24 January 2013

Hadas Elber-Aviram
Department of English Language and Literature

'Unreal City': The Marvellous Metropolis of Contemporary Urban Fantasy

From the nineteenth century onwards, the city has increasingly served as the fulcrum, muse, and even protagonist of the literary fantastic. Charles Dickens's ghosts haunt London's pavements, Bram Stoker's Dracula relentlessly pursues his ambition to become a Londoner, and Robert Louis Stevenson's Hyde draws his power from the chance encounters and sordid opportunities of the English capital.

The legacy of these fantasies of Victorian London has come to fruition during the last few decades, in a subgenre of fantastic literature that has been commonly termed 'urban fantasy'. Represented in the work of authors such as China Miéville, Neil Gaiman, Jeff Vandermeer, and Tim Lebbon, this subgenre centres on a fictional, or fictionalised, metropolis that often follows the model of extra-textual London. Narratives of urban fantasy seek to represent and comment upon the mental life of the postmodern city, through an array of marvellous tropes that highlight the grotesque dimensions of our everyday metropolitan experiences.

This presentation offers a preliminary discussion of urban fantasy's origins, development, and social implications. It will also contrast urban fantasy with the counter-tradition of epic fantasy, a subgenre that has its roots in chivalric romances and Renaissance allegories, and which was reborn in J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. The paper will thus suggest that the psycho-geographical divide between the country and the city has been mapped out onto a schism within contemporary fantastic literature.                 

Felicity Davies

An Alternative Approach to Retrofit in the Domestic Sector

Domestic retrofit is fast emerging as a major component in the drive to reduce energy consumption and carbon emissions. With existing housing stock in the UK accounting for 27% of Greenhouse Gases, the need for a large scale retrofit programme is pressing if we hope to achieve reduction targets outlined in the 2008 Climate Change Act. An entire industry is forming to support this implementation with DECC’s Green Deal and ECO obligation released this month as a means to incentivise the uptake of retrofit measures by the public.  

Whilst an entirely new field of research encompassing building physics, occupancy behaviour and energy is emerging to support this programme, the understanding of retrofit in terms of social impact and wellbeing remains clouded. Moreover, the relationship between retrofit and the current housing crisis is weakly researched. Retrofit not only inhabits the realm of energy reduction but also sits within the disciplines of architecture and housing with quality of homes, health and social equality all being issues for consideration. The research I propose seeks to better understand the impacts of retrofit in these terms. It is hoped by gaining a greater understanding of alternative approaches to retrofit (aside from the main energy reduction driver) we can increase uptake at scale whilst also alleviating some issues present within the UK housing crisis.