May 12, 2020
PUP Architects Create a Cozy Community Space for a London Urban Farm
The firm’s renovation of Surrey Docks Farm aims to generate new streams of income and enhance programming areas.
Standing at the center of Surrey Docks Farm, amid clucking hens, snorting pigs, and honking geese, you might forget that you’re in the heart of London. Walk to the side that backs onto the river, and you’ll be immediately reminded—across the water stand the skyscrapers of Canary Wharf, former docklands that were transformed into a business district in the 1990s.
A few years before all that, Surrey Docks Farm was set up on this 2.2 acre site in southeast London and has since become a focal point for the local community, hosting school visits, youth clubs, cooking and language classes, and projects for adults with learning difficulties, as well as selling fresh produce through its shop. A recent million-dollar refurbishment of the venue by PUP Architects aims to help it better fulfill this role, and forges a path for new streams of income by equipping it with a freshly renovated hall for classes and events and a tower with office and meeting space.
The project was largely funded under the Section 106 planning law, which obliges new-build developers to make a financial contribution towards local infrastructure. When the architects took on the job, the outdoor space outside the community hall was overgrown and the attached tower had sat unused after a fire a decade ago. The architects’ strategy was to not only improve the interior but to rethink the exterior, to convert the outdoor space and riverside path into a new, welcoming front entrance for the farm. “There’s a lot of footfall here, with people cycling, running, and walking past, but it felt like the back of the farm and people [weren’t] sure if they were allowed to come in,” says practice director Chloë Leen.
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PUP Architects’ interventions are sensitive and strategic, with a simple, warm palette of materials that sets galvanized steel, concrete, pine, and Douglas fir against reused brick and granite. The community hall now has a glass-clad orangery at the back, creating a transition between indoors and outdoors, and a teaching kitchen and catering space on one side. The patio has seating and plants, as well as space for barbecues. And an attractive new light-filled restroom block, attached to an existing building, means users need not enter the farm itself during external events.
The tower’s interior is wooden and cozy, with river views at each level. Equipped with desks and a kitchenette, the second floor holds the new farm office, while the top floor offers meeting space for staff use and for hire. The building’s black, tar-painted wooden cladding is a nod to Sussex and Kent barns, as well as the site’s history as a timber wharf and shipyard. “The farm was a bit wary of having it clad all in black,” Lee explains. The architects persuaded them that it would give the building a sense of newness, and echo the black wooden panel that runs along the side of the structures surrounding the central courtyard.
As the tower is the farm’s landmark building, it is topped by a golden weathervane in the shape of an Oxford Sandy and Black pig, a rare breed that lives on the farm—a small indulgence in an otherwise light-touch, minimal redesign.
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