‘Pews and Perches’ – a series of benches designed by emerging architects as part of the London Festival of Architecture (LFA)’s growing year-round programme – have been unveiled across the Royal Docks. From a bench incorporating changing facilities for swimmers to another using reclaimed marine buoys, the benches represent extraordinarily imaginative responses to a competition organised by the LFA in partnership with the Royal Docks Team.
Together, the benches celebrate a fresh perspective on design, and offer imaginative places for the public to sit, relax and interact with the unique waterside setting. Architecture and design students, recent graduates and emerging practices were invited to enter the competition to create a playful series of benches, that can welcome visitors to the area throughout the next year. With innovative and creative visions for enlivening the Royal Docks’ distinct waterfront at the forefront of their proposals, the five winning teams were selected by an expert jury including Dan Bridge (Programme Director, Royal Docks Team), Tamsie Thomson (Director, London Festival of Architecture) and David Ogunmuyiwa (Principal, ArchitectureDoingPlace and Mayor’s Design Advocate).
The benches and their locations are as follows:
- The Buoys are Back in Town by McCloy + Muchemwa [dock edge near Building 1000]
Seeking to flip perceptions and provoke wonder, The Buoys are Back in Town sees simple and attractive Polyform buoys re-imagined into a modular seating system that can be an engaging conversation starter for everyone to enjoy. In challenging our familiarity with these ordinary objects, this bright, floating bench makes use of the particular and strange visual qualities of the buoy to provide a place for looking out across the docks, watching boats and aeroplanes – a seat suspended on air.
The Buoys are Back in Town is supported by Boat Fenders Direct
- Peekaboo by Portia Malik [dock edge in front of The Crystal]
With the increasing popularity of open water swimming in the Royal Docks, Peekaboo is a playful seated changing space for swimmers, providing privacy when changing in and out of wetsuits. The sweeping freestyle stroke-inspired arm enclosures envelope and structurally support the users, while also incorporating hooks for a towel.
- Semaphore by Parallel Collective [Royal Albert Wharf]
Semaphore explores the Royal Docks’ heritage through colour and material. The modular design references the maritime signal flags which are an international code system used to communicate with ships. Made from natural terrazzo, this bench draws upon the rich stone aggregates of the Thames’ riverbed. The resulting colourful “alphabet” celebrates the naval history of the area, drawing the attention of passers-by and reflecting the cultural diversity of the neighbourhood.
- Royal Breath by Studio Who [dock edge in front of ExCeL]
Royal Breath emerges as a kit of modular elements inspired by the industrial development and modernisation that characterises London and the Royal Docks. The diverse ventilation ducts are chained to create a meandering, playful and sculptural shape, which winds up from the ground looking towards the water. Its golden coating gives a distinct royal character, catching the attention of the public while also reflecting the changing environment and light throughout the day.
Royal Breath is supported by Universal Spraying Ltd.
- Roly Poly by Nasios Varnavas and Era Savvides of Urban Radicals, in collaboration with Millimetre and Sanne Visser [RAD London]
Inspired by the signalling buoys and rope making traditions of a remarkably rich era for the river Thames, Roly Poly revives and reinterprets these once prominent elements of the Royal Docks’ history to create a playful and interactive rocking bench.
Each incorporating elements of surprise and play, the benches look to provide fun and creative opportunities for visitors, Londoners and the local community to spend time engaging with their surroundings, in one of the most unique new parts of London, as it re-emerges as a commercial and cultural hub of global significance.
Following on from the success of the 2018 and 2019 editions of the ‘City Benches’ project – run in collaboration with City of London and Cheapside Business Alliance – and the ‘Pews & Perches’ competition, which was run by RIBA London for the London Festival of Architecture 2012, the project will showcase emerging architectural and design talent to hundreds of thousands of people as they explore the benches in the run-up to the London Festival of Architecture 2020 and beyond.
With the support of the Royal Docks Team, each of the winning teams was awarded a budget of £1,500 to create and manufacture their benches, which will remain in place for the next year.
Tamsie Thomson, director of the London Festival of Architecture, said:
“I’m delighted to see the first interventions of LFA2020 installed and now sitting pride of place along the Royal Docks’ waterfront. With each bench celebrating their unique waterside settings in a remarkably witty and playful way, together they offer Londoners, visitors and passers-by the perfect opportunity to engage with, take in and make the most of their surroundings. We are grateful to the Royal Docks Team for sharing our mission to support emerging talent and showcase the difference that small scale interventions can make to our public realm, as the benches will be seen by hundreds of thousands over the course of the next year.”
Royal Docks Team said:
“The winning designs showcase some of London’s best design talent and we’re delighted to welcome them to the Royal Docks. The benches are great standalone designs but importantly they are also key elements of our early investment in improving the public realm in the Royal Docks which includes plans to create a complete walking and cycling network through the Royal Docks.”
To hear each of the designers share the story behind their bench, head to Pews and Perches: Meet the Designers.