Dissertation Medal Winner 2015
This dissertation highlights the conflict between privacy and curiosity in the overlooked back gardens of English terraced housing. Empirical research on back gardens has been noticeably absent among social studies of housing, reflecting the exclusivity of the space behind the public street. However, recent technological developments in satellite imagery have captured this formerly concealed area in vivid detail. The dissertation presents a historical enquiry into garden voyeurism through a narrative of different scales of analysis, focusing in turn on the contradictory behaviours of strangers, neighbours, and household members. A case study of 203 terraced houses in North London, enabled by aerial photography, provides a contemporary model for exploring the themes of privacy and curiosity using fresh data. A garden-by-garden analysis by the author, both quantitative and qualitative in nature, brings to light the extent of information about ‘private’ outdoor spaces that is available in the public domain. Through a parallel discussion of theory and observation the dissertation reveals a self-induced paralysis in the social cohesion of these neighbourhoods, exacerbated by walled back gardens, suggesting that we should instead embrace the garden plots' connectedness as corridors of communal activity.