In one of the busiest areas of East London, designer Asif Khan and auto brand MINI have constructed three pop-up greenhouses for the public to enjoy during London Design Festival 2016. Light-filled and green with plants, the MINI LIVING “Forests” are a mix of public and private, exploring how we use and share space in changing cities.
With a theme of Connect, Relax and Create, the trio of rectangular structures invite busy individuals to pause, whether to send a text, to take a deep breath, or to have a conversation. The project explores “third places” that exist between home and work, a concept of growing importance as city dwellings get smaller and workers more mobile.
The structures are constructed using materials familiar to agricultural architecture, with layers of transparent, corrugated polycarbonate diffusing light and providing surprisingly effective insulation from the sound of passing cars and buses. Airy aluminum roofs are perched on top of the clear structures, giving a glimpse of sky and surrounding buildings. The springy flooring was made from recycled playground material, adding another element of playfulness.
On hectic Old Street, the Connect Space is a slim corridor filled with conservatory plants. Wooden benches line the sides, inviting people to sit and chat, either spontaneously or pre-planned. The addition of a long dining table allows the space to be used for an intimate meal.
The Relax Space is a vertical rectangle filled with potted plants and vines. Entering via the open underside, visitors can visually block out the outside world. Its location on Pitfield Street sets it next to one of London’s new Cycle Superhighways, with wide cycle lanes providing a popular route for commuters and locals alike.
The largest structure, the Create Space, features scores of plants around its exterior, with tiered stadium seating on the inside and USB ports for charging devices. Located in Charles Square, surrounded by residential buildings and concrete, it’s a welcoming, light-filled oasis.
The use of potted plants was a deliberate choice, to both give the temporary structures a familiar, approachable feel and to examine the role of greenery in delineating zones of use. “We use plants as a tool to assert our personal space at its boundary with public space, whether on our desk at the office or at the perimeter of our home,” designer Asif Khan explains. Visitors and locals will be encouraged to take the potted plants home. Local horticulturalist Jin Ahn of Conservatory Archives, who selected the greenery for the project, and her team will be on hand to tell visitors about the plants and to help them select varieties to take home. People can also drop off plants they no longer want, to create another aspect of community exchange.
Shoreditch has experienced rapid change in the past couple of years, with tech start-ups in the so-called Silicon Roundabout and student housing bringing new people into the area. The designers hope that the MINI Living “Forests” will provide an additional opportunity for visitors, newcomers and long-time residents to share space and connect in a rapidly changing city.
Photos by Charlene Lam for Inhabitat