Comake” inspiration from the Festival Village

The Remakery’s first ‘picnic’ at Myatt’s Fields Park on Sunday (29th July) had to retreat to the local pub, the Prince of Wales on Denmark Road, due to rain (which of course stopped as soon as we’d settled down with our pints). But there was a great atmosphere, with a mix of long-term members from the Steering Group and new people looking to find out more and get involved. And we even got free cups of delicious spicy seafood soup from the pub (left-overs from a birthday party)!

Picnickers gathered around the laptop for the Festival Village show-and-tell

The focus of the afternoon was a show-and-tell from architect Andrew Lock of Lyn Atelier, the man behind the South Bank Centre’s Festival Village space which opened in May after a very full-on couple of months of what they called Comake: a design and build process involving hundreds of designers, artists and other volunteers.

The design process kicked off in January. Among the first steps were some participatory design days focusing on three questions: who will be using the space, why are they there, and what do they want to get out of it? A variety of “days in the lives” were generated, describing the experiences of different users in order to understand what the space needed to provide for them.

Packages of work were created focusing on different zones of the space, and each package started to develop with a mood-board of images on Pinterest.

The core team included two designers (one of whom, Andrew, was also responsible for everything from finances to social media and in his words, “nearly died” in the process!), plus one organiser and support from two Southbank Centre project managers. 

The length of the preparatory stages outweighed the build: Planning, Building Control, health and safety, method statements, risk assessments and so on were all essential precursors to getting their hands dirty on site.

But once the Comake process got underway, it was rapid-fire. Each Wednesday they held a design night focused on one zone of the space; on Thursday and Friday there was a rush to find or buy the materials needed for that zone, and on Saturday, they built it! (In practice, zones often took longer so they ended up overlapping; but having one package of work as the main focus each time helped to keep the process clear.) Up to 40 volunteers – mostly architects, designers and artists – came to each session, with hundreds contributing over the course of the project.

Views of the Festival Village

Re-use, though not the main focus, was a feature of the build and contributed to the aesthetic of the space. But partly because of the fast pace of the project, “harvesting” of re-used materials only worked if it was on an industrial scale: 3 tonnes of bricks from Freecycle, or large quantities of high quality timber and board left over from exhibitions at the British Library and museums. Many times people contacted the team offering a few scraps of wood in a skip, but the time required to respond to such opportunities outweighed the value of the materials. Re-purposed items such as whisks made into lampshades, and wheelbarrows as chairs add to the “upcycled” look of the space, but for practical reasons they were bought new.

Andrew commented that “localising” tasks meant they got done more effectively: once a small team took the lead on a particular zone, they felt responsible to each other and became a self-managed unit. All they needed was basic health and safety training at the start, and they were away! However, volunteers learning unfamiliar skills were sometimes “painfully slow” and “didn’t have a builder’s head on”, so as the time pressure mounted professionals were increasingly brought in to instruct and supervise teams.

Tools “got a pounding” so Andrew’s advice was to invest in good quality ones – cheap imitations got destroyed!

The creation of the Festival Village provides an inspiring model for planning the Remakery’s own process of interior design, fit-out and furnishing. The main stages were:

  1. Briefing – understanding the users of the space and the functions it will serve

  2. Imagining – generating a rough picture of what each zone could look like

  3. Looking for materials – gathering the elements needed to make it

  4. Designing with more precision, and building, using the materials you’ve got (which are probably not exactly what you imagined!)

The construction underway over the next few months at the Remakery is preparing the basic “shell” of our building – demolishing walls, levelling the floor and insulating parts of the walls and ceiling, installing electrical and water supplies, heating and ventilation, glazing the front. (At the Festival Village, most of these things were either already in place or weren’t needed because it’s a temporary space.)

Once the Remakery’s shell is complete (autumn for the front zone, early 2013 for the rest of the space) we will be co-designing and fitting out the interior following a similar process to the Festival Village. It’s exciting to see an example of how this co-creative process worked in practice.

There are also many specific features of the Village that we can learn from: flexible use of the space is key, as it will be at the Remakery, so the way they’ve employed mobile and fold-away furniture and floor markings to indicate different uses of the space has got us thinking about how we can apply design to make optimum use of our space at different times…

Mobile screens and furniture in action at the Festival Village