Poplar Pavilion: Poplar meets Alabama


I wasn’t sure what to expect when I arrived at Poplar Pavilion, on East India Dock Road. The installation, conceived by artist Alex Julyan, is billed as “an experiment, a venue and a conversation piece”. In front of the Idea Store, alongside a council tower block, I found two sheds linked together to form a shelter and a third suspended upside down. Decking provides space to gather or sit and an attached table provides a useful surface. Alex, plus another Alex (from Rural Studio in Alabama) and local architect Kate Minns, are on hand to explain. So far vaguely intriguing, although the lack of activity doesn’t look promising.

But first appearances can mislead. “My name’s Chloe”, says a small girl standing in front of me, a bundle of energy. “I come every day to help out. I live up there”, she says pointing up the tower block. Today she’s potting up seeds, but she especially likes helping to build – the idea being that anyone can help the installation grow (and also use it) between now and October. Nearby an older local lady is talking to Alex from Alabama. She had spent a couple of nights in the shed, tidying up after rough sleepers and feels proprietorial. A young woman pulls up a chair to eat lunch: “why would I eat in the stock room if I can come and sit here? Isn’t it amazing? They’re not going to take it away are they?” A young architect from Mumbai drops in, for inspiration, while a family rests with bags, on the way home from the nearby market.

Something quiet but important is happening here. It goes to show that a small intervention, which local people and visitors can help create and call their own, can make so much difference. Having worked on several temporary community projects I know the difficulties – from raising funds to engaging with people. It turns out Alex and Kate have spent months in preparation, supported by Poplar HARCA, the committed local housing association.

Let’s have more of these!

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