New RIBA commission debuts to boost social life in large East London housing development | News

A pair of new interventions commissioned for East London’s Becontree Estate by the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) and Create London have debuted this summer as an artistic effort to provide space for residents of the historic community that was at one time considered to be the largest social housing development in the western world.

The first, spread across six locations on the 281-acre estate, uses furniture designed by artists Ivan Morison and Heather Peak in order to create “subtle” spaces for gathering and interaction in areas that had previously been overlooked or underutilized. They say their contribution was made using a “shared vocabulary of basic forms” (cone, cylinder, and slab), and have the simplicity of children’s toys with the equally playful title “Two Cannibals Eating a Clown.”

Image © Thierry Bal


Image © Thierry Bal

“We wanted to create sculptural forms that also offer rest and contemplation,” Morison said. “We stack a cylinder on a cone and call it a table. We put a flat slab on a smaller slab and call it a bench. We put little hemispheres on top of these forms and call them coconuts. The title is the first line of a Tommy Cooper joke, it continues… ‘One turns to the other and asks, “Does this taste funny to you?”’ It’s an absurd joke, dark and funny. Is there a direct connection between this title, this work, and this place? I think there is, but it is mysterious.”


Image © Thierry Bal

It is joined by a set of four new public squares designed by the London-based practice nimtim (along with artist Katie Schwab) located at each corner plot of the estate and created once again with considerations as to residents’ capacity for rest and social interaction. 


Image © Thierry Bal

Beyond their social significance, color, geometries, and material inspiration (which were all drawn from the estate itself), the squares also are meant to encourage users towards an introspective state of personal exploration. 


Image © Thierry Bal

They are the first of their kind to grace the estate, which is adjacent to larger gardens. The architects report to have incorporated a creative palette of found materials into the community-input formed designs – including discarded driveshafts from an old Ford factory – and credit the consideration for traffic reduction measures as part of the squares on further inclusion of residents in their development process.


Image © nimtim

Marie Bak Mortensen, the Director of Create London said, “We are thrilled to have commissioned these new public spaces for the Becontree Estate, which build on our ambitious programme of artist and architecture-led projects for the 2021 centenary celebrations. These architectural interventions make visible the council’s commitment to supporting its local community while continuing Create London’s mission to develop generous and bold infrastructure that responds to civic needs, local contexts and environmental concerns.”

According to RIBA, the Borough of Barking & Dagenham will use the project as a pilot for “potential” projects sometime in the near future. Each commission is part of Create London’s series of community-centered infrastructure projects that “enrich the local area and give positive value to behavior in public spaces.” 


Image © Thierry Bal

Councillor Saima Ashraf, the Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Community Leadership and Engagement added finally: “It’s fantastic to see these projects come to life and it just goes to show how art can truly uplift and bring a new dynamic to some of the oldest corners of our borough. As the Becontree Centenary programme draws to a close, there’s still lots of exciting things to come as part of the council’s wider work around preserving and maintaining the estate for generations to come.”

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