Coral Reefs in the Sea of Urbanity

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The post-industrial city has become a fragmented landscape of urbanisation. The rational city of the modernist era has been eroded by the forces of globalisation and the liberalised economy, erasing the traditional points of reference in the urban environment. Consequently, this space has become increasingly illegible. Koolhaas notes: ‘We were making sandcastles. Now we swim in the sea that swept them away’. Similar Deyan Sudjic describes the city as ‘an urban soup’.
However, a new form of ‘city-ness’ is emerging from the dullness of urbanisation. It is forming around stations, along road arteries and connected by fibre optic cables. Following the lines of infrastructure, these linear fragments of development thrive on diversity, density and perpetual change: we call them urban coral reefs. Linear in their form, these complex ecosystems provide a new habitat for the urbanites of the twenty first century.
This is particularly noticeable in the suburban centres, like Ilford in East London, where the myth of Metroland has collapsed and city dwellers now look to more accessible places to live. The comfort of the semi-detached house with a garden has been substituted for the convenience of living near a train station. As Paul Virilio and Antoine Picon explain, time and speed are now more important than distance.
This change in habits has engendered an unprecedented migration from the leafy residential streets of suburbia to the dense centres and high roads, which were traditionally reserved for commercial and retail uses. In Ilford, speculative high-rises and apartment blocks are replacing the decaying industrial sheds and vacant lots that once populated parts of the town centre. The influx of new residents will put pressure on the existing public spaces and amenities as densities in the area top the scale for the London Metropolitan Area.
In this context, there is a growing need to ensure the resilience of the reef by creating a legible and engaging space that can support the needs of the community and cater to a changing demographic.