Past Events

Railing Against Railings

Research Lunch, Walking Tour – Catalina Pollak

  • 8 July 2022
  • 1:00 – 2:00 pm
  • This event is part of the Bedford Square Walking Tours, Research Lunch series
  • Paul Mellon Centre

Railings are an ubiquitous feature of the British urban landscape. Their often ornamental appearance belies their austere function: to delimit and control access to private and public spaces alike. While allowing visual access to the spaces they enclose, their suggestion of openness is at odds with the physical exclusion they enforce.

This walking talk will revisit the contested histories of railings in relation to the development and evolution of a particularly British invention: garden squares. We will begin by tracing the introduction of railings as a means of claiming control over early seventeenth-century piazzas, and their role in consolidating the private nature of eighteenth-century garden squares. We will go on to explore the politicisation of railings in the nineteenth century during times of social reform, and their subsequent removal as part of the 1940s war effort, after which many of these spaces were permanently made public. The histories of garden squares cannot be properly understood without reading the political materiality of their enclosures, whether they had been praised as preservers of rights of property, or the growing body of opinion that rejects them on democratic and aesthetic terms.

Image Caption: Press cutting from The Daily Telegraph, April, 1937, published in Outsider: Public Arts and the Politics of the English Garden Square. Image courtesy of the Camden Local Studies and Archive Centre

About the speaker

  • Catalina Pollak head and shoulders

    Catalina Pollak Williamson is an architect and urban researcher living in London. Her publication Outsider: Public Art and the Politics of the English Garden Square (common-editions 2015), which accompanied her public art intervention in a London garden square, Phantom Railings (2012–17), explores and draws attention to the social and political histories of this ubiquitous feature of the British urban landscape. Her research into urban spatial politics, and particularly “play” as a critical form for civic engagement, is now part of her doctoral project at the Bartlett Development Planning Unit. She is currently Senior Lecturer at University of East London.