• georgie h

Architectural CGI and Social Cleansing

Computer Generated Imagery (CGI) has been used for years to create special effects in televisions and commercials as well as in creating imagery for printing. In Architecture, CGI is used to create visualisations of buildings before they're built, although this is useful in gaging a picture of the outcome in the building's planning process - often these images do not reflect the reality of the environment they're depicting. Across Southwark there are many examples of CGI socially cleansing an area before the buildings have even begun constructions. The example I will be discussing is 'The Exchange' in Bermondsey Spa.

'The Exchange', Bermondsey, Spa Road

Images: 1 and 2 'The Exchange' CGI

Image 3: Screenshot from Google Streetview of the Southwark Council One Stop Shop, 2012

Image 4: Screenshot from Google Streetview of The Exchange, 2020

Spa Road is situated in Bermondsey, an area with a large working class history and population, for example on this road there was previously a Salvation Army. This was a hostel for men, which provided them with both work and accommodation at the time, this has since been demolished and replaced with the Keyse Development. There are also two council estates, the Neckinger Estate and the Vauban Estate which still stand, home to a variety of working class families despite some of the flats being bought out through the Right to Buy scheme.

The Exchange takes a large plot of land, to build this they have demolished 2 council blocks which made up 54 council homes. This site was sold to Notting hill, a housing association, who promised 205 new homes however failed to deliver the 44 social rented units they promised and instead "delivered them at 'affordable rents' of up to 63% of market rent" (35 percent, n.d) which is hardly affordable in comparison to social rent. The section of the exchange facing Spa Road, was previously a Southwark Council One Stop shop as shown in image 3.

The CGI visualisations of The Exchange in Image 1 picture a majority of white affluent men on the balconies, with many looking like they're taking work calls in their suits. This imagery is completely unrepresentative of the population who actually live in the Bermondsey Spa area, it sets a precedent for the viability assessments that eradicate their affordable housing responsibilities and therefore contributing to the social cleansing of the working class in the area. These images create a rose-tinted view of what the development could've looked like.

Artist and writer James Bridle describes the people in these CGI images as "Render Ghosts". Bridle started noticing these "Render Ghosts" in the early 2000's, from which he started photographing the Render Ghosts he'd see on building advertisements, collecting them and adding them to his project Render Search. This project aims to find the individuals who might've not known that their digital self was taking temporary residence in these luxury flats.

In a podcast with the Guardian, Bridle speaks about a rather shocking example which sums up exactly what gentrification does. In Hackney, he spotted an image which was computer generated, but placed into an actual image of the street. However the developers had added pedestrians who were unrepresentative of the demographic in Hackney as well as photoshopping in expensive cars. They has even gone further to blur out the actual residents of Hackney, but did not completely remove them. These CGI images contribute to the vast gentrification of London, encoding the process of gentrification before construction has even begun. Furthermore this example of Hackney residents not being completely removed highlights the subtly of gentrification, which often leaves longstanding residents of the area feeling displaced within their own area.

Although computer generated imagery in building planning has been an important step forward in terms of visualisation of how these buildings will look, these images when adding in imagery of people who do not represent the residents of the area proposes issues of encoding gentrification before the physical construction processes have begun.


Elephant Network, 2020. Bermondsey Spa Regeneration. [online] 35percent.org. Available at: <http://35percent.org/bermondsey-spa/> [Accessed 3 December 2020].

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