Concluding post

East London provides an ideal example of a postmodern city in that the area seems disconnected and has multiple uses along with varying representations and discourses of the area and those who live and work in the area by media forms.

Although East London has become renowned as a typical ‘modernist slum’ where concentrated numbers of working class live and work, due to gentrification of the area; a certain layering of the area is taking place and working class residents are being displaced to make way for more affluent inhabitants.

Jonathan Raban’s idea of the ‘soft city’ captures the key issues with trying to totalise the identity of East London. The fragmentation and distrust of universals and ‘totalising’ discourses are the hallmark of postmodern thought, making the competing representations that we have discussed in this blog a key indicator that East London is a postmodern area and an area far to complicated to be completely disciplined.


Post by: Abi Groves, Georgina Miles, Marta Santillana, Sheldon Richardson, Dianne Bonney

Concluding post

Summary of David Harvey: ‘The Condition of Postmodernity’ Chapter 4: Postmodernism in the city: architecture and urban design

‘In the field of architecture and urban design, I take postmodernism broadly to signify a break with the modernist idea that planning and development should focus on large-scale, metropolitan-wide, technologically rational and efficient urban plans, backed by absolutely no frills architecture.’ (David Harvey, 1990) 

Harvey focuses on both modern and post-modern architectural buildings in New York and how they contrast.

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Harvey looked at the contrast in the Rockefeller building and Trump Tower and how post-modern buildings have drastically changed the appearance of many buildings in the city. The Rockefeller presents a dull, concrete building with no fascinating features unlike the Trump Tower that has many dimensions made from glass and tree’s placed on the building.

East London similarly has both modern and post-modern buildings that majorly contrast. All the postmodern buildings are seen as fascinating and interesting architectural buildings because of the material and design that has been used such as the Gherkin and the Lloyds Tower.


This image shows the clear contrast between modern and postmodern housing in East London. (Stratford)

lloyds-of-london gherkin

Harvey’s views on the concepts of space and urban planning:Postmodern urban planning attitudes differ to modernist attitudes with regards to the use of space. Harvey explains the differing concepts by outlining architect Leon Krier’s criticisms of modernist urban planning as being overly focused on the circulation of people to ‘mono-functionally zoned’ areas that may include, for example a skyscraper or a central business district.

Krier finds modernist urban planning to be wasteful of land and energy and on the whole, anti-ecological and his vision of a ‘good city’ is one that is considerate of the environment and the community.  Krier’s approach to urban design calls for all urban functions to be within comfortable walking distance and like many postmodernists, Krier seeks a return to traditional urban values by creating ‘cities within cities’.

Because of modernist ideals of monofunctional zoning and “rational planning” of space “circulation systems” were created to generate systems of productivity and growth but these “artificial arteries” generalise individuals and group them as the same.

Harvey moves on to describe the Western industrialised world’s post World War II reluctance to return to the enormous economic problems that were experienced during the 1920s and 1930s.

While post-World War II Britain employed modernist systems of constructions, urban planning was subject to strict country planning policies that restricted suburbanisation and forced people in to the city. Although these urban planning policies led to the removal of slums to make way for factories, hospitals, schools and prefabricated home, there was growing concern for spatial patterns and the impact of modernist urban planning on the promotion of equality.

In post World War II Europe, many cities required rebuilding after the destruction caused by the war. In the United States however, construction was driven not by damage to metropolitan areas but by a bolstered economy. The United States utilised modernist mass production techniques and experienced fast, loosely controlled suburbanisation which was largely assisted by the development of highways and other infrastructure. The US still relied upon mass production and backing from the Government but mainly focused on private development. As people and employment began to spread outward however, inner cities began to suffer from deterioration which resulted in government subsidised initiatives that aimed to renew metropolitan areas. Due to the reluctancy of returning to enormous economic problems after World War II and the need for reconstruction of social spaces, mass production and planning was adopted.

Harvey highlights the fact that modernism and fordism go hand in hand with capitalism with the need for rapid reconstruction and corporate capital still had a great deal of power in property development to build profitably, quickly and cheaply. This was a major branch of capital accumulation.

Harvey is criticises postmodern urban spatial planning because he claims that it fails to convey authentic urban identity. Harvey further states that postmodern urban planning is all too often gentrified, monotonous and significantly influenced by a desire to attract consumers.  (Harvey, 1990)

Post by: Abi Groves, Georgina Miles, Marta Santillana, Sheldon Richardson, Dianne Bonney


Harvey, D. (1990). The condition of postmodernity. Oxford [England]: Blackwell.

Summary of David Harvey: ‘The Condition of Postmodernity’ Chapter 4: Postmodernism in the city: architecture and urban design

Case study: Dagenham

Dagenham forms part of London Borough of Barking and Dagenham. The area remained mostly undeveloped until 1921 when the London County Council began construction of the large Becontree estate. Significantly, in 1924 planning of the Ford Dagenham plant began. As a result the population of the area significantly increased during the 20th century, with the parish of Dagenham becoming an urban district in 1926 and a municipal borough in 1938. Notoriously known as Dagenham’s ‘heyday’ (Asthana, 2010), Ford Motors was significantly important for the culture and community of the area. The area was thriving in this industrial boom and at its peak in the 1950’s it employed more than 40,000. “Through seven decades, the Dagenham workers produced about 11 million vehicles and turned a corner of east London into a showpiece of British industrial culture” (Asthana, 2010).

But now, it is estimated to only employ a total of 4,000 workers (Zino, 2009) which has had a huge impact on the area culturally and economically. An expert in the transformation of the area Ian Vickers stated “the loss of manufacturing has hit hard and that was followed by the loss of some of  the borough’s focal points. The two working men’s clubs have both gone; the cinema closed; a vast number of pubs have closed or been demolished. Not many years ago the town had a number of long-established businesses and shops; these have also shut up, many replaced by fast food outlets, pawnbrokers and pound stores. The town has altered beyond recognition, both in its populace and its fabric. The borough in the 1991 census was 96% white British, in 2001 this had dropped to 81%. In a 2005 estimate, this was given as 73%, which extrapolated to 2010 is just around 65%. The white British have been replaced with a large influx of chiefly African and some Eastern European migrants. Most people who lived around the actual town centre in 1991 have ‘escaped’, as they see it, further out into Essex, Kent, Norfolk and Suffolk, and some even abroad.” (Asthana, 2010) He concluded by stating “there is much hardship here, too.”

Evidently, Dagenham has witnessed major cultural and demographic changes showing that the area is constantly evolving through time. To categorically define Dagenham would be impossible, but through discourse it is evident that the area is diverse in ethnicity and for a period of time it was the “heartland” of the British industrial industry.

Reference List
Asthana, A. (2010). Dagenham’s heyday: ‘It was all just one big happy family then’. Available at: (Accessed: 24 March 2015).

Zino, K. (2009). Milestones: Ford Dagenham Estate Celebrates 80 Years of Manufacturing. Available at: (Accessed: 24 March 2015).

Post by: Georgina Miles

Case study: Dagenham

Spiegelhalters: east London’s weirdest building

In 1927, the Wickhams department store was built on Mile End Road, and it looked like this:

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The story behind the strange shape the building has is a curious one.

The Wickham family’s neighbours were the family that owned the Spiegelhalters jewellery shop. When the Wickham family decided to build their huge department store, meant to be Selfridges’ rival, neighbour Spiegelhalters refused to sell their property and move out. However, this did not stop the construction of the superstore, resulting on a great big gap over the Spiegelhalters jewellery shop, right in the middle of the grand façade.

The architectural writer Ian Nairn once said that it was ‘one of the best visual jokes in London’. The building itself provides a glimpse into East London’s Jewish history, and a reminder that occasionally rich property developers don’t get everything they want.

Today, the owners of the building are planning on demolishing Spiegelhalters and replace it with an empty space, that would look like this:

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However the East End Preservation Society has raised a petition to save Spiegelhalters, because this little shop has survived against the odds for over a century and it shall remind there, as Ian Nairn said; it conforms ‘a perennial triumph for the little man, the bloke who won’t conform. May he stay there till the Bomb falls’.

And if you believe this is a good way to preserve the East End’s heritage you can sign the petition here:

Time Out, (2015). Save Spiegelhalters, east London’s weirdest building – Now. Here. This. – Time Out London. [online] Available at: [Accessed 8 Mar. 2015].

Post by: Marta Santillana

Spiegelhalters: east London’s weirdest building

University of East London, Beckton: One location, five different views, many representations 


Looking at these 5 photographs that we took you wouldn’t necessarily be able to identify that they were take from the exact same location and as a panoramic view (unless you were familiar with the University of East London). We wanted to take and include these photographs as they demonstrate some of the changes that East London has undergone In one, singular setting.

The first image highlights the presence of tower block buildings behind city airport, circulating connotations of ghettoization and the collectiveness of the working/ lower class.

The second image is of the sugar refinery, a modernist building that represents fordism and mass production.

The third image is a more postmodern image, in the sense of architecture. You have the big fancy glass Barclays building (Harvey describes the sky scraper as a symbol of corporate power) linked to capitalist culture and the unique O2 building.

The fourth image demonstrates that, similarly to the first image, a lot of East London still hasn’t been gentrified and indicates ideologies of poverty and wasteland, linked to the areas historical discourse.

The last Image is of the University of East London’s library building, a postmodern building however, linked to more modernist metanarratives of education.

It is interesting to see so many competing representations and signifiers juxtapositioned next to each other. these images represent the complexity of trying to define East London in its entirety.

Post by: Georgina Miles and Sheldon Richardson

University of East London, Beckton: One location, five different views, many representations 

Breakfast at Pellicci’s

When walking the streets of London one thing has become apparent to me, how filled coffee shops/cafes are. “After more than a decade of rapid growth, the UK branded coffee shop market is defying all previous expectations as coffee wins the hearts and wallets of many British consumers. There appears to be no end to the trend to café culture which began more than a decade ago, with coffee achieving a current growth rate 7 to 8 times that of the British economy” (UK coffee: market grows and to grow strongly, 2013). Large named brands such as Starbucks, Costa Coffee are seeing continuous growth but also good artisan independent institutions are thriving in this café culture boom. Andy Harrison, chief executive of Whitbread, believes “coffee shops have now filled a hole in British society that would previously have been met by pubs” (Thomas, N, 2014). So why are people gravitating to this space?

Café’s and coffee shops are notoriously perceived as being social venues where people can gather with friends and family, or even integrate by chance with a stranger with a warm smile and chat for hours. They are also places where people can go to relax and work independently and for some people they provide a familiar habitat where they feel safe. The idea of familiarity is supported by De Certeau  (Harvey, 1991, p. 214) that believed “symbolic orderings of space ad time give profounder continuity”. Furthermore, De Certeau (Harvey, 1991, p. 214) defined a basis for understanding the ferment of popular, localized street culture by saying that the “resurgence of “popular”” practices cannot be confined to the past but “exist at the heart of the contemporary economy”. He then continued to state that they “provide a framework for experience through which we learn who or what we are in society”. The video below is a short film made by Amar Patel that tells the story of one of London’s most cherished café’s called Pellicci, on Bethnal Green Rd. It’s a bustling banter-charged hub, an East End institution and, above all, a family affair.

As De Certeau believes and what the video shows is that certain social spaces that enable daily routines give people structure and provides people with experiences and interactions that shape us. In particular with the video, it is evident that Pellicci’s provides a space where varying cultures of the East London (In which we have discovered that there are many) can come together and form a multicultural community. A place where everyone is valued, everyone converses with each other and everyone feels safe.

Reference List
UK coffee: market grows and to grow strongly (2013) Available at: (Accessed: 13 March 2015). Thomas, N. (2014).

Why coffee shops are replacing pubs in Britain. URL: Accessed: 13 March 2015.

Harvey, D. (1991) The Condition of Postmodernity. United States: Wiley – Blackwell.

Post by: Georgina Miles

Breakfast at Pellicci’s

Is East London losing its unique identity through gentrification and commercialisation?

(National Geographic, 2012)

The image  above seems to perfectly illustrate the contrast in modern versus post-modern architecture in East London. The post-modern buildings that comprise Canary Wharf loom in the background, while what appears to be residential, working-class, terraced housing sits in the foreground. This image seems to add weight to the theory that gentrification significantly alters both the cultural and physical landscapes of urban spaces. (The Economist, 2014)

David Harvey (1990), expresses criticism for postmodern spatial planning in urban areas due to its perceived inability to convey authenticity in terms of urban identity. Harvey asserts that postmodern urban spaces are all too often gentrified, repetitive and largely influenced by commercial endeavours.

The tour guide in the below video seems to share Harvey’s opinion with reference to the gentrification of East London and suggests that East London is one of the last areas in London to fall prey to gentrification and commercialisation, which may be characterised by the construction of high-rise apartment buildings which are expensive to rent or purchase as well as the inundation of the high street with well known ‘high street’ brands that continue to open up retail spaces in ‘up and coming’ areas, which ultimately pushes out smaller independent businesses that have likely operated in and helped to define the local area. The tour guide opines that gentrification of East London is making the area indistinguishable to other areas that have already undergone a process of gentrification. (Harvey, 1990 and Dykman, 2014)

Vice (2015), interviewed a group of East London council tower block residents who are opposed to plans to develop one of the two towers so that it may be sold off as private housing to fund redevelopment of both of the tower blocks. The blocks have housed working class residents since the 1960s and the proposed development will result in the loss of 74 council houses to a borough with a waiting list for housing as high as 20,000. This particular scenario is not unique and will undoubtedly leave a lasting effect on past, present and future residents of the area. This situation serves as a reminder of the following quote from Marshall Berman:

“The industrialization of production, which transforms scientific knowledge into technology, creates new human environments and destroys old speeds up the whole tempo of life, generates new forms of corporate power and class immense demographic upheavals, severing millions of people from their ancestral habitats…”(Berman, 1982)

Posted by: Dianne Bonney


Berman, M. (1982). All that is solid melts into air. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Dykman, K. (2014). Commercialisation and Gentrification of London’s East End. Available at: [Accessed 18 Mar. 2015].

Harvey, D. (1990). The condition of postmodernity. Oxford [England]: Blackwell.

National Geographic, (2012). East London. [image] Available at: [Accessed 3 Feb. 2015].

The Economist, (2014). Chasing cool. [online] Available at: [Accessed 3 Feb. 2015].

VICE, (2015). East London Residents Talk About Gentrification | VICE | United Kingdom. [online] Available at: [Accessed 18 Mar. 2015].

Is East London losing its unique identity through gentrification and commercialisation?