‘Mirth, Marvel and Maud’

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To the uninitiated ‘Mirth, Marvel and Maud’ might sound like a collection of pensioners with super-powers. In fact this unusual moniker relates to a partially-restored cinema that’s now back in use after a huge local campaign to save it – I like to think some pensioners with super-powers had a hand in this. This perfectly fitting venue was the setting for ‘Memories of Walthamstow’ by ArchitectsE17 a bang-on-theme event for LFA2017 to explore the changing face of this east London borough.

Credit to all the speakers: Max Dewdney of Max Dewdney Architects, Pooja Agrawal of the GLA, Robert Barker of Stolon Studio, Francesca Heathcote Sapey, William Mann of Witherford Watson Mann, and architects Stephen Mackie & Esme Fieldhouse. It was particularly fascinating to hear about the preservation of Walthamstow’s industrial identity and the transformation of historical wetlands.

One presentation has stuck with me though. Stephen Mackie & Esme Fieldhouse shared their thoughts on the history of shopfronts and offered St James Street as an example of the dangers of homogenisation. I admit, I hadn’t previously put much thought into this development, sure it’s a bit bland but I wouldn’t have considered it  problematic. But Stephen and Esme are right, if shopfronts in St James Street don’t reference the individuality of the shop – its history or current offering – then it will look like a palatable toy-town for investors. Francesca beautifully expressed the strong, diverse community of Walthamstow as ‘like lots of different onions coming together with all their layers of memories and heritage’. It’s right that the built environment should reflect this.

The Q&A echoed earlier themes of individuality, community and a cautious welcome for development -except when it comes to high-rise buildings in the city centre. When asked ‘where can Walthamstow accommodate high-rise density’ a swift response of ‘Tottenham Hale’ was well received.

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