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The Edgelands: ‘where the future waits to happen’

Author: • Oct 4th, 2010 •

Category: architecture, Ballardosphere, Marion Shoard, urban decay, urban ruins

Photograph by Simon Sellars.

There’s a brief Ballard mention in my latest photo-essay, ‘Postcards from the Edgelands (for Marion Shoard)’, originally published in Infrastructure as Architecture: Designing Composite Networks, Katrina Stoll & Scott Lloyd (eds), Berlin: Jovis, 2010. The essay uses the work of one of my main influences, the environmentalist Marion Shoard, and her research into the ‘edgelands’ (‘the interfacial interzone between urban and rural’), in order to address Infrastructure as Architecture’s main enquiry: is the involvement of architects necessary to shape the development of infrastructural design?

In the edgelands, past, present and future collide. Shoard points out that electricity pylons, among the edgelands’ most recognisable symbols, were not conceived of when most settlements were founded. Later, they were dumped on the edge, as close as can be to the city, where they mingle with the essential services that grew with the settlement itself, such as mills and excavation sites. The edgelands therefore offer a privileged glimpse at ‘history as in the stratified layers of an archaeological site’, and even of the future. For Shoard, this archaeological element is worth preserving. She even proposes guided historical walking tours that take in the edgelands, giving people an insight into how society actually functions through the interlocking grid of infrastructure. The Sikh community, similarly dumped at the edge, points towards a potentially vital contributor to the new Australian economy waiting in the wings for acceptance and admittance into the centre. Even the signifiers of porn culture in the edgelands serve as signposts to the future, as the writer J.G. Ballard reminds us: ‘A widespread taste for pornography means that nature is alerting us to some threat of extinction’.

The edgelands are where the future waits to happen.

Simon Sellars, ‘Postcards from the Edgelands (for Marion Shoard)’.



Postcards from the Edgelands (for Marion Shoard) was originally published in Infrastructure as Architecture: Designing Composite Networks, Katrina Stoll & Scott Lloyd (eds), Berlin: Jovis, 2010.


Infrastructure has played a key role in dramatically reformatting the built fabric and spatial reserves within the past one hundred years, and will continue to do so in the future. The involvement of architects is necessary to shape the development of infrastructural design.

Infrastructure as Architecture contains a selection of influential architects and writers who have critically evaluated the coupling of these fields through essays and projects. The book is structured by five organizing themes that frame the diverse approaches to the subject, namely: Infrastructure Economy, Infrastructure Ecology, Infrastructure Culture, Infrastructure Politics, and Infrastructure Space/Networks.

Sample PDF from Jovis.

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  1. Edgelands occasionally occur within the central parts of cities too. Only a few hundred yards from my house there is a strip of largely untended grassland fenced off from a dual carriageway into the centre of Southampton, leading towards the main railway station. Two rows of old terraced houses flank the other side of the strip. This is a piece of old reclaimed land, once known as the Western Shore before land reclamation undertaken along the River Itchen and Southampton Water in the 1930s. This narrow stretch of undergrowth is the place where I used to play as a child, an arena for the exercise of dogs, a foothold for an electricity pylon and the destination of a Victorian brick-and-steel railway bridge that provides the only direct access. Sitting almost hidden within a semi-industrial environment only a short walk from the commercial centre of the city, it functions as a strangely liminal space within the mainstream of the urban environment, an edgeland somehow displaced from its real life in the periphery and removed to this little oasis of nature and civic infrastructure in the heart of the city.

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