Southampton presents itself as a puzzle.
Every time I go back, I ask myself,
‘How did this happen?’
City / Sea. Municipal / Maverick. Saints / Sinners. Southampton is a city hard to fathom. A collage of big box retail and medieval battlements, neo-brutalist housing estates and bombed out gothic churches. A puzzle glued together with drive-by traffic, making the day-glo Toys R Us sign more of a treasured landmark than any piece of architecture. And yet the most significant piece of the place to shape its fortunes, is the easiest part to miss — ah yes. The Sea.
Southampton’s unfathomable quality defines the city’s point of fascination — a place that “deserves time well spent,” drawing illustrator and educator Susanna Edwards to lead us through this place portrait as part of the research for her Ocean Terminal Project.
Susanna’s departure point is a fading memory. Glamour and industry once sailed side by side in Southampton and using archival research and community-centered practice she’s setting out to revive memories of the glorious (and long demolished) Art Deco Ocean Terminal. This elegant building once gestured a grand welcome into Europe, greeting movie stars and tsars who alighted the immense transatlantic cruise liners. Only its rusting sidekick — the Calshot tug — offers an echo of this former glory, the modern terminal paling in comparison.
With the Ocean Terminal as our first port of call, we head out into the city to piece together its various incarnations: medieval, maverick, municipal, misled. Our guides come in different guises: Southampton-born writer and architecture critic Owen Hatherley; community champion Robert Kurn; and the tireless restoration crew of the Calshot tug, Elkie and Matt. Along with Inge Clemente's photo essay, Susanna's archival research and illustrative experiments, these perspectives capture a snapshot of the city's contrasts.
Contemporary Photography — Inge Clemente
Archival Imagery — Southampton City Archives original archive photography by ABP (Associated British Ports)
Research illustrations and collage — Susanna Edwards
Susanna Edwards works in the realm of visual communication, as researcher, illustrator and educator. Known for her approach to the teaching and practice of design and illustration, she spans traditional craft and digital approaches. She has a particular interest in working with archives and using illustration as a tool for research and engagement through storytelling. She is Head of Visual Communication the Cass Faculty of Art Architecture and Design, London Metropolitan University.
Follow Susanna’s work on the Ocean Terminal Project as it progresses at www.imminentarchives.co.uk
Owen Hatherley was born in Southampton. He writes regularly on architecture and cultural politics for Architects Journal, Architectural Review, Icon, The Guardian, The London Review of Books and New Humanist, and is the author of several books: Militant Modernism (Zero, 2009), A Guide to the New Ruins of Great Britain (Verso, 2010), Uncommon: An Essay on Pulp (Zero, 2011), A New Kind of Bleak: Journeys through Urban Britain (Verso 2012), Across the Plaza (Strelka, 2012) and Landscapes of Communism (Penguin 2015). He also edited and introduced an updated edition of Ian Nairn’s Nairn’s Towns (Notting Hill Editions, 2013).
Rob Kurn grew up and still lives in Southampton on the Holyrood estate. He has worked in the voluntary sector in the city for nearly twenty years, and is currently deputy chief executive for Southampton Voluntary Services.
Inge Clemente is a Basque photographer based in London who focuses on architecture, interiors and still life. She has a fascination for overlooked places and moments, and has photographed Czech coal mines, Beiruti streets at night, and the defunct Eastern European nation of Transnistria.
David Waters is an independent audio producer and journalist. He has worked on productions for the BBC and produced sound walks for location-aware sound walk company Detour. He specialises in sound rich true story telling, producing the audio cast Raw Cast and working with In The Dark, collaborative group of radio producers.
TO EXPLORE FURTHER...
The future of Southampton is being debated and reimagined. Southampton University is hosting a festival of open workshops, talks and events in March 2018 with writers, scientists, artists, researchers and community. Sign up here.