Wednesday, December 29, 2021

The temporary architecture of Covid-19

Mobile Testing Unit, Canada Water

 Is anybody documenting the temporary architecture of COVID-19?

All those pop-up testing, vaccine and booster centres. White marquees in lockdown-emptied carparks. Public buildings grand and shabby transformed into collection points for saliva and mucus. Neighbourhood chemists with queues round the block administering life-saving vaccines.

Testing Centre by Devonport House, Greenwich

In a nation obsessed with memories of a war that hardly any living person now remembers, analogies are often drawn between the Blitz and the pandemic. Absurd in many ways – viruses are not waging war on us, just reproducing in the conditions of the world we have created. But maybe there are parallels with the vanished bomb shelters that sprang up in World War Two- places of huge significance that largely disappeared when no longer needed, evidenced only by fading signs painted on nearby walls. Nobody is cowering in a test centre fearing sudden death from above but there is a quieter diffuse fear. For some people taking that test was the first step onto a journey that ended in hospital and death. For many that injection was what saved their life.

Booster vaccine queue at New Cross Pharmacy/Waldron Centre
Waldron Health Centre, Amersham Vale SE14. Mural reads (in English and Spanish) 'I feel it is my duty to protect myself and my community''

And what of that instant workforce, thousands of people in the front line of the pandemic, a global precariat performing vital tasks on casual contracts employed not by the NHS but by companies like Sodexo. Who is documenting the stories of the ‘Test Operatives’?

We can only hope that one day we will be able to look back and wonder that this was ever how we lived our lives. But for now it sometimes feels that it’s been going on for so long that we risk ceasing to notice how extraordinary this all is.

Walk Through Testing Site, Vanguard Street, Deptford
Lewisham Civic Suite, Catford (and below)

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