Formulating a Brief before Design – The Arbour Youth Centre

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London has been expanding in great rates and major development project have been taking place in variety of regions across the Greater London Area.  However, London as a city has been erratic in its development where certain areas have been completely left out or others have been carefully catered. The urban fabric of the city is characterised by many controversies and juxtapositions, where architectural language is kept free but unregulated. This is partly due to deep scars of the bombings during the WWII, where land has been cleared up completely and the need for rapid redevelopment was eminent. Areas of historical and cultural significance were instantly amended, while poor families and immigrants crudely inhabited other areas. These ‘other’ areas we are set out to investigate and provide a sense of community, pride and significance.

The site, in focus, is at the East border of London city and it is an area marked by regular alterations to its physical and social fabric over the years. Stepney is rather problematic, lacking the social unity, the economic power and the cultural foundation in order to begin a strategy for improvement. One of the primary factors that reinforce this sense of indifference within the community is the constant substitution of its spiritual and cultural epicentre. Socially recognized and respected buildings lost their significance, spiritual centres have been losing their valuable congregation and the great range of spoken languages has divided the people into secluded fragmented groups.
From a rather superficial point of view, Stepney is a vast social residential area with little opportunities for employment but with substantial open green spaces. Its population consists of a large percentage of Bengali immigrants and a mixture of other ethnic groups. The local council has characterised its ward by its pattern of deprivation, worklessness, low incomes and poor health. Nevertheless, the area is scheduled to have a huge inflow of infrastructure projects thanks to the flourishing financial centres of the Docklands and the 2012 Olympics.

The site, in focus, is at the East border of London city and it is an area marked by regular alterations to its physical and social fabric over the years. Stepney is rather problematic, lacking the social unity, the economic power and the cultural foundation in order to begin a strategy for improvement. One of the primary factors that reinforce this sense of indifference within the community is the constant substitution of its spiritual and cultural epicentre. Socially recognized and respected buildings lost their significance, spiritual centres have been losing their valuable congregation and the great range of spoken languages has divided the people into secluded fragmented groups.From a rather superficial point of view, Stepney is a vast social residential area with little opportunities for employment but with substantial open green spaces. Its population consists of a large percentage of Bengali immigrants and a mixture of other ethnic groups. The local council has characterised its ward by its pattern of deprivation, worklessness, low incomes and poor health. Nevertheless, the area is scheduled to have a huge inflow of infrastructure projects thanks to the flourishing financial centres of the Docklands and the 2012 Olympics.

Our project is not relative to any of the grand redevelopments but it is a stepping-stone or a catalyst that will enhance the sense of involvement, solidarity from within. It is targeted directly at the root of the problem, the fragmented community. The project is to re-establish the Arbour Youth Centre in its context and enhance its sense of place and purpose. The current edifice housing the centre is a blind and unwelcoming entity that, architecturally speaking, turns its back to its environment and consequently to its people. It is situated on a reclaimed cemetery and it severely lacks the dialogue with its surrounding. Its identity is kept hidden within the heavy masonry walls and it lacks the formality of entrance, thus its formality of existence.

My research build-up has been the interplay of interior and exterior by projecting the qualities of the interior and the activities from within on the external skin, thus revealing the sense of purpose to the outside. This has been achieved by series of observations and recordings both graphically and three-dimensionally, within the macro and micro, the permanent and the ephemeral. The main influence is stemming from the seminal project by Jorn Utzon, the Bagsvaerd Kirke in Denmark, and my model-interpretation of the church, which accidentally fashioned a dialogic face from exterior to interior.

Aspiring to overcome the economic burden, the intervening force of the programme will focus on the re-interpretation and re-ordering of the main interior spaces with considerable alterations to its appearance both internally and externally. These moves are justified as a gesture towards the community, the removal of its physical boundaries. It will gradually reclaim the lost ground and re-establish the identity of the composition and provide pocket-spaces than the fragmented and uninspiring park.

Programme

  • New Entrance
  • Library – Reading Space – Classroom
  • Small Venue Space and Recital
  • Office and workshop Space
  • Cafeteria – Refectory

STRATEGY & PLANNING

“A society grows great when the old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall not sit in” – Ancient Greek Proverb

The main intention for the intervention has been primarily fuelled by an overall assessment of the area of Stepney. By analyzing the strengths and weaknesses, we aimed at identifying the key issues that make Stepney problematic. Our immediate goal is to boost pride and social security by investing on education of the youth. We focus on the “Core Strategy and Development Control Plan” for the London Borough of Tower Hamlets which aspires to improve the quality of social and community facilities in order to support growth. We have set a long-term goal for 2050 with a key moment that focuses on improving the moral of the residents. The objective is to have the people of Stepney in a constant exposure to their role-models/Local Heroes. This would be achieved by improving the quality and quantity of residential and open spaces (PPS 1 – Planning Policy Statement that deal with Delivering a Sustainable Development).

Our project concern is based on the improvement of the Shandy Park in terms of directionality, feel, protection and management of its important views. The park is part of the ‘Ocean Estate’, which currently controls almost half of the ward in terms of property. The London Borough of Tower Hamlets is supportive to the Ocean Estate cause by recently backing a £200 million plan for its regeneration. Evidently, the Ocean Estate has set its own goals for its development, which are included in a programme called ‘Ocean NDC – New Deal for Communities.
Taking that into consideration and the planning for open spaces, sports and recreation (PPG17), we reorder the park organization by dividing it into useful segments that will form a strategic ‘navel’. That navel is the Arbour Youth Centre, the epicentre of growth and education.
PROCUREMENT

The project requires quick moves and fast decisions since fund-raising will definitely be a key player in construction. Consequently the most efficient procurement method for a smooth operation is the Design and Built Novation.
“An alternative is to appoint a contractor when designs have been developed in order to retain control of the important elements of design and specification. The Design Team can then transfer their contractual obligations to the contractor and complete the designs on behalf of the Contractor. This process is called Novation.”
The main factor that this method is applied is the low risk of delaying construction and it is highly practical in terms of communication between the client and the contractor. According to the Architect’s handbook of Construction Project Management, the Design and Built is incorporating low cost with high speed construction and a fairly secure cost estimate from Stage D and onwards. The design will involve tactile interventions and an extensive use of existing fabric. With respect to any relevant regulations concerning fire safety and inclusive design, the strategy for the project is about clearing obstacles and creating views within the existing building enclosure.
Due to the peculiarity of the existing fabric, there is difficulty in properly insulating and illuminating the interior spaces. For that reason the principal of construction that will be followed is similar to the Dovecot Studio Extension by the Architect Haworth Tompkins.
The idea behind that is to ensure low cost on fabrication and assembly, low energy consumption, environmental comfort and sustainable design.
The proposed design will offer a low cost and consistent environment, which in turn will be enclosed by the existing structure of the former Parish Hall, thus preserving the identity of the neighbourhood with a high performance building. The prefabricated elements will be easy to transport since they are going to be manufactured at a nearby construction yard in Deptford.
FUNDRAISING
“Community Buildings also mirror change in society. This is both at the level of activities taking place within and around the building and at the level of reflecting major themes in our society. When users of a Community Hall were asked, ‘What are the two major difficulties you face?’ the top five answers were:
Funds 36%, none 16%, Apathy 16%, Building maintenance 15% and Vandalism 9%”.
(Source: Paul Marriot for Community Matters)
The Client of the Arbour Youth Centre has been particularly insistent on introducing new methods for funding. Currently, the centre has a borderline funding, which is substantial for covering energy costs, security, educational material and minor repairs. The main source of funding is from a private charity and some other occasional charity events through the year.  Local authorities and the governement have a rather sporadic finance strategy but recently there is a generous development infrastructure plan for the area.
The London Borough of Tower Hamlets is problematic but it is developing in a very fast pace, which means that the area is blessed with activity and attention.
The client is interested in creating flexible spaces that could potentially serve as workstations, educational spaces, community events and retail market.
The proposed program includes all the spaces suggested and it will introduce a more appropriate cost management. The main aim is to ensure the future successful function of the community centre and the design is dealing with issues that range from a masterplanning to an efficient budget management strategy. The objective for a viable fundraising strategy is to create a formal business plan that will comply with the requirements as stated in the Part II of the Charities Act (source: Managing your Community Building – Peter Hudson).
The fundraising will consequently finance the construction and a create a consistent source of revenue for the Centre.
_______________________
Measures that would ensure a smooth function are as follows:
Immediate Intervention Benefits

•Short-term building time (leads to: short-term cease of services during that process)
•Affordable construction and local labor
•Sustainable Design

Long-term Benefits

•Reduction of Utility Costs
•Introduction of new funding sources
•Promotion of Volunteer work (leads to: loyal ‘friends’ of the Arbour)
•Space-hire, Small Retail opportunities
•Workshops (leads to: moral boost)
________________________
[by MSOU]
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