Public realm contest at Britain’s biggest council estate was aimed at diverse practices
Nimtim Architects has won an RIBA competition to reimagine neglected areas of the Becontree Estate in east London.
The agenda-setting project was built 100 years ago as part of the garden city movement and became the largest municipal housing estate in the world with 26,000 homes and, at one point, 100,000 people on four square miles of land in Barking & Dagenham.
The public realm contest is part of a series of centenary celebrations which will also see two exhibitions mounted at the RIBA’s headquarters on Portland Place this autumn.
Nimtim, working with artist Katie Schwab, beat a shortlist featuring Okra Studio, Studio Aki with Hayhurst and Co, the Resolve Collective and Studio Gil with Tisserin Engineers.
The RIBA invited emerging practices with black, Asian or ethnic minority people in their senior leadership teams to enter as a reflection of the diverse communities living in Becontree.
They were asked to propose ways to make the estate’s corner plots more deliberate, to increase their social potential, biodiversity, and sustainability.
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Becontree originally had generous green amenity spaces at the ends of terraces as part of the garden city aspirations, but these corner plots have been neglected and underused in more recent years.
The winning proposal reorganises them as “civic squares” for people to meet, rest, play and grow things and to enhance the experience of walking through the estate.
Each square encourages new activities and performs new functions by inviting residents to take ownership of them. The designs are inspired by geometries, colours and materials within the estate.
The two free exhibitions at Portland Place will be of photographs by Kalpesh Lathigra and an installation by artist Verity-Jane Keefe that will consider the architectural, economic and political decision-making that has shaped Becontree since its construction. The installation will trace the lineage of the estate’s planning and decorative aesthetic through the lens of the RIBA’s archive.
In addition, the architectural social enterprise Poor Collective has been appointed to create a public realm commission with students from Mayesbrook Park School in Becontree.
The council is currently working to revive the estate which 100 years ago set the agenda for housing that put wellbeing and typological innovation at the heart of its design. It was the originator of the cul-de-sac and most houses had both front and back gardens – unprecedented for public housing at the time.