The Skip Garden is an urban food oasis in the middle of the King’s Cross development site; but more importantly it is the only community group within the Kings Cross redevelopment project – London’s largest. It has re-located 3 times already during the last ten years to make room for the advancing regeneration of the area, but its transient nature is also its most important asset. Each move brings about new spatial opportunities, new ways of doing things and the chance to engage new communities. In 2014 Jan Kattein and I, teaching at the Bartlett School of Architecture, teamed up with Global Generation – the charity which operates the skip garden – to radically re-shape it last move.
The project challenged architecture students to engage with a real client (Global Generation), a real brief and a real site (the Skip Garden at Kings Cross) realising students designs at full scale. Unlike mainstream architectural education which often responds to a speculative brief, client and in some cases site we asked each student to respond to new or exisiting conditions of the gardens. The result was the collaborative design and build of seven structures, each led by a UCL student that each tackled a different theme in the garden. This included a grey-water recycling scape, a kinetic rain shelter, an evaporation cool store, a twilight gardening space, a chicken coop, a rammed earth dinning space and a toilet enclosure. The aspiration of the project was to engage with a process of ‘design by making’; an iterative process which involves drawing but with an emphasis on making at a 1:1 scale.
Beyond the design of each of the structures we feel that successful architectural practice relies on collaboration and teamwork. Our skip garden project sought to address this imbalance and realise the spatial potential that arises from collaborative working methods. The emphasis was not just on fostering a relationship with the client but embrace their role as the only community resource in the area. We asked the student to engage those around them, the client, volunteers, apprenticeships and other students to be active parts of realizing the project. As such school children, local residents, contractors and stakeholders were given an insight into architectural practice.
The project is interesting in a number of ways. For the first time in living memory Bartlett students designed and build a real project on a real site for a real client. The engagement with Global Generation has moved centre stage in the students’ design process. Engaging in detail with the charity’s educational remit has brought about designs that are unique, specific and responsive. The project sets a precedent for how architecture can be taught, but it also sets a precedent for the role of architectural practise to engage and empower communities.
Almost all materials are reclaimed, many of them from the Kings Cross development sites surrounding the garden. Earth, dug out adjacent to the site was used to construct a rammed earth wall. Reclaimed scaffolding boards form the filtration beds for the greywater recycling scape, a reclaimed shipping container serves as foundation and base for the twilight gardening space which in turn is clad with reclaimed sash windows sourced locally and a produce coolstore and poetry writing space is built from earthbag walls made from coffee sacks donated by a local roastery.
See the video below about this process and do come and visit!
The garden and kitchen is open Tuesday to Friday, 10am-4pm. See http://www.globalgeneration.org.uk
(I believe the garden will remain till 2018)