The Overlooked Back Garden: Voyeurism in the English back garden
University of Westminster
Tutor: Harold Charrington
Marie Price wonders if years of observing rear gardens from the train as she commuted from her parents’ house to university subliminally inspired the subject of her Medal-winning dissertation: The Overlooked Back Garden: Voyeurism in the English Back Garden.Another factor was her own love of gardens.
‘The garden is always a place I really enjoy being in and working in – I try to make the most of it,’ she says. ‘It’s one of the few domestic spaces that is quite unpredictable. You can’t really control external factors that act on it, such as neighbours, children, dogs.’
Understanding the term voyeurism in the wider sense of people-watching, her dissertation explores this tension between the private and the overlooked, considering the general chronological evolution of London terraces as gardens became associated with leisure rather than work. The dissertation considers degrees of overlooking at different scales: from the city; the street; from within the houses; and from within the garden.
Historically, the nature of back gardens has been little-studied, possibly because of their essentially private nature. However with the benefit of satellite imagery, Price was able to analyse rear gardens in 203 terraced properties in four London sites of varying centrality, and document variations and commonalities in walls, overlooking, relationship to the house, rear extensions, seating positions and foliage.
The text looks at the contrast between the personalised back garden and the homogenised terrace front, and considers its use as ‘a flexible room which encourages diverse and simultaneous occupation, contesting and reinforcing household relationships’.
Often there can be a false sense of privacy – in the most centrally located terraces for example, short gardens mean that neighbours may have a better view of the gardens than their owners themselves do.
In her conclusion, Price suggests that private rear gardens have been a cause of the paralysis of social cohesion, and calls for more awareness of those who overlook them.
She puts forward the idea for a more communal approach to encourage greater connectivity, with groups of neighbours agreeing to try taking down garden barriers for a defined time and managing a shared larger garden together.
Judges praised her ‘imaginative and lively engagement with a very topical discussion’ and were particularly impressed with her ambitious synthesis of historiography, empirical case study analysis and digital mapping technology.
After completing her Part 2, Price is now working as an architectural assistant at muf – and still experiencing the views of rear gardens on her daily rail commute.