PERCHED on a concrete bollard gazing up at the towers of the World’s End estate, Richard DeDomenici talks with warm approval about the divisive 70s housing estate.
The red-brick columns, which rise like geometric termite mounds from among the millionaires' Georgian terraces of fashionable King’s Road, have always polarised opinion.
To some they are a monstrous example of modernist social housing at its worst, to others they are bravely futurist architectural gems, but there is no doubting in which corner DeDomenici stands.
"I've always had a bit of a soft spot for brutalist modern architecture and they’ve really put a lot of thought into these buildings with all the unusual angles. It looks like a futuristic castle," says the performance artist, who has produced work for the Tate Modern and the National Theatre.
“When you look at the history of modernist architecture there are some amazing examples, like the Grade II listed Trellick Tower in North Kensington, and I think this stands alongside that.
“Nowadays the only innovative architecture is built for millionaires, not the likes of us, and I think we need to cherish great examples of experimental social housing like the World’s End Estate.”
Such is DeDomenici’s passion for the buildings that when he was invited to prepare a piece for Chelsea Theatre, nestled beneath its towers, he decided to make the sprawling estate his stage.
He has spent the past 10 weeks working with students from Chelsea Academy, many of whom live on the estate, examining possible links between the rise of the towers and the birth of punk a stone’s throw away at 430 King’s Road.
It was there Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood dreamed up the anarchic movement, and DeDomenici believes they may have been inspired by seeing the blocks meet the skyline in a utopian assault on society’s norms.
A series of intricate scrawls, like some unbreakable code, cover the artist’s left hand, while in his right perches a plastic pigeon, proudly sporting the spikes used to deter his fellow rats of the skies.
The former is a list of the ‘interventions’ he and the students plan to stage across the estate on Saturday, September 21 – ‘little moments of uncertainty that lead to possibility’, as he describes them. The latter is Spike, the group’s mascot, a nihilist self-loathing pigeon, exemplifying the punk attitude and the way they were vilified in their day.
That evening, from 7.30pm, visitors to the estate will be handed a treasure map which shows the ‘interventions’ popping up for one night only, some of which will be easy to spot, while others may require a magnifying glass.
DeDomenici glances at his hand and back as he lists some of the planned installations, though he is quick to point out the list is far from final and some may prove too wacky or downright dangerous to stage.
They include installing speakers in the towers’ rubbish chutes so mysterious sounds echo up when you open a door. There are also plans to video a descent of one of these chutes.
Other plans include placing a telescope on one of the roofs, allowing people to survey the city below, and re-creating Narnia in a local shop, though as with all utopian visions this is highly unlikely to materialise, he warns.
The evening will end, all being well, with DeDomenici and the students staging a punk-inspired gig atop Chelsea Theatre.
The project has not been easy, with DeDomenici having to spend the best part of a week bleeping out the swearing just to show the students a documentary about punk. But he has been impressed by the way they have taken his message on board and the creativity they have shown.
“Punk’s not what they listen to musically but I think they find the DIY aesthetic quite empowering,” he says. “We’ve been going round doing some weird interventions, like walking the estate with our eyes closed, which I think has helped them engage with the place they live in a different way.
“That’s always my aim – to make people see things differently – and I think that sometimes takes the naivety of an outsider.”
Anarchitecture in the UK is part of Chelsea Theatre’s SACRED season taking place at and around the theatre, in World’s End Place, off King’s Road, on Saturday, September 21, from 7.30pm. For tickets, priced £12 (concessions £10), visit www.chelseatheatre.org.uk or call 020 7352 1967.