It was when we were on the third floor, looking up at a hole in the ceiling, that I thought to ask if the building were structurally sound.
Our host, a young architect from Berlin, assured us that it was. We moved up to the top floor to inspect the rooftop shower. It was basic, a duckboard to stand on, a hosepipe, a screen so as not to frighten the horses, and a view across London.
The view through grimy windows was somehow even better.
I had only intended to stay half an hour at Hidden Borough’s Open House event this evening at 55 Great Suffolk Street, but a can of lager and refreshing company kept me there more than twice that time.
We were a mixed bunch who climbed up the ladder and entered the main living space. This is where the toilet is, the kitchen and a suggestion of home.
It didn’t take much imagination to picture it as a flat. The current residents have legalised their occupancy and are there with the owner’s blessing for the moment. They are young, educated, socially committed, clean (thanks to that hosepipe) and idealistic. They are also impressively organised. Their aim is a simple one: draw attention to empty buildings and bring them to life again by using them as community resources.
The whole place screams out to be used in photo shoots, or maybe a film with some gritty realism. I wanted to see John Lennon at the far end of the room, playing the piano.
I only had my point and squirt camera with me, but I hope I have captured some of the atmosphere. There are random pieces of furniture, including several sofas, which I am guessing came from the building’s brief use as a theatre. One of the fire buckets in the second floor dorm is enjoying a new role as a vase.
I had a good chat with Frédéric who is working on a project at 100 Union Street, creating a Public House in the railway tunnel just as established public houses close at a rate of around sixteen each week. I appreciated the irony of that. Manu may be working there too, but our conversation was solely concerned with his admiration for the weightbearing designs of the ceilings.
I came away thoughtful and enthused in equal measure. Youth is often castigated as selfish and lazy. All the people I met this evening give me hope for the future.
I definitely want to create a new guided walk between Elephant and Borough. Anyone want to commission me?