IF_DO was approached by the Methodist Church in June 2019 with the question of how to design a new community centre in a way that would maximise the benefits for local people. How can architecture improve community cohesion, and tackle the twin challenges of social isolation and loneliness?
‘The Space’ is located on the Elsinge Estate, in north-east London. Constructed in the 1950’s, the Estate is relatively low-rise, and has experienced minimal redevelopment or growth since it was built.
At its core the project is an aim to create a new piece of social infrastructure: a community space in which people can gather, and which will provide the space and capacity for both formal and informal programmes and events to take place.
Engaging the community in the design process has been an important ambition of the project from the outset. Working alongside engagement specialists Street Space, a programme of community engagement events took place over August and September to raise awareness about the project and involve people in shaping its future. A series of pop-up events, spontaneous interactions and collective celebrations were used as a tool to reveal the knowledge and experience of local residents.
A summer festival sought to bring together the community to share time, food and conversation. The event provided a platform for members of the community to test ideas and bring to life some of their visions for the future of ‘The Space’. This included a local teenager delivering a boxing class and two local parents delivering their first football coaching session.
“I thought I’d never hear from you again after we met on the street. Now we’re running our own project which I’ve been dreaming about for years. Thank you!”
The new building will replace an existing Methodist church, and the project is being designed to allow the existing church building to remain in place during construction. This will enable the existing community programmes (such as a preschool and craft club for the elderly) to continue without interruption and to move seamlessly from the old building into the new.
The building will provide approximately 650sqm of usable space over two floors, with primary community events located on the ground floor, and smaller, more private spaces located on the first floor, including meeting rooms, study rooms and a space for yoga and prayer.
‘The Space’ is intended to be a flexible, sustainable community building that will meet the needs of the community and will be able to evolve to cater for those needs in years to come.
"We looked for an architect who would be sympathetic to our vision, creative and imaginative in using resources and willing to work with the local trustees. We chose IF_DO because of their sympathetic approach to our vision and for their enthusiastic engagement with the process. They have brought to the project not only their experience, but a willingness to be patient with our processes that have sometimes lacked clarity. They have listened to our half-thought-out ideas and translated them into a design that will reflect the nature of the community. They have been realistic in the face of our impatience and encouraging when we faltered."
The Methodist Church