The ambition of a determined and courageous client has been fulfilled by the vision and skill of the architects to bring about a spectacular and important transformation. An unloved and neglected building made irrelevant through no fault of its own, that cowered behind an impregnable barrier has been reshaped and reoriented to engage with its milieu, inviting participation to the immediate community and beyond. It is a building that now makes human connections, inspires curiosity and eschews isolation. Occasionally, an architectural project emphatically transcends its physical constraints, enriches the simplicity of its brief and delivers far more than its modest budget might conventionally suggest. Experiencing the building in use – full of life, abundant with learning, joy and creativity – elevates the prosaic vernacular of the old caretaker’s house. Despite ripping out the intermediate floor of the building, little fanfare is made of the fabric first approach retaining traces of its previous incarnation, the retrofit is deep, the interventions bold and clearly articulated, and the design expresses wholehearted honesty. Space, light, adaptability and functionality are given primacy, which combine to stimulate a rare aesthetic – a full sensory experience of joy, hope and contentment. The arrangement of landscaping and gardens gives a structural space for growing and nurturing not only the fruit, vegetables, plants and animals, but also the people who use it. Bold graphic murals now enliven the streetscape whilst the boundary is now gentle yet secure; elegantly remodelled and softened to delight, welcome and intrigue visitors and those passing-by. The Hackney School of Food teaches us that humility and integrity are the catalyst for collaborative and community energy. Materials and interventions are limited to what is necessary and useful, creating a place of freedom, accessibility and equality, inspiring the visitor to participate openly in a comforting place of safety. The wider community has been invited to join in a heuristic experiment and its success is obvious. So much so, that neighbouring communities will soon be benefitting from similar regeneration projects by the clients. Through their project, the client and architect have expressed Charles Moore’s insistence that we must believe buildings “…can receive investments of energy and care from their inhabitants, and can store those investments, and return them augmented, bread cast on water come back as club sandwiches.” The success of the project is not limited to this one site. The architect and client have developed a toolkit to inspire and teach others to regenerate and enliven their own communities in a similar way. Their bold and energetic investment in a community facility exemplifies how architecture has the power to transform not only the building it touches but the community it serves – delivering club-sandwiches day after day.
“The project has made a huge positive impact on its community, while serving as an architectural exemplar of a retrofit-first approach; it has been acknowledged in local and national awards for its social impact, universal design, community engagement and environmental approach.”Surman Weston