The Commons, Commonplace, and a Sense of Place:
What traces does the past leave on a city? The architecture, street names, conservation areas and landmarks are all visible marks of time on the urban environment. But there’s another thing, not as visible, more personal, possibly even harder to shake: memory.
Tottenham Court Road was where you would go to buy a transistor radio or a Walkman, the place where you would get your computer fixed. The area became a hub for consumer electronic shops after World War II, when a surplus of military radio and electronic equipment was sold there. It stopped being that kind of centre in the early to mid 2000s, when new technologies, from online shopping to camera-enabled smartphones, disrupted this kind of commerce. Few remnants of that period are still visible. There is no monument to consumer electronics, and so this brief history now remains invisible.
In 2015, The Bedford Estates, Exemplar Properties and Ashby Capital commenced work on the building you see here today. As part of that they commissioned artist Lilah Fowler to celebrate this unseen history, retaining a link between the building to its location and its socioeconomic history – the result, the architectural lightwork piece, Commonplace.
At first, it looks simple—an exacting placement of neon lights in rows alongside the windows of One Bedford Avenue—but it’s actually a complex data channel: the straight lights and square windows form a binary code of 0s and 1s, representing an encrypted text.