Dwelling as Resistance

In recent years the resistance against the expansion of Heathrow Airport has been led largely by an off-grid, eco-utopian community. Against the odds, it has used the art of dwelling to genuinely radical effects.

Grow Heathrow, with an airport hotel in the distance. [All photographs by Nicholas Ferguson]
Grow Heathrow, with an airport hotel in the distance. [All photographs by Nicholas Ferguson]

Sand-banks, marshes, forests, savages, precious little to eat fit for a civilized man, nothing but Thames water to drink. … He has to live in the midst of the incomprehensible, which is also the detestable. And it has a fascination too, which goes to work upon him. The fascination of the abomination — you know, imagine the growing regrets, the longing to escape, the powerless disgust, the surrender, the hate.

— Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness

1.

Mounted on a concrete plinth in a roundabout in Hounslow, in west London, is a bronze plaque. It reads:

110 yards to the south of this tablet is
THE NORTHWEST TERMINAL
OF THE FIRST BASELINE OF THE
TRIANGULATION OF GREAT BRITAIN
The base was measured in 1784 by
MAJOR-GENERAL WILLIAM ROY F.R.S.
“the Father of the Ordnance Survey”

Just why Britain’s cartographers chose to start their survey of the nation on Hounslow Heath is left to the visitor to ponder. Perhaps there was a sense of urgency about its requisition. After all, the heath lies in the Thames valley, a landscape long occupied by some of the most important landmarks of British national and monarchical power: the Royal Parks, the palaces of Windsor, Hampton Court, and Westminster. This expanse of earth would need to be quantified, subtended to the eye, subdued. 1 As it happens, the best evidence for this hypothesis is the spectacular success of the mapping project, one outcome of which has been the further development of the site of that “first baseline of the triangulation of Great Britain.” For as I read the inscription upon the plaque, I am standing a hundred or so meters north of the perimeter fence of Heathrow Airport.

How, in this most partitioned, apportioned, and regulated of locations, has oppositional space been created and sustained?

It is now from orbiting satellites that relative points on the globe are measured. Nevertheless, there can be no doubt that, as a point of reference, this stretch of land has retained its signal status in the transition to the digital age. From a small airfield opened in 1929 in a rural town fifteen miles west of London, to the expanded military facility of the war years, to the global hub that is now the busiest airport in Europe, Heathrow is a significant and strategic nexus in relation to which are organized movements of people and flows of goods, economic priorities and cultural values. But the airport is not the objective of my visit. From the commemorative plaque, I head one mile north to the village of Sipson. I’ve been invited to visit Grow Heathrow, a camp of squatters that for several years now has been protesting the expansion of Heathrow, after meeting one of its residents on a Heathrow Orchard Walk I had led earlier in the year. 2 How, I’m wondering, in this most partitioned, apportioned, and regulated of locations, has oppositional space been created and sustained? What has been built here, what skills learned and honed? How does what has been produced at the camp — physical things, cultural values, political positions — compare to what has been produced by sanctioned cultural arenas, or suffused through the civic realm in the name of community relations? 3

2.

Along the road from Heathrow to Sipson, I pass a rest area where the drivers of pre-booked taxis are killing time; also a carwash, a gravel pit, and an abandoned community center (or is it a church?) surrounded by an iron fence on which is displayed a banner that warns:

Heathrow expansion will concrete over your heritage. 4

In the center of the village, I stop at an Indian restaurant upon whose front brick wall has been painted an elaborate mural. It seems to depict a geocentric representation of the cosmos, in which a series of concentric rings surrounds the white sphere of the earth. On the earth’s surface are four vegetable plants that are shown in profile, as in a scientific atlas, and that fan outwards, like the numbers on a Roman sundial, into the blue ring of the sky. Circling this are clouds and doves; as the circle nears completion, the doves metamorphose into airplanes. Towards the perimeter are texts that tell us about the history of Sipson as a market garden; “Heathrow once supplied London with fresh food,” we learn. Emblazoned across the top is a combative slogan: “Beauty is in the Struggle.” This is not a mural done on the fly with a spray gun and calculated nonchalance. Clearly it has been created with the cooperation of the restaurant. There is a contract, if you will, though I doubt you will find any paperwork.

Mural on the wall of an Indian restaurant in the center of Sipson.
Mural on the wall of an Indian restaurant in the center of Sipson.

I view the mural from the doorway of the Sipson post office, which doubles as a convenience store, before going into the restaurant to buy a samosa for lunch. The shop assistant puts it in the microwave and I take the opportunity to talk with her about the airport expansion plans — about the assorted proposals for a third runway and new terminal that have been floated since the early aughts; about the shifting political allegiances and protest campaigns that prevented the plans from moving forward; and about the long struggle that has beaten down the villagers and caused many to sell their homes to the multinational holding company that owns Heathrow. 5 She tells me about the community representative who’d talked up resistance (“we’ll fight the airport till I am taken out in a coffin,” he’d said) but then had been the first to fold. She tells me she is worried that the post office will be forced to close. And she acknowledges that in recent years the resistance against the expansion has been led largely by the off-grid, eco-utopian community of Grow Heathrow, even as the camp has faced continuing threats of eviction; and indeed it was partly evicted earlier this year. The microwave pings.

3.

The message of Grow Heathrow feels radical. It says something like: Here is a reserve of artistic labor, the material spirit of an alternative present.

I was fortunate to make my first visits to Grow Heathrow before the bailiffs arrived, and to see the full four-acre camp that started in 2010 when the protesters occupied the site of derelict plant nursery. The entrance is marked with a hand-crafted sign that makes an arch over the gate. The shape may be classical, but the humble materials — long wooden dowels supported by a framework of chain-link fencing — suggest the spirit and insurgency of artisanal entanglements. The letters that form the words “Grow Heathrow” were cut, with tinsnips, from cans of vegetable oil, the jagged edges commensurate with the repeated closing of hand-held blades; and in the manner of a maker’s stamp, the printed surface is visible on the reverse side of each letter. The front surface has been botched using gloss paint applied with a brush.

The makeshift aesthetic has numerous parallels in the art world, including such recent projects as State Britain, a 2007 installation by Mark Wallinger at the Tate Modern that replicated the anti-Iraq protest camp set up in Parliament Square by the peace campaigner Brian Haw; Favela Café, by Tadashi Kawamata, a hut-like assemblage commissioned for Art Basel in 2013; and the series of rough-built pavilions created by Thomas Hirschhorn and hosted in run-down parts of cities in Europe and the United States. 6 All these works, especially Hirschhorn’s, embody the lyricism and precarity of a resistance aesthetic; yet at the same time they betray both the constraints of time and the singularity of vision that are the marks of authorship. The sign over the gate at Grow Heathrow displays no such qualities; accordingly, the message feels genuinely radical. It says something like: Here is a reserve of artistic labor, a surplus of enterprise and countervailing inefficiency that is the material spirit of an alternative present. A defiant union of media and collective social vision. A state of exception.

Entrance to Grow Heathrow.
Entrance to Grow Heathrow.

At the entrance to Grow Heathrow.
At the entrance to Grow Heathrow.

From the satellite view provided by Google Earth, the camp can be discerned as an enclosure on the eastern edge of the village; a patch of woodland that fills a remnant of land between the village and an M4 motorway spur, and whose indistinct outlines offset the diagrammed zones of the airport, roadway, and housing estate that surround it. On my first visit I shall discover that the squatters’ community comprises, in legal terms, two properties, one belonging to a small businessman, Imran Malek, who lives in a nearby suburb, the other to an offshore investment company, Lewdown Holdings Limited. I shall learn also that the community — which I’ve come to see as a kind of garrison — then numbered around 20 full-time residents and that over the years there’d been several attempts to evict them, before the semi-successful effort earlier this year. I ring the bell.

4.

The reception area is located to the right along the path that leads into the compound. The small building is inherited from the site’s previous incumbent, an auto scrapyard that was forcibly closed by the Hillingdon Council after sump oil was found to be seeping into the soil. Since then, it has seen significant modification. A second story has been added, forming a kind of makeshift penthouse, and multiple information panels have been affixed to the façade. “Transition Heathrow,” says one sign, referencing the group’s Facebook page. “GROW HEATHROW” says another, the lettering in cyan blue acrylic paint, executed entirely in straight lines, as if the draftsperson had learned to write by scratching into an unyielding surface. Still another states, in a recusant oxymoron, “free shop.” The letters, all in lower case, float on a bed of stylized yellow, green, and black leaves, recalling a three-color print in the Art Deco style.

The reception area at Grow Heathrow, with a building from the scrapyard that once occupied the site.
The reception area at Grow Heathrow, with a building from the scrapyard that once occupied the site.

Reception area, Grow Heathrow.
Reception area, Grow Heathrow.

The location of the office is marked by a wooden pole about eight meters high. Mounted onto the pole are representations of skulls, one human, and the other an elk, or maybe a stag. The bright colors and flower patterns of the human head are festive, and suggest a spontaneous, creativity-of-the-people feel. The elk or stag is more austere, though the horns are elaborately carved. The message is complex. On the one hand the signs tell us we are arriving at a revolutionary festival — a total work of art, even — but on the other hand they are unmistakably cautionary. The forms speak to us of magic and witchcraft, and imbue the pole with the power to incite fear as much as wonder.

5.

The principal living space has been created from a greenhouse dating from the time of the plant nursery, one of many that once populated the neighborhood and whose passing was lamented in the mural opposite the post office. Inside, there is enough room to accommodate a large gathering (a hundred or so people could fit); smaller areas are sectioned off with sofas and plants. The southern façade has been lined with bubble wrap in order to make a wall of magnifying glasses that is now warming in the low winter sun and radiating heat into the space. I am greeted by a guy named Ali: mid-twenties, soft-spoken; a full-time resident. He serves me tea and invites me to sit on one of the sofas. By email I’ve told him that I live in the neighborhood. That I teach art at a university and am writing an article on political struggle at Heathrow. Once seated, we talk about the easy stuff at first: supermarket dumpsters and the best times to raid them. Within a croissant or two we are on to totalitarian states, resistance networks, and parallel existences. Socially engaged art.

6.

Some of the dwellings within the enclosure take the form of treehouses. They were crafted with an art brought here by a visitor, one Ethical John, who ran workshops on box lashing, whereby beams are secured to trees in such a way that the rope does not cut into the trunk; as the trunk swells with moisture, the ropes slacken to accommodate the process. This ancient practice is indicative of a wider and reciprocal duty of care that exists between tree and protester.

Treehouses, Grow Heathrow.
Treehouses, Grow Heathrow.

To the visitor, the treehouses signal that we are in a distinctive aesthetic realm, at once a space of leisure and a zone of politics and anxieties more commonly encountered in science fiction. Some resemble the illustrations of alien invaders made by Henrique Alvim-Corrêa for an early edition of H.G. Wells’s The War of the Worlds. One self-made monster stands upon three legs of sycamores, with a thorax four meters or so from the ground; a skeleton of sawn planks; a tarpaulin hide and carpet mane; a bat box for a mouth that must double as an anus; and two rows of window-pane eyes, one a UPVC double-glazed unit, the other a venetian design ripped from a summer house in a once-fashionable neighborhood. The domestic origins of these materials remind us that the treehouses are, above all, homes. Which observation takes us to the very heart of the contribution that Grow Heathrow has made to the political struggle of Sipson because it underscores that resistance, at its most elementary, is no more nor less than dwelling.

What if we think of resistance not in relation to an external authority but in relation to rival, internal energies at play within an individual or group?

Resistance is commonly conceived as opposition to some powerful external force. In political terms it can mean the defense of personal or communal liberties that are threatened by some sovereign power, the struggle to speak or gather or worship freely. It is this meaning that comes most readily to mind at Heathrow; as in the understanding of Grow Heathrow as an act of “resistance to airport expansion.” But what if we think of resistance not in relation to an external authority but rather in relation to rival, internal energies that are at play within an individual or group of individuals? In her essay “Resistance to Occupy,” the cultural theorist Claire Colebrook proposes precisely such a reading of Occupy, the social justice movement that set up protest camps in cities around the globe earlier in this decade. “Rather than think of a populace’s resistance to power or the state, in terms of opposition,” Colebrook writes, “one needs to think of political resistance at the molecular level: how might some forces — forces that compose us and what we take to be our interests — produce new formations that are not those of the standard political identities that make up political analysis?” 7

In developing her argument Colebrook repurposes a theory of motives, or “multiple tendencies,” advanced by the French philosopher Gilles Deleuze. In The Fold, Deleuze argues that the human soul invents its own motives; and that much like a pendulum, it swings about from one motive to another, “from all of the smallest inclinations that ply our soul in every direction, in the flash of an instant, under the stress of a thousand ‘little springs’: disquiet.” 8 The soul does not yield to all motives, but to the ones which, like the folds in a cloth, contain and conceal aspects of the totality of things; what it yields to and how much it yields is determined by the amplitude of the attracting force at the decisive moment. Hence, when faced with a decision, we might make one choice at one moment, but a different one at another moment. The decision might turn upon one’s disposition to work, for instance, against a rival disposition to be lazy; or, for that matter, a disposition to play, or to live with less certainty. Colebrook extrapolates these ideas to Occupy:

All those tendencies that might have once been so liberating when set against earlier modes of corporate capital, such as a stress on individual freedom, creativity, goals, and unity in opposition to a quantifying and reductive capital, might now need to be abandoned. Notions of individual freedom, creativity, personal fulfillment and work-life balance now service capital, while concepts of disorganization and lack of clear ends might be genuinely resistant. Such a shift of focus, away from a simple oppositional resistance towards internal resistance, is particularly relevant today, looking back upon the potentiality of the Occupy movement. 9

It is in the context of such discussions that we can glimpse the tactical cunning to the art of dwelling at Sipson; that we can understand dwelling as an internal psychological state that can produce oppositional political effects. That can produce a preference for non-action over action, for art over life; for being rather than doing, leisure rather than work. Treehouse-making, gardening, mural painting, musical performances, craft workshops, play. Lyricism and excess. What is at stake for those who founded and who’ve maintained Grow Heathrow is the range of things that can be perceived and imagined by the body politick that constitutes the camp. Here dwelling is not about oppositional action; it is about the inhabitation of a site in order to produce a quasi-autonomous sphere in which the politics of its occupants are performed. It is this approach that accounts for a phrase that the protesters frequently use to describe their presence at Heathrow: passive resistance. For the squatters at Sipson, it is dwelling, not opposition, that has the greater amplitude. Here resistance is tantamount to indifference, for external interests are denied, or at least bracketed, while the requirements of dwelling are met.

As a form of resistance, dwelling can produce oppositional political effects: A preference for non-action over action, for art over life; for being rather than doing, leisure rather than work.

Beneath the camp there is rumored to be a series of tunnels. Their entrances are out-of-bounds to visitors. From a distance I’ve glimpsed banks of excavated earth, but not the areas from which the soil has been extracted. The uncertainty of their whereabouts — or even existence — belongs to a wider blurring of fact and fiction that constitutes a further element of the art of resistance. I learned of the tunnels while I was up in a treehouse, huddled by a stove as the evening was drawing in. I was being told the legend of the eco-warrior dreadlocked Dan, the eviction man. Dan was an activist who lived in a treehouse to prevent property owners from felling the tree and developing their land. He was deploying the classic tree-hugger’s tactic: hoping he could hold out long enough to attract positive public attention to his cause and at the same time inflict reputational damage to the tree-destroying developers. Central to his scheme was the proposition that a network of tunnels lay beneath the camp and were occupied by his fellow warriors. Should one of the tunnels collapse under the weight of an evictor’s crane or cherry-picker, the occupants would be suffocated or even crushed to death. Hence Dan knew that his position could be breached only if the developers risked the charge of murder.

And all the while that Dan held out, up in the tree, his hair, Samson-like, grew longer and longer. Eventually it required a niche skill-set to evict him: bailiff-cum-tree surgeon. This detail underlines the story’s counter-intuitive catharsis. For so enthralled was Dan by the canny conjoining of technical and economic forces that conspired against him that, upon his release from the tree, he crossed to the other side and turned bailiff.  Whether Dan was a single historical figure, or a nightmarish conflation of multiple heroes, the story reveals a profound anxiety about the protesters’ formidable nemesis.

Ceiling of a bender, Grow Heathrow.
Ceiling of a bender, Grow Heathrow.

7.

Very near the cluster of treehouses is a dwelling known as a bender. The easiest way to make one is to drive lengths of coppiced hazel into the ground in the form of a circle, bend them towards each other till they meet in the middle, then lash them together with strips of fresh bark to form a dome-like shelter. If built well, the frame of the bender will be strong enough to support the weight of an adult. Benders belong to the practice of permaculture: they are low impact, quick and easy to construct, and have served as dwellings for woodland workers for centuries. Hence, the benders at Grow Heathrow provide not so much an alternative lifestyle for an intentional or activist community; rather they provide a point of reference — a reality check, if you will — for the environmental credentials of the planned initiatives to which the airport has given rise: the regeneration of the struggling suburb of Southall, which has been plagued with toxic emissions from an old gas plant; the renaissance of the industry-lined “Golden Mile” portion of the old Great West Road; the building of a third runway. 10 The philosopher Martin Heidegger famously wrote that genuine building is dwelling, buttressing his claim with recourse to an etymological link between the German for “to build” and “to be.”

What then does ich bin mean? The old word bauen, to which the bin belongs, answers: ich bin, du bist, meaning: I dwell, you dwell. The way in which you are and I am, the manner in which we humans are on the earth, is Buan, dwelling. To be a human being means … to dwell. The old word bauen, which says that man is insofar as he dwells, this word bauen however also means at the same time to cherish and protect, to preserve and care for, specifically to till the soil, to cultivate the vine.  11

8.

Somewhere near the center of the camp is the waste house, so-called because it is being made from discarded materials. What is remarkable about this dwelling, which was under construction during my first few visits, is the extent to which the inhabitants have been picky about their choice of materials. This is a structure that suggests not a poverty of means but the counterintuitive abundance of what is at hand. The walls are being insulated with Hemcrete, a state-of-the-art composite of hemp and lime that is breathable, lightweight, readily adaptable. A mesh made from the joint tape used in plastering is being repurposed to create an insect barrier across a ventilation gap below the windowsills. The external walls will be covered in office carpet tiles whose color would meet building regulations, even in a conservation area.

Waste house, Grow Heathrow.
Waste house, Grow Heathrow.

It is also noteworthy that the structure has been assembled from sturdy timbers that are almost uniform in size. Instead of an aesthetics of transience and precarity, conveyed by much else in the camp, the waste house signals permanence, as if the residents are confident that they will be staying, and intend to do so in relative luxury. There is to be a first-floor veranda, and even before the walls are in place, a green roof has been planted.

The consideration given to the public display of lifestyle preferences might be counted as another form of the tactical knowledge cultivated at Grow Heathrow.

The consideration given to scale, quality, and the public display of lifestyle preferences might be counted as another form of the tactical knowledge that is being cultivated at Grow Heathrow. Think of this as a version of an “honest signal,” a zoological term that refers to a message sent by one animal to another, and which is mutually beneficial to both. It is the opposite of an alarm call. An example of an honest signal is the stotting of quadrupeds, whereby a gazelle, for instance, leaps gratuitously into the air to warn predators it will be hard to catch and so forestall a futile pursuit. The waste house is doing something like stotting: conveying a message of self-confidence, even bravado, to Lewdown Holdings.

Shower and laundry block, Grow Heathrow.
Shower and laundry block, Grow Heathrow.

Lock-on, Grow Heathrow.
Lock-on, Grow Heathrow.

To get a perspective on this gambit, it’s useful to compare the waste house with the adjacent shower and laundry building, which doubles as a kind of castle keep. The structure has been fortified with a scaffold that sits atop its roof and supports a platform with a balustrade. Occupying one corner of the balustrade is a device known as a “lock on”: a concrete-filled barrel into which two tubes of plastic piping have been inserted. The tubes are each just wide enough to pass an arm through, and they meet in the middle. The idea is brutally simple: should the bailiffs arrive and attempt to evict the community, two residents will quickly climb the shower block and secure themselves to the structure by thrusting one arm each into the tube and then locking themselves together with handcuffs. From this vantage you need only gaze across to the waste house to appreciate the tactical differences. If on a summer’s evening you were a bailiff undertaking reconnaissance in this corner of suburbia, and perhaps looking from a window of a nearby hotel ordinarily used by transit passengers, you would see, in despair, one of the waste house protesters perched high above the canopy, lovingly mowing his lawn.

9.

The tent is the preferred type of sleeping space for those who have been accepted as temporary residents in the camp. On my visits there were usually fifteen or so pitched within the compound, mostly standard-issue shelters comprising nylon shells and plastic groundsheets. Pegged at four corners, they offer basic protection against rain and insects. But at Grow Heathrow the rationalization of the tent goes beyond its benefits to the occupant. The tents are pitched in the gaps between trees and buildings, an arrangement that draws attention to one of their foremost capabilities: plasticity. There are many currents to this theme. The process of becoming a permanent camp resident is protracted, requiring a series of trial periods; the tent provides the flexibility and portability to make possible these short-term commitments. It also plays a part in the defense of the camp; it’s the shelter equivalent of light infantry: ready at short notice and easily moved about. In times of tension, when clashes with authorities are anticipated, it enables extra bodies to be swiftly accommodated. And at the same time the tent doubles as a deterrent; because you can’t tell from the air whether there is anybody inside, it functions as a surrogate being, another constituent to be counted as part of the critical mass.

In geopolitical terms, the tent underscores the specific historical and strategic nature of the campsite.

In geopolitical terms, the tent underscores the specific historical and strategic nature of the campsite. A tent can be anywhere. Yet any individual tent is not pitched just anywhere. Tents make possible a common condition, itinerancy, and they congregate at specific types of events and locations: the protest, the festival; the beach, the clearing in the woods; interstices and intersections. The protest tent is invariably pitched on a site that is politically charged. Zuccotti Park; Hambacher Forest; Gezi Park. In this respect, it is pitched both literally, on land, and figuratively, in history.

Hut, Grow Heathrow.
Hut, Grow Heathrow.

10.

Standing in a cluster on the western edge of the compound are three hut-like dwellings. One of these has a domed roof over which is stretched a tarpaulin. On the November afternoon of my first visit, the air seemed motionless, and frost remained on the underside of fallen leaves. From the chimney flue there rose a column of expanded air that billowed upward and outward, refracting the sunlight so that the atmosphere seemed to shimmer. It was as if the building were generating force: the roof rising to fill space, as if to reclaim it from the sky; the warm air, infused with conversation, pushing out the cold; an organizing energy acting upon the place and the polity. But it was also as if there were an opposing force pressing down upon the site: the hut being squeezed into a gap between the brambles that are growing on an out-of-the-way remnant of land. This force was not itself visible, but it was given a kind of spatial and material presence by the hut. Thus the landscape revealed a radical imbalance of power, an inequality in the contestation of space, as well as the indifference of the powerful to the renegade place that stood in its way. In this light it seemed to level a “right to the city” critique, and thus gave the lie to Heathrow’s expansion consultations and the glib rhetoric of their publicity slogan: “Get involved and have your say.” 12

11.

Surrounding the herbal remedies hut there is a clearing that resonates with the hum of a motorway spur that serves the airport. The people who live within Heathrow’s acoustic footprint must synchronize their lives with the space-time rhythms of international travel. Most obviously they must organize their sleep to coincide with the nighttime restrictions on landings and takeoffs (currently, the off-hours are between 11:30 pm and 6:00 am).

Herbal remedies hut, Grow Heathrow.
Herbal remedies hut, Grow Heathrow.

The approach to Heathrow viewed from a nearby pub.
The approach to Heathrow, viewed from a nearby pub.

Over time such coordination becomes second nature; the process is slow and unremarkable but inexorable. I noticed it in the way that the conversation among three women sitting on the terrace of a pub near Sipson was adapted to airplane noise. At approximately one-minute intervals, a plane passed overhead on the descent to runway 27R, so close to the ground that foliage is reflected in its undercarriage. Each time this happens, for about 20 seconds, the conversation is reduced to silence by the scream of jet engines. Then it resumes. I wondered whether the relationships among the women were altered in any way by the repeated hiatus; whether, for instance, it inspires some greater degree of deliberation and reflection, so that better things get said, or whether the forced interruptions break up the successive trains of thought with such staccato violence that meaningful conversation is stifled.

12.

At the far end of the compound, at its northernmost point, there stand the ruins of an enormous greenhouse that has been overtaken by undergrowth. The panes are long gone and what remains of the cedar framework is partially supported by elders that branch through them and arch upwards like cathedral vaulting. Sheltering underneath the old structure are about a dozen tents, each surrounded by the trappings of daily life. Here, a child’s swing, made from an old tire; there, a playground horse, perhaps once part of the animal kingdom of a carousel; and over there, clothes hung out to dry. Or is it “hung in”? In the derelict old greenhouse, inside is outside and the other way around, too. In this regard, it is immediately suggestive of another structure, anything but derelict, that holds a more central place in public consciousness.

I am thinking of Heathrow Terminal 5, the jewel in the crown of the Richard Rogers Partnership and Arup Group, the largest building in the U.K., which stands at the southern end of the northern runway. I am reminded of the powder-coated steel trusses that support the roof, and of the retail arcade that flourishes under the gleaming canopy: Costa, Hertz, Boots; Ray-Ban, Hugo Boss, Prada. The wealth of these multinational brands ensures that the superstructure that soars above them is protected by yet another superstructure: the globe-encircling framework of trade agreements, financial services, and legal mechanisms; of advocacy, infrastructure, and ideology. These are the same structures, albeit on a different scale, that made possible the nurseries and orchards that once flourished on the site where I am standing. Heathrow has moved on, as places always do.

The old greenhouse, Grow Heathrow.
The old greenhouse, Grow Heathrow.

Under the old greenhouse, Grow Heathrow.
Under the old greenhouse, Grow Heathrow.

How many years will it be before a future generation of peregrini are pitching their tents under the ruins of Heathrow Terminal 5?

Hence, within the shelter of the deteriorating greenhouse, the fragile folds of the tents suggest not only the precarity of those who have sought to make their lives here but also the impermanence of space itself — the transience of boundaries, investments, buildings, infrastructures, populations. Herein lies the primary critical potential of the constructions of Grow Heathrow and the foundation of a claim that they are to be counted as artworks. But there is at least one more thing to consider. For in the process of enacting a critique, of sustaining a campaign of passive resistance, these dwellings are acting as a conduit for consciousness, training speculation on the future of the spaces by which they are being superseded. I am prompted to think of the peregrini, the resident aliens of the early Roman empire. Originally the term referred to anyone who was not a Roman citizen, but later and more loosely, it was used to describe any foreigner, outsider, or stranger. For Augustine of Hippo, writing as the empire crumbled, the concept of peregrini suggested a way to reconcile the need to abide by the constraints of the world order with the desire to transcend them; a way to be otherworldly in the world. Augustin’s peregrin does not withdraw into the realm of the private house, or into hermit-like seclusion, but actively engages with the environment in order to produce it differently. 13 How many years will it be before a future generation of peregrini are pitching their tents under the ruins of Heathrow Terminal 5? From where will they come, and what futures might they imagine?

Notes
  1. The idea that Heathrow Airport can be read in terms of the English landscape tradition was developed by Denis Cosgrove. See “Airport/Landscape,” in James Corner, editor, Recovering Landscape: Essays in Contemporary Landscape Architecture (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 1999).
  2. The Heathrow Orchard Walks were organized by the artist Kate Corder. See also Kate Corder, “HOW – Heathrow Orchard Walks, observations and explorations of vibrant land, Studies in Theatre and Performance,” Studies in Theater and Performance, vol. 38, no. 3, (2018), 267-277.
  3. The information about the history of Grow Heathrow was gathered during discussions between the author and camp representatives that took place at the camp between November 2016 and May 2017. Photographs of the camp were taken during tours provided by camp members and with their permission. The camp operates an open house policy on Saturdays, and it has received public funding from Lush and from the Hillingdon Council for its community engagement with horticulture. In the latter part of 2018, a significant number of the protesters left the camp following parliamentary backing for the new runway at Heathrow, as well as the airport’s announcement that it intended to locate the runway west of Sipson. In February 2019, the camp was evicted from part of the land it occupied, the section owned by Imran Malik. A further visit by the author in August 2019 found the remainder of the camp occupied but no longer in receipt of any funding.
  4. The banner was put up by the resident-led campaign organization Stop Heathrow Expansion. Its logo and a Facebook symbol are printed in the bottom right hand corner of the banner.
  5. See Gwyn Topham, Fiona Harvey, and Molly Blackall, “Heathrow third runway expansion plans revealed,” The Guardian, June 18, 2019. Conal Urquhart, “Village that defied Heathrow is slowly dying as BAA buys up homes,” The Guardian, June 16, 2012.
  6. See Ken Johnson, “A Summer Place in the South Bronx,” New York Times, July 25, 2013. Mark Wallinger, State Britain, 2007, Tate Modern. Basel: Tadashi Kawamata’s Favela Café, Whitewall, June 12, 2013.
  7. Claire Colebrook, “Resistance to Occupy,” in Andrew Conio, editor, Occupy. A People Yet To Come (London: Open Humanities Press, 2014), 125.
  8. Gilles Deleuze, The Fold: Leibniz and the Baroque, trans. Tom Conley (London: Continuum, 2006; University of Minnesota Press, 1993), 79.
  9. Colebrook, “Resistance to Occupy,” 129.
  10. For an example of the proposed regeneration of the west London neighborhood of Southall, see “About Southall Village.” For an example of the proposed redevelopment plans for the Golden Mile, see All Design. For the concept design for a third runway at Heathrow, see Nicholas Grimshaw Architects: Heathrow Vision.
  11. Martin Heidegger, “Building, dwelling, thinking,” in Poetry, language, thought (London: Harper Perennial, 1971), 145.
  12. See “Heathrow Is Changing. Get Involved and Have your Say. Airport Expansion Consultation, June 18, 2019 – September 13, 2019.”
  13. Augustine, City of God, trans. Henry Bettenson (London: Penguin Books, 1972), Book XVI, Ch 8.
Cite
Nicholas Ferguson, “Dwelling as Resistance,” Places Journal, September 2019. Accessed 14 Nov 2019. https://doi.org/10.22269/190910

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