Canning Town Caravanserai

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. 

Read more about the concept of modern caravanserais over here.

A close-up detail of the facade at the entrance to one of the upper apartments. Profiled translucent fibreglass back by silver foil, with strands of electrical cable in the interstices. Chain link fencing surrounds each upper flat's terrace.

Being briefed to produce two-bedroom apartments, each measuring just 67m², precipitated a re-appraisal of the spatial priorities of the traditional small flat, which resulted in an unconventional but extremely workable configuration.

The dwellings are identically arranged around an enlarged hallway where the space is both light and complex - anything but a corridor. It is large enough to hold a desk or daybed, a place to sort laundry or an area for children to play.

Bedrooms are kept as small as possible. Clothes, for example, are stored elsewhere. While the kitchen is the main social space of the flat, the living room is a cosy (with)-drawing room that can also be a home office or guest room.

Bathrooms and WCs are separate. Each is spacious, has a large basin and an opening window.

The plan above was made at competition stage.

Ash Sakula drawings photos
Ash Sakula drawings photos
Ash Sakula drawings photos
Ash Sakula drawings photos

The corrugated cladding set against silver foil creates lavender and turquoise reflections. In the corrugation's interstices are suspended twisted strands of black and white electrical cabling, adding to the kinetic parallax illusion created as one passes the buildings - an effect developed by Ash Sakula in collaboration with the artist Vinita Khanna.

A few weeks after the residents moved in we received this painting from the Brewer family. It said, "Thank you for our incredible home." In an accompanying letter the Brewers wrote, "... we have never seen anything better designed for us as a family. Thank you for all your thoughtful hard work."

Animators Wrench & Franks made a short video of the project. Here is a still from the closing sequence.

Ash Sakula self-initiated project

Competition Team: EXYZT, Space Makers, Community Links, The Kindest Group, Technology Will Save Us, Wayward Plant Registry, Atmos, Building Crafts College

Live Project: 2011-2015