A series of five new benches designed by emerging architects – the winners of a competition organised the LFA and Royal Docks Team – have been unveiled across the Royal Docks.
The competition, now in its second year, invited architecture and design students, recent graduates and emerging practitioners to deliver a playful new take on street furniture that can celebrate the Royal Docks and the communities at home in the area – a series of conversation starters to re-connect everyone with nature and the docks’ built environment.
From a bench that draws attention to pollution in our waterways to a design inspired by an unusual shipment of elephants over 70 years ago, the ‘Pews and Perches’ benches combine imaginative design approaches with creative, sustainable material choices to provide locals, visitors and Londoners with unique new spaces to sit and make the most of their surroundings.
The five designs and locations are:
1. ELE-Bench by RAB Studio (Thames Barrier Park)
Referencing an unusual delivery of 20 baby elephants to the George V Docks in 1947, the ELE-Bench helps bring to life this moment in the docks’ history for future visitors. Inspired by the gait and rhythm of the elephant’s stride pattern, this simple, colourful bench creates a striking elephant silhouette from afar. With a comfortable seat made from cork, the design offers shelter from the wind as well as space for both back-to-back seating and for multiple family members to sit together, encouraging visitors to pause in this location.
To hear Rachel and Angus themselves sharing the story behind their bench, head here.
With piles of rubbish such as plastic bottles and face masks still commonly thrown into the Thames, this design seeks to start a conversation about how we can inspire people to treat our waterways better and reuse these objects. Water, water everywhere uses these found objects and suspends them in resin where they seem to be floating in water, and jesmonite, where they are almost riverbed fossils waiting to be uncovered. Frozen in time, the result is a bench simple in form but complex in materiality, providing a sculptural seat for people to gather and connect with the water’s edge.
This bench is built in collaboration with Helen Caulfield of the Redundant Architects Recreation Association (R.A.R.A.) and supported by Sophie Percival and Priscilla Wong.
To hear Betty and Quincy themselves sharing the story behind their bench, head here.
The Royal Resonance tackles the topic of the pandemic and social distancing with playful urban furniture that allows people to be together while remaining safely apart. In a design inspired by nature, several aluminium poles vibrate in the wind, performing as a riverside instrument and an art form. The modular design promotes both isolation and relationships between people and nature, forging local interactions as well as social distancing as a community safely.
This bench is supported by Jian Jun Hayashi, Jeremy Tay and Karakusevic Carson Architects Workshop.
To hear CAST themselves sharing the story behind their bench, head here.
Referencing the docks’ marine context, this design recycles rowing oars to create a crossed structure for the bench. Building on this, Afloat sees different oar lengths used to support the back rest and armrest, which also includes a small table. The back rest and seat itself are made from marine plywood, cut with a CNC machine. Finished in a bright teal colour and engraved with ‘Royal Docks’, the bench stands out from afar, creating a contrast with the wooden texture of the oars and highlighting its structure.
To hear Ben and Luca themselves sharing the story behind their bench, head here.
5. The Rocking Bench by Duncan Graham (Thames Barrier Park)
A call for playfulness and for a bit of fun in today’s less than fun world, the Rocking Bench stands out with its bright, yellow colour, and seeks to encourage interaction while keeping people safely apart. Inspired in part by the beam scales once used in the Royal Docks to weigh imported goods, the bench uses a simple rocking motion to provide a connection for friends, family, and neighbours, but also calls out for companions for those sat alone. The bench consists of CNC cut plywood fastened together with steel rods, and was manufactured entirely within the Lee Valley.
To hear Duncan himself sharing the story behind their bench, head here.
If you happen to be in the docks, or want to see the benches in person, you can find the benches by using the map below. You can also listen to the designers talking about their designs using our self-guided walking tour style podcast.
Second edition benches moving clockwise (dark pink):
ELE-Bench by RAB Studio (Thames Barrier Park)
The Rocking Bench by Duncan Graham (Thames Barrier Park)
First edition benches from left to right (light pink):
Royal Breath by Studio Who (dock edge in front of ExCeL)
Semaphore by Parallel Collective (Royal Albert Wharf)
This competition is part of the NLA Collaborate.