New RIBA exhibition – Making It Happen

How are architects working directly with community groups to create inspiring local buildings and places during times of economic and political austerity?

In this exhibition four immersive installations fill the RIBA’s central London gallery, giving visitors an experiential opportunity to find out more about some of the UK’s new and inspiring community architecture projects. Making It Happen: New Community Architecture tells the stories behind four new public spaces –

In the wake of local funding cuts and shifting priorities, private ownership of public buildings and spaces has escalated and alternative approaches to designing and funding spaces for the public realm are emerging. In response, communities have come together to fight to keep buildings open and functioning, mobilising to campaign and fundraise in the face of closure or catastrophe. Current crowd-funding campaigns for public buildings will be featured in the exhibition and visitors will be invited to contribute what buildings or spaces they would like to reinvigorate or create in their local area.

Architects have been challenged to respond to these circumstances by conceiving new ideas for the design or re-design of existing spaces. In the process architects have become both activist and educator, championing the cause and helping to galvanise the support of the local community.

The four projects featured in this exhibition examine the diverse roles that architects have played in working with communities around the UK. Each example demonstrates a pragmatic response, creating flexible public buildings that give scope for further development. All of the selected schemes demonstrate the extensive engagement of the architects, sometimes continuing beyond the finished construction:

  • Hastings Pier – designed by dRMM Architects (2016)
    Originally built in 1872, Hastings Pier was closed in 2006 following deterioration. In response the Hastings Pier and White Rock Trust (HPWRT) was formed by local people to raise funds to acquire the pier and reopen it, which it did in 2016. In 2017, the pier’s regeneration championed by dRMM Architects won architecture’s most prestigious award, the RIBA Stirling Prize. Following the Hastings Pier Charity going into administration, the pier was sold to a private owner in June 2018.
  • Coniston Institute, Cumbria by Grizedale Arts (2017)
    The Victorian artist and critic, John Ruskin spear-headed the creation of a purpose-built home for the Institute which was founded to support the well-being and education of the local copper mine-working community. The building was opened in 1878. Since 2011 Grizedale Arts has helped to rejunvenate and develop the Institute, working with volunteers from the village to create a multi-functional space that is home to over a dozen local interest groups. Takeshi Hayatsu Architects have recently worked with Grizedale Arts on small construction and design projects – including a bread oven and an information pavilion – to engage students and the local community.
  • Old Manor Park Library, East London by APPARATA (2015)
    This East London library closed in 2012 after 108 years of public service. Years of neglect rendered it no longer fit for purpose. With the previously-loved local landmark standing empty, Create London and Bow Arts, in partnership with Newham Council and the Greater London Authority, invited architects to reimagine the Grade II listed building as a new public space.
    The winning proposal by Apparata responded to both the history of the building and its relationship with the surrounding area, and focused on using local suppliers and tradespeople. The architects worked as main contractors on the project, collaborating with designer-maker Philip T Ryan and a team of young apprentices and volunteers to strip out and survey the interior before refurbishing into a radical new spatial arrangement. Artists and architects work from affordable studios at the rear of the building, with the front area home to a community-focused arts residency, the Rabbits Road Institute.
  • The Lookout, Loch Lomond National Park by Processcraft (2014)
    In 2013, the Scottish Scenic Routes initiative, a three-year programme inspired by a similar idea in Norway, was inaugurated to boost Scottish tourism and local economies, and to encourage a closer look at the landscape. The Lookout is an exemplar from the project – a small, mirrored structure with seating, aiming to achieve a place for engagement, contemplation and a sensory filled response to the landscape.

Drawings, photographs, models and films detail the expansive roles that the four architecture practices took on, working not just as designers, but as contractors, makers, cheerleaders and activists.

Making It Happen: New Community Architecture has been designed by Hayatsu Architects to create a visitor experience that reflects the materiality and spatial qualities of each of the four featured projects. Exhibition visitors will cross the boardwalk of Hastings Pier, step onto a Ruskin-inspired tiled pavement, take a seat in a re-creation of a quiet space at Old Manor Park Library, and enjoy a place for reflection in the Lookout. The theme of craftsmanship and community co-ownership through hands-on making is integral to several of the projects. Initiatives such as the community bread oven and copper tiling detailed kiosk at Coniston will feature in the exhibition.