionately affected BAME groups is no coincidence, it’s precisely because BAME people are overrepresented in front line working positions.

Having studied English Literature for the past four years, are there any texts you’ve encountered that have informed or enrichened your understanding of the “politicisation of buildings”?

My dissertation was partly on the way in which women experience space in postcolonial literature of the 20th century. So, thinkers like Doreen Massey and Anne McClintock were really informative when it came to looking at the way in which space is politicised, gendered and experienced differently depending on various intersectional factors that influence and determine people’s identities.

In our current climate, and in regard to your piece Occupy or Avoid?, what do the words of our imminent publication Moment, Movement mean to you?

I think in the globalised world we live in, movement has been taken for granted by many; the ability for information, things and people to move freely. So, during a global pandemic, borders and restrictions become more real and more heavily enforced and mass movement across the world has almost entirely been halted. I think the concept of movement is certainly important, and when movement becomes restricted, or indeed illegal, it’s very interesting to see the way in which people and systems themselves react and adapt.

Interview by Olivia Hingley with Responses by Ivy Pottinger-Glass. Illustration by Alex Abadjieva. All Rights Reserved.