Caravanserai was a three-year occupation of a vacant site in east London. Ash Sakula won the project in a competition held by the Mayors of London and Newham in preparation for the 2012 Olympic Games.
Conceived as a place of succour and exchange, we described the project as a Caravanserai after the inns that lined the ancient silk-trading routes through Asia and Europe. These hostelries were lively meeting places, where travellers sought refreshment, shelter and entertainment, and traded goods, knowledge and ideas.
Behind high blue construction hoardings, Ash Sakula gave life to a wonderland built with waste. On this temporary campground of structures, gardens, field kitchens, market stalls, workshops and performance space, absolutely everybody was welcome to come and make, grow, trade and perform. Tea vans mixed with art workshops, food stalls flourished, allotments blossomed and children played with sand while students turned wooden pallets into structures and furniture.
As architects and urbanists, we recognise the hunger for intimacy and inspiration that is now attendant on life in the global city. Projects like the Caravanserai meet demands for a new infrastructure of temporary, self-made places to exist alongside the normal workings of property market. The networks they leave behind them, sustained by a shared cultural experience, can play a critical role in strengthening neighbourhoods. At the same time, they challenge the hegemony of the property market as the only creator of value and and offer new ways to construct meaning in the city.
It was an outdoor living room for the city. The production of this welcoming oasis proved to be a living manifesto for a new generation of urban commons. It was a uniquely programmatic and hands-on intervention that saw us, as architects, engaging as both producers of spaces and structures and curators of new uses and functions. Flags fluttered, campfires burned and a new community feasted at “London’s longest table”.
Our collaborators were an impromptu community of local people, students, practitioners and micro-entrepreneurs. It was a true co-design project, developed and built by people, not professionals, with designs tested and negotiated at all levels in a feedback loop that was fast and critical.
Architect and Client: Ash Sakula
Collaborators: EXYZT, Space Makers, Community Links, The Kindest Group, Technology Will Save Us, Wayward Plant Registry, Atmos, David Barrie Associates, Building Crafts College, Groundwork
Project commenced: 2011
Gross area: Northern site: 4,780m2 / Southern site: 1,880m2