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of culture
ARCO215 - Contextual Essay
Adam Cowley-Evans
Question from Richard Bower (Adapted)
All images used are work of the
author unless stated otherwise.
Part I : Analysis
Chinatown or the Urban Theme Park
Brick Lane or the Londoners Canvas
Part II : Comparison
The Duck and the Shed
The [in]formal Monument
Practice and Environment
Cultural Consumption
This essay is a study of two of Londons most prolific
cultural hotspots, Chinatown and Brick Lane. The
study intends to provide comparisons between these
two very different places and determine the mechan-
ics that have shaped what they are today and where
they are headed in the future, particularly in regards
to contested territory between majority and minority.
Cultural sustainability and the role of the Architect or
City Planner within these mechanics and processes
are questioned and analysed in the hope of preserv-
ing the rich tapestry of diversity and multicultural-
ism that London has to offer for both majority and
London is a city of many Others, a city of convolution and com-
plication that reflects both experientially and demographically. It
is a city that cannot be understood through map or diagram. With
around 55% of its population being considered part of an ethnic mi-
nority, London can be considered as one of the most ethnically di-
verse places in the world, one of the few places where majority is in
fact minority.
As a result of such diversity, we see the production
of a certain type of spatial phenomena, the ethnic enclave, a place
within a place - a representation of a community and its territories.
This essay intends to address these values of minority or Oth-
er-ness in the context of a dominant social structure framework,
the ethnic enclave within the dominant host city. Brick Lane and
Chinatown are interesting case studies in this respect as they both
illustrate the contact between majority and minority values, al-
though in very different ways and to different consequences. They
act as flagships of their respective territories - in this case the
boroughs of Westminster and Tower Hamlets (fig. A) - symbols of a
particular minority that manifest values of each community. I hope
to explore and interrogate and compare the spatio-cultural prac-
tices that occur within these places in an attempt to understand
both how minorities appropriate or act and how the majority then
influences or reacts in turn.
Cohen, Norma, White ethnic Britons in minority in London, Finan-
cial Times/UK Census 2011,
[accessed 03.04.13].
From now on, by using the term Majority I am referring to the
predominant social order within that particular society, in this case
White British.
What is theoretically innovative, and politically crucial, is the
need to think beyond narratives of originary and initial subjectivi-
ties and to focus on those moments or processes that are pro-
duced in the articulation of cultural differences.

- Homi K. Bhabha, The Location of Culture
Bhabha, Homi K., The Location of Culture (London: Rouledge -
1994), p.1.

Fig. A - Google Maps
Chinatown or the Urban Theme Park
Let us look first at Chinatown, a place produced from necessity; the
first wave of Chinese immigrants, sailors of the East India Company
and their families, settled in the area and found themselves out
of work when the shipping industry declined during the early 20th
century. British soldiers returning from the far east brought with
them an appetite for Chinese cuisine, a lifeline for the unemployed
residents of Chinatown.
This process fabricated Chinatown as we
know and understand it today, as a place that has never truly been
for the Chinese but instead an attraction for others.
The result is a rather fantastical representation of Chineseness, one
skewed by capitalism and the formal values and requirements of
the dominant society. De Certeau explains the relationship between
the representation and its use in society as one of manipulation and
The presence and circulation of a representation [...] tells us noth-
in about what it is for its users. we must frst ana|,ze its manip-
ulation by users who are not its makers. Only then can we gauge
the difference or similarity between the production of the image
and and the secondary production hidden in the process of its uti-
Considering this in the context of Chinatown and the concept of Ori-
entalism, the image of China and Chineseness that we receive from
Chinatown is much the subject of this manipulation from users
who are not its makers. It is an image that has been adapted to suit
the formal values of the western world and be consumed as a prod-
uct in this way; an image that makes a spectacle of itself. Edward
Said explains in Orientalism;
Ville, Tom, Through the Ages: A History of London Chinatown,
Chinatown London,
through-the-ages/3/4 [accessed 03.04.13]
De Certeau, Michel, The Practice of Everyday Life (Berkeley :
University of California - 1984), p.xiii.
The Orient was almost a European invention, and had been since
antiquity a place of romance, exotic beings, haunting memories and
landscapes, remarkable experiences. Now it was disappearing; in a
sense it haJ happeneJ, its time was over.
Chinatown seeks to preserve these imported views of the Orient for
their exotic qualities in spite of them being no longer existent and
perhaps even slightly fictional. In being an untrue representation
of the community (the Other) it seeks to represent it becomes a kind
of inhabited theme park (even with its own colour scheme (Fig.B)),
bringing with it a diminished sense of place and identity.
The only
amenities that appear to be really for the Chinese community are
a plethora of casinos and betting shops that only seem to illustrate
this majority-minority manipulation even further (Fig. C).
Said, Edward, Orientalism (New York: Pantheon - 1978), p.1.
When referring to sense of place in this instance I am referring to
the sense of place held by the person themselves, as opposed to
geographic characteristics.
Fig. B - The Chinatown Red
colour scheme.
Fig. C - Bi-lingual betting shop
Brick Lane or the Londoners Canvas
Unlike the more static Chinatown, Brick Lane has a reverberant
historical context of temporality, being called home to Londons
French Huguenot, Jewish and Bengali communities (consecutively)
since the early 1800s.
Built in 1743 and serving first as a Church,
then becoming a Synagogue, the Brick Lane Mosque reflects this
transient relationship between culture and space (Fig. D).
Although perceived as a transient area with the ability to consis-
tently re-invent itself, it is still called home to a community and still
manifests cultural values to some degree.
The difficulty here is
that by being a place of function over spectacle - it does not express
these values outwards for benefit of the majority, unlike Chinatown.
As a result, the majoritys perception of Brick Lane is that it does
not particularly belong to the Bengali community, even though
the majority of the population are of Bangladeshi origin.
vations of this perception can also be made from the toponymy of
Brick Lane itself; why is the area not collectively known as Ban-
(12)(Appendix 1)
Melvin, Jeremy, London Calling, Architectural Design, Vol.75-5
(2005), pp.8-15.
Oakley, K. and Pratt, A.C, Brick Lane: Community-Driven Innova-
tion, Local Knowledge: Case studies of four innovative places,
NESTA Kings College London, pp28-39.
Oakley + Pratt, Brick Lane: Community-Driven Innovation, p.30.
Tower Hamlets Partnership, Ward Profile: Spitalfields, This-
[accessed 08.04.13].
The ward itself is actually called Spitalfields and Banglatown,
and even referred to compassionately by the Bengali community as
Banglatown. However the term is relatively unused in mainstream
media and the general population.
Fig. D - Evolution of Brick Lane Mosque.
> >
Brick Lane implies nothing of any cultural territory or ownership,
rather it is a quintessentially British name that could be placed
anywhere. Despite this, Brick Lane still acts as a cultural anchor
point for the Bengali community, one that functions well in preserv-
ing identity and maintaining cultural integrity of one of the poorest
communities in London.

It is precisely in its ability to re-invent itself that Brick Lane and
the surrounding areas of Spitalfields and Whitechapel have found
themselves subject to a different social process, the emergence of
a young, creative industry based around cultural capitalism. This
type of industry thrives off of the unspectacular, a blank canvas in
the form of a street in East London. As Andy Pratt writes, The name
8rick Lane functions as an internationa| branJ, conjurin imaes
of a Jistinctive urban space.
This spatial branding of the area
brings with it an injection of values into the existing community,
values of the majority competing with values of minority (Fig. E).
Eade, J, Identity, Nation and Religeon: Educated Young Bangla-
deshi Muslims in Londons East End, International Sociology, 9
(1994), p.379.
Oakley + Pratt, Brick Lane: Community-Driven Innovation, p.32.
Fig. E - Majority/minority heirarchies
on Brick Lane.
As the area becomes trendy it attracts attention as a desirable
place, subsequently pushing up property prices and encouraging
redevelopment, creating a process of displacement and confusion
within the original Bengali community.
Pratt goes on to argue
that this fragmentation is perhaps based on class friction as well as
cultural difference:
While the diversity of Brick Lane is one of its selling points, the
picture we derived from interviews was one of fragmentation, not
necessarily along ethnic lines, although this exists, but along social
class lines. If the innovation of Brick Lane comes in part from the
mixing of communities, people and ideas, then this mixing does not
run Jeep, with possib|e imp|ications for sustainabi|it,.
The cultural confusion in the area seems to have culminated in
recent proposals from the local council to create a so-called cul-
ture trail in the area. This 1.85m development includes two hi-
jab-shaped arches at each end of Brick Lane (fig. F) that have been
met with extensive opposition from both communities, reflecting
the contesting of territory between majority and minority and this
apparent need for one community to speak and act on behalf of a
lesser other.
Thomson, Ian, On Brick Lane: Review, The Telegraph On-
[accessed 29.04.13].
Oakley + Pratt, Brick Lane: Community-Driven Innovation, p.32.
Dangerfield, Andy, Brick Lane Arches Plan Criticised by Res-
idents, BBC News,
don/8517791.stm [accessed 20.4.13]
Fig. F -
Council proposal
for Hijab-shaped
Tower Hamlets
Fig. G - Brick Lane Mosque
The Duck and the Shed
On face value, we can draw comparisons of these places with Ven-
turi and Scott-Browns theory of the duck and decorated shed. The
duck substitutes structure and program for an overa|| s,mbo|ic
form, much like Chinatown substitutes its principle as a place of
Chineseness for a symbolic (and spectacular) representation.
On the other hand, the decorated shed submits its form to suit
a specific function or system while applying its ornamentation in-
dependently, in much the same way that Brick Lane operates as a
functional space in which the program holds preference over any
kind of symbolic expressive form; Instead using graffiti as a method
of independent ornamentation (fig. H).

Both Chinatown and the duck are what they are and as a result they
are unable to be anything else; you couldnt imagine Chinatown in
its current form as anything other than Chinatown. In a decorated
shed such as Brick Lane you could simply change the signs and it
would become something else (fig. I). The Brick Lane Mosque build-
ing reiterates this theory in the sense that the only change through
3 waves of immigrant communities is the sign above the door.
Venturi, R, and Scott-Brown, D, Learning From Las Vegas (Cam-
bridge, MA: MIT Press - 1977), pp. 90-91.
Fig. H -
Ornamentation is
applied independ-
ently in the form
of graffiti.
Fig. I - Comparative sketches through
sections of typical buildings.
Chinatown - based on New China restaurant.
Brick Lane - based on Old Truman Brewery building.
Of course the use of these analogies can only offer a simplistic in-
sight and point of comparison between these very complex spatial
phenomena. The analogies used are what is perceived at face val-
ue and the actual mechanics of these places no doubt throw up
complexities within. These face value observations should still have
importance as they are, after all, how the majority perceives that
particular place and the social group (minority) it represents. In
Lefebvrian terms it is the representational space of the majority; it
is the space that is directly lived through its associated images and
The [in]formal Monument
For me, these two very different places represent two ways in which
minority culture attempts to integrate into a dominant environment;
the offering of a service/spectacle and the chameleonic appropria-
tion space for ones own specific needs. I am not suggesting these
are definitive archetypes of how cultures collide but more strong
examples of the mechanics that can occur. Although subject to very
different processes they both boil down to conflicting senses of ter-
ritory and place between minority and majority.
From observing and analysing these places, it seems that objects
that have monumental value are key in illustrating this conflict of
formal and informal values. I will refer to these monuments from
now on as [in]formal, offering manifestations of both formal and in-
formal values simultaneously (see fig. J). The Brick Lane proposal
mentioned earlier is a prime example of this, a monument con-
ceived by the majority for the minority and subsequently opposed
by minority. As Bhabha writes;
It is in the emergence of the interstices - the overlap and displace-
ment of Jomains of Jifference - that the intersubjective anJ co||ective
experiences of nationness, community interest or cultural value are
Lefebvre, Henri, The Production of Space (London: Blackwell -
1991), p.39.
Bhabha, Location of Culture, p.2.
20. 20
If we consider these interstitial spaces that Bhabha mentions as
[in]formal monuments then they can indeed become negotiators
of collective cultural values and community interest. From the
arches and pagodas of Chinatown to the graffiti murals in Brick
Lane, all of these monuments manifest relationships and conflict
between majority and minority in a visible, physical form. We can
once again allude to Lefebvres triad at this point; the formal monu-
ment can be seen as conceived space (representations of), informal
monuments are the relics of social spaces (spatial practice) and
the perceived (representational) space is made up by how we, as
spectators, see and react to these monuments in both reality and
through the media.
In order for us to truly understand how these ethnic enclaves op-
erate, and in turn act thoughtfully as architects and designers/ap-
propriators of space (avoiding incidents such as the Brick Lane
Lefebvre, Production of Space, p.33.
Fig. J -
Examples of
Culture Trail), as Bhabha suggests, we must focus on those mo-
ments or processes that are produced in the articulation of cultural
It is these moments of difference and conflict, man-
ifested within [in]formal monuments as juxtaposition of social and
conceived space, that tell us much more about these places than
subjective and individual opinions such as those shown in the me-
dia; Contradictions voice or express the forces and the relationships
between forces that clash within a history (and within history in gen-
Practice and Environment
Lets continue with a brief summary of conclusions made so far:
To touch on the final three comparisons in the table; static and
amorphous refers to the transiency of each place (in terms of cul-
tural change and development), the event and everyday reflects how
space is used as perceived by a majority and the final comparison
suggests how environmental (and possibly historical) factors influ-
ence the spacial practices of communities within these places.
This final point is interesting as it makes a strong contrast in terms
of how these communities practice everyday life in a dominant
host society. The Chinese community, by shaping their environment
Bhabha, Location of Culture, p.1.
Lefebvre, Production of Space, p.153.
to suit their own economic needs, operates cleverly within a system
that isnt particularly suited to them. As David Harvey explains in
Rebel Cities, this system is the golden chain that imprisons vul-
nerab|e anJ marina|izeJ popu|ations within orbits of capita| circu-
|ation anJ accumu|ation.
They may not be quite as vulnerable as
Harvey suggests however, managing to create a thriving honey pot
right in central London tailored to their own economic desires. De
Certeau explains this relationship with his theory of tactics and
trajectories, suggesting that the other can develop guerilla-style
tactics in order to adapt and subvert a dominant system; trajec-
tories jof tacticsj trace out the ruses of other interests anJ Jesires
that are neither determined nor captured by the systems in which they
It seems then that the trade-off is between cultural integrity and
economic gain; Chinatown manages to sustain itself economically
at the price of becoming a theme park and Brick Lane retains its
cultural values in the face of majority capitalisation and resultant
displacement. This leads us to question whether there can be a
compromise in this situation or whether these communities have
to leave their values at the door if they hope to survive. Either way,
both outcomes inevitably lead to a dislocation of culture.
Cultural Consumption
This relationship between environment and spatial practice also
influences the production of these monuments that I mentioned
earlier. Take for example the Chinatown arches commissioned by
Westminster City Council in 1985; they stand as independent and
non-compromising features in their environment, shaping the sur-
rounding context - spatial practice shaping environment. The Brick
Lane Crane (by local street artist Roa) does the opposite, allow-
ing the context and environment to shape the monument.
(26)(appendix 2)
Harvey, David, Rebel Cities: From the Right to the City to the
Urban Revolution (London: Verso - 2012), p.20.
De Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life, p.xviii
Unknown, The Return of Street Artist Roa, Spitalfields Life, http://
[accessed 08.04.13].
Fig. K - Brick Lane Crane, by Roa.
What is interesting here is that both monuments are perceived as
a brand (something to take photos of and post about on a blog)
but the difference between them is the social processes that con-
sume this brand. The social processes Im alluding to here are the
processes outlined earlier that affect these places as a whole, the
cultural tourism of Chinatown and cultural capitalism of Brick Lane.
These processes operate very differently in terms of space and
time; tourism like we see in Chinatown is fairly static in terms of
space, it relies on one particular attraction that is revisited over and
over again, being in effect a place for events. The cultural capital-
ism we see in Brick Lane relies on trend, the very nature of which
suggests a short-lived experience that moves about in space (fig.
L). In terms of how it is perceived by the majority, it is the differ-
ence between a series of events and an everyday lived space.
Fig. L - Spatial Dynamics of Cultural
Tourism and Cultural Capitaism
Movement between same
place but different people.
Cultural Tourism (Chinatown)
Movement between different
place but same people.
Cultural Capitalism (Brick Lane)
The relationship between minority and majority is a reciprocal one;
one that has undoubtedly shaped London to be the place it is today.
I would argue however, that in an increasingly globalised society
this process isnt sustainable. Jan Pieterse contends that, glob-
al interconnectedness leads to increasing cultural convergence, as
in the |oba| sweep of consumerism, in short Hc0ona|Jization.
What happens in this convergence is a consumption of culture it-
self, the resultant product being - as well as a new chain of exotic
restaurants - the dislocation of culture.
What this diagram explains is that culture is a finite resource, being
consumed by processes such as those occuring in Chinatown and
Brick Lane. The values from minority and majority are interchanged
and shared in a way that favors the dominant capitalist system and
a ceaseless accumulation of capital, in short these places become
brands and lose authenticity. An approach to address the sustain-
ability of these places is important in terms of maintaining diversi-
ty as opposed to fragmentation or misrepresentation of cultures;
the equation should be balanced in terms of the exchange of values
between majority and minority.
Pieterse, Jan, Globalization and Culture: Global Melange (Lanham:
Rowman and Littlefield - 2009)
Majority values imposed
through dominant systems-
Architecture, Economy,
Media, Language.
Minority values consu-
med through Popular
Culture - Art, Food,
Fashion, Tourism.
The extreme results of these processes are the next EuroDisney or
Kowloon City, a tawdry amalgam of misrepresented culture or the
eradication of culture itself. In order to retain a balance between
cultural give and take there needs to be an element of understand-
ing between cultures and a notion of shared territory rather than
contested territory; a desire to celebrate difference rather than
consume it.
By analysing and picking apart the mechanics of each of these plac-
es the intention was not to answer why they are different but more
how. These places are but two examples of how cultures can be
dislocated in one way or another but Im not suggesting they are
definitive binary archetypes of which all ethnic enclaves operate.
Instead of placing these places of huge cultural complexity into a
sort of model or calculation it becomes much more valuable to be
able to read these places through their associated symbols, signs
and monuments; consequentially how to understand them and act
as architects, planners or any other discipline for that matter.
Melvin, London Calling, pp.8-12. 28.
1. Toponymy - The naming process of these ethnic enclaves is very
interesting and can tell us a lot about how it is perceived by Majority
and Minority. Take for example, the name Little Italy as a simul-
taneous representation of each communitys values; the compas-
sionate reference to a little piece of home in a foreign environment
and the simple fact that it isnt an Italian place name. It frames the
place as a tourist attraction, a small slice of Italian Culture, avail-
able a little closer to home.
2.This extract is taken from the Spitalfields Life blog talking about
the street art of Roa in East London. The authors description of the
artists work offers an interesting take on how his paintings occupy
some of the areas which he feels are dilapidated and in need of
attention; how as a result the community by and large accepts and
even condones him painting on their property due to the increase in
value that comes with it. This contradiction between the values of
the artist and the cultural capitalism that entails is a prime exam-
ple of the processes occuring in Brick Lane;
Roa always asks before painting his creatures onto walls and has dis-
covered that many owners are receptive to having large paintings en-
hancing their buildings, which can become landmarks as a result. The
truth is that since these paintings take four to eight hours to complete,
it is not an option to create them as a hit and run operation, especially
if you want them to last.
For the most part, Roa places his animals in unloved, unrecognised
corners of the cityscape that are the natural home for scavengers and
vermin. But once these spaces are inhabited, the creatures become
the familiar spirits of their locations, living embodiments of these
places, and our relationship with them parallels our feelings about
the streetscape itself. Their powerful presence no longer permits us
to remain inJifferent.
Benmayor, Rina, 0ontesteJ Hemories of P|ace: Representations of
Salinas Chinatown, Oral History Review, Vol.37-2, pp.225-234.
Bhabha, Homi K., 7he Location of 0u|ture (London: Rouledge -
Cohen, Norma, white ethnic 8ritons in minorit, in LonJon, Finan-
cial Times/UK Census 2011,
[accessed 03.04.13].
Dangerfield, Andy, 8rick Lane /rches P|an 0riticiseJ b, ResiJents,
BBC News,
stm [accessed 20.4.13].
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versity of California - 1984).
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Hus|ims in LonJons Fast FnJ, International Sociology, 9 (1994),
Harvey, David, Rebe| 0ities: From the Riht to the 0it, to the urban
Revolution (London: Verso - 2012).
Hickey, Amber (ed.), / 0uiJebook of /|ternative Nows, (Journal of
Aesthetics and Protest - 2012).
Hyde, Rory, Future Practice: 0onversations from the FJe of /rchi-
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Melvin, Jeremy, LonJon 0a||in, Architectural Design, Vol.75-5
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Oakley, K. and Pratt, A.C, 8rick Lane: 0ommunit,-0riven lnnovation,
Local Knowledge: Case studies of four innovative places, NESTA
Kings College London, pp28-39.
Pieterse, Jan, 0|oba|ization anJ 0u|ture: 0|oba| He|ane (Lanham:
Rowman and Littlefield - 2009).
Said, Edward, 0rienta|ism (New York: Pantheon - 1978).
Thomson, Ian, 0n 8rick Lane: Review, The Telegraph Online, http://
From-Jewish-cockneys-to-City-slickers.html [accessed 29.04.13].
Tower Hamlets Partnership, warJ Prof|e: Spita|fe|Js, ThisBor-
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cessed 08.04.13].
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bridge, MA: MIT Press - 1977).
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ages/3/4 [accessed 03.04.13].
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[accessed 08.04.13].
ALL IMAGES ARE AUTHOR (with exception of Figs. A + F which
are taken from [] and [http://www.