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Author: • May 27th, 2008 •

Category: architecture, Ballardosphere, consumerism, crime, Iain Sinclair, terrorism, urban revolt

Ballardian: Bluewater

One of the country’s most acclaimed novelists has called for the Bluewater Centre, in Kent, to be obliterated. In London Orbital, a film inspired by Iain Sinclair’s book of the same title to be broadcast tonight on Channel 4, JG Ballard declares in conversation with Sinclair: “Iain, I want you to blow up Bluewater.” Sinclair then verbally batters the hapless shopping centre, a pimple just south of the M25. It is, he says, “a zone where only the fake is truly authentic, the retail swamp on the borders of everything, grandiloquent and meaningless as one of Saddam Hussein’s arches”. Staff at the centre seem surprised by the vitriol. “I don’t know if in the current climate inciting people to blow things up is such a good idea,” says a spokesman. “Anyhow, what’s all this about swamps? I thought we had some quite nice lakes.”

Sholto Byrnes, The Independent, 29 October, 2002.

Ralph Rugoff, writing in Frieze, called Bluewater a “diuretic slurry of pumped-up historical and decorative emblems”. “Citizens of England!” cried Hugh Pearman in the Sunday Times, “We do not need these places!” Contemplating the 20,000-person village, also designed by CivicArts, that will eventually adjoin the mall, Jonathan Glancey of The Guardian envisioned “a city with no gods other than Prada, Gucci and Starbucks, with no cathedral and temple beyond the naves and domes of the mall itself, and with no ultimate purpose beyond stupefying consumption.”

It is easy to adopt this sort of anti-materialist scorn towards Kuhne’s shopping centres. And since Kuhne himself described Bluewater as “a city rather than a retail destination,” it is safe to assume that his cities may resemble his malls. This possibility excites Kuhne; he has faith in retail. “Retail,” he tells the audience in Dubai, “is the only industry that can manage our city centres… We are the only ones who deal with experience. We are the only ones that understand how to customise and modify and release and replan and reorganise and administer a luscious experience for a group.”

Peter C. Baker quoting Bluewater’s architect, Eric Kuhne, The National, 1 May, 2008.

A former English teacher pleaded guilty yesterday to threatening criminal damage, having talked of a plan to blow up Europe’s largest shopping complex. Saeed Ghafoor made his threat to prison officers while serving a jail term in February this year. He claimed he would target the Bluewater centre using three limousines loaded with gas canister explosives.

When officers told him that the centre, the target of a previous fertiliser bomb plot by Islamic terrorists last year, was in fact in Kent, he said he had not yet fully “finalised” his scheme. Pierce Arnold, for the prosecution, told the Old Bailey: “Mr Ghafoor made the threat. We do not know if he could have carried it out. It was not a bomb hoax. It appeared on the face of it to be a serious threat by someone who was not happy.”

The first officer to hear his claim believed him a fantasist but took his remarks seriously. Ghafoor said he was protesting at the involvement of British and American troops in Afghanistan. He was also seen by the prison imam, who formed the impression that the prisoner was susceptible to brainwashing.

Jonathan Brown, The Independent, 24 May, 2008.

Teacher admits threatening to blow up Bluewater shopping centre.

I wonder if they’ll arrest Ballard next.

‘But when questioned about his plot, Ghafoor, 33, of Southampton, did not appear to know where the shopping centre was, the Old Bailey heard.’

Ah, but he was right, because Bluewater is everywhere, Bluewater is us. We must blow ourselves up. It’s the only solution.

Infinite Thought, 24 May, 2008.

J.G Ballard and Iain Sinclair’s threat to blow up Bluewater … taken rather more seriously when delivered by a (shock-horror) Muslim — who nonetheless had the impression that Bluewater was in Exeter, but that’s being let pass. Two quick points here: one, I was faintly intrigued to find that the threatener in question was not only from Southampton, but from the Flower Estate (so why he didn’t want to blow up West Quay is beyond me); and two, it makes this interview with the designer of Bluewater and its ilk (via) even more grimly compelling. The gist: Bluewater is what people want, when an industrial site is cleared – shops, lots of them, ‘contextual’ architecture, and many many parking spaces. If there’s a despot locally who can help the process along then that’s good too. In fact, Bluewater seen like this is reminiscent of ‘Most Wanted Paintings’ the Sots Art prank where the votes of a given area for what they most wanted to see in a painting get totted up, with the results appropriately ridiculous.

Owen Hatherley, Sit Down Man, You’re a Bloody Tragedy, 25 May, 2008.

..:: Previously on Ballardian…
When in Doubt, Quote Ballard: An Interview with Iain Sinclair

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2 Responses »

  1. Seems the British curmudgeon’s answer to Goering’s famous statement:

    When I hear the word Bluewater, that’s when I reach for my revolver.

  2. He’s lucky he said it in 2002; these days flippant metaphors like that will get you jail time in the UK. And I suspect Ballard’s wasn’t even a metaphor.

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