They shall inherit the Earth
GenerationsYand Z are aware of the global challenges they face. But by the time they succeed to positions of power, it could be too late to make the changes we need now. What would today’s London be like if reshaped by the generation that will inherit the city in decades to come? We asked fourth-year students at the London School of Architecture to share their proposals for transforming the lives of Londoners in the borough of Hackney. Within eight design think tanks, students and practices collaborated to reimagine everyday activities, from waste and wilderness to playfulness and pleasure.
Humanity is an integral part of the world’s ecosystem. We depend on the plants, insects, animals, microbes and fungi that surround us, and need to assume responsibility for their habitats and the environment as a whole. The challenge is to create an environment that improves our knowledge of – and engagement with – the natural world and ultimately to restore a degree of balance to our relationship with the planet.
Our proposal is for London Wilds, a place to see examples of ‘rewilded’ architecture: new and retrofitted buildings designed to support diverse habitats and plants and to learn the principles of – and experience – what wilding can be. The centre is conceived as a catalyst for the rewilding of London as a whole.
The site, a former Thames Water depot just to the north of Hackney Marshes, occupies a hinterland between the city and Lea Valley, a green corridor connecting London to the open countryside. As a crossroads, it is the perfect location to explore how we can integrate both wildlife and human functions to create a symbiotic piece of urbanism.
Much of the site is currently covered with concrete. Former filter beds have been infilled with rubble. Hard-edged and fenced off, it is impermeable to people and wildlife alike. The proposal is to salvage the material on site to create a new architecture of dry-stone gabion walls alongside rammed earth and timber. The existing concrete will be removed gradually, allowing trees and plants to grow in the gaps, providing conditions for a greater variety of soil depths and substrates, nutrient levels, and improved water tables, hence improving biodiversity by increasing the range of habitats on site.
This process, combined with a new water channel through the site, will create the necessary habitat to introduce beavers who engineer it to suit their needs, cutting down branches to dam small streams to make the pools they need to build their dens. These slow-moving pools create the perfect habitat for fish to spawn, and insects to breed. This process will gradually re-saturate the ground, restoring the water table and increasing the capacity of the area to store water, improving its drought resilience and ability to withstand floods.
The beavers will attract visitors and researchers, giving momentum to an educational and research programme housed in a series of laboratories, offices, and indoor and outdoor workshops and classrooms. The centre also includes residential accommodation for visitors and staff, a ‘wild chapel’ for contemplation, and an amphitheatre hosting lectures, performances, concerts and open-air cinema screenings dedicated to wilding and related themes. A ‘wild kitchen’, kitchen garden, growing spaces and foraging opportunities foster an appreciation of healthy eating habits that relate to the patterns and seasons of the natural world.
Over time, the site will establish itself as a wet woodland, one of the most biodiverse types of UK habitat. Studies of beaver reintroductions have found fourfold increases in biodiversity with more fish, bees, frogs and the return of endangered species. As the site establishes itself and the need for active management declines, the Wilds will focus its energies outwards, with an outreach programme encompassing a fleet of ‘sheds-on-wheels’ bringing plants, tools, education and expertise to communities in Hackney and across London in a bid to kick-start rewilding projects across the city.