These are small bright birds, they thrive in the scree slopes of the Alps; they have somehow found echoes of this amongst the remnants of old buildings in more than one of our cities. In London their population surged after the Blitz, but as bombsites and dockland have been regenerated, their numbers have diminished. The same pattern has occurred in Birmingham and the Black Country.
A new aesthetic is being born as an exciting programme begins in south London along the Deptford Creek to encourage 'green' or rather 'brown' roofs in new buildings so that we can have both regeneration and beautiful birds. The Creekside Education Centre, opened in 2002, sports a roof which may soon be home to black redstarts.
The scree and plains of the new roof and surrounding landscape will be allowed to colonise at their own speed with no human interference. Nearby the recently opened Laban Dance Centre, celebrated in the press for its innovative architecture, aims to let the Black Redstart dance above its modern form. Below the crest of the roof is a plateau of rubble.
Both roofs have used local materials crushed brick and concrete from the original site in the case of the Laban Dance Centre. Piling to the edge of the building site as the building took form, the local plants and insects were able to stay with it and transfer to the roof the new building.
15,000sqm of such roofs are already planned in London for Black Redstarts - a new take on local materials, local nature and local distinctiveness and a giant step away from the hostility of imported landscapes and dull roofs. But how was this achieved? Because local people and local experts pressed for involvement in planning and the schemes.
Leaving old broken concrete on site as a building is developed and using it as 'scree' on the new roofs along with carefully researched plants is giving us a new architecture and a continuity of wild life. The new distribution pattern of the Black Redstart will reflect the imagination of developers, architects and conservationists and our willingness to build with nature, to share our modern intensive lives with an inventive, adaptable bird from the wild high slopes.
Top: Black Redstart
1st row: Left, Creekside Education Centre, London; Right, Mature brown roof, Switzerland.
2nd row: Left and right, Laban Dance Centre, London.
Photographs by Stephen Brenneisen, Derek Brown, Dusty Gedge and Jim Lawrence.