Joe Crowdy - The Anti-Projector Anew: Administrative, Vegetal, and Rebellious Architectures in the Seventeenth-Century Fens

Photo: Joe Crowdy

Photo: Joe Crowdy

Over the first half of the seventeenth century, the Fens of eastern England became the object of intense financial speculation, as external investors attempted to engineer this diverse landscape into an instrument of capital accumulation. Marshland was drained on a radically disruptive scale, large fen commons were enclosed and divided, and land was repurposed for the production of commodity crops. This wholesale reconstruction of the environment met an equally violent response from its common inhabitants, in the form of protests, riots and sabotage of the drainage works.

Whilst the engineering schemes of large-scale drainage could easily be understood as objects of architectural history, they are not the focus of my proposed study. Rather than studying this imperious new architecture, which attempted to rationalise the Fens through a disruptive new geometry, designed remotely on paper, then cut into layers of peat, I take my lead from contemporary critics of drainage. These authors’ descriptions of what was lost or threatened under drainage point towards a possible alternative object of architectural analysis. The Anti-Projector (1646) and other texts reject depictions of the Fen environment as a barren, uncivilised wasteland in need of ‘improvement’, by asserting its existing economic and ecological vitality, arguing that it was already a carefully constructed and useful environment.

My research aims to uncover archival evidence of the technical and imaginative regimes and routines of decision-making, construction, and management which the projects aimed to eradicate, and the creative practices through which the projects were actively opposed: to understand how the Fens were actively, already, designed and built before and against the architecture of drainage.

Institute of Form, Theory and History / Victor Plahte Tschudi (Supervisor)

Phd started in 2018