How can design improve the way we live in cities? Eight Think Tanks from the LSA put forward their vision to help meet the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

Design Think Tanks


Citizen Mag — Design Think Tanks

Spatial Justice

Making the city a fairer, more equitable place to be, that also celebrates the diversity of its communities.

Following Covid-19 and Black Lives Matter protests of 2020, attitudes as to who the city is for have drastically changed. Anna Minton’s Big Capital, Who is London for? (2017), tackled this four years ago, exploring how a neoliberal agenda was transforming the city. Discussion of city life today has become a flashpoint sharpened by the pandemic, which has amplified London’s structural inequalities.

Focusing on this, DTT Spatial Justice confronts present-day spatial and racial injustices in Hackney, proposing a new model of community and cultural infrastructure, built on community empowerment, mutual aid, enacted through a special strategy that makes use of existing buildings and spaces to improve representation and resources for marginalised communities in the area.

In detail, this approach comprises a range of re-appropriated spaces, mobile interventions and pop-up spaces, a furniture workshop at the Geffrye Museum, and an ‘exploded museum’ that occupies small plots across the wider vicinity dispersed from the project’s core: a centralised, community commons, located in the former Ash Grove Bus Depot.

Here, light-touch, adaptive reuse of the structure creates a community kitchen-cum-bookshop, alongside a dance studio, a makerspace workshop, space for therapy provision and modular offices for emerging groups or organisations in need of a temporary home. This space will also be home to a float – part of a proposed carnival where the float, equipped with tools for spatial interventions, facilitates change across a network of key spaces, reaching community groups and support centres for marginalised communities. The carnival celebrates these communities and also provides support in the form of fabric workshops, eviction advice, domestic violence consultation and more. The latter two are particularly pertinent to Hackney given the recent eviction of Sistah Space, a charity providing support to African heritage women and girls who’ve experienced domestic or sexual abuse.


Citizen Mag — Design Think Tanks

Connecting Communities

The future of dwelling and social infrastructure realised through stitching together a disconnected  neighbourhood.

Typical of much of the contemporary city is the fragmentation of its physical and social fabric to the detriment of visual coherence and functional vitality, community life and identity. At the Beecholme Estate in Clapton such flaws may not prevent, but also do little to sponsor, any form of vibrant community; nor do they create an enticing environment seamlessly connected with its surroundings and their communities. The challenge here is to correct these flaws by reworking and better connecting the disparate elements on the site into a coherent whole and connecting this with major surrounding elements

A phased design strategy combines demolition, reworking the street and open space systems, and new construction. To be demolished are a series of large residential blocks that presently obstruct reconfiguration of the movement pattern into a grid of routes criss-crossing and embedding the site in its context. Besides providing vehicular access where required, this movement grid is mostly broad pedestrian routes that significantly improve the links between the site and a park to its east. From the former western boundary, the project extends out, absorbing a traffic gyratory and turning it into a peninsula of paved public space

At the heart of the site and the movement grid, an existing green space will be reworked as a multi-purpose community focus, with adjacent Victorian workshops converted into a ‘Forum’ to serve a variety of communal uses. Behind the Forum, along the northern edge of the site, a mews of Victorian workshops – the ‘Tram Sheds’ – will continue to house thriving small businesses. Connecting this western portion of the site with the park to the east will be paved and planted pedestrian streets flanked by terraces of new housing.

As well as these physical proposals, various forms of self-governance are advocated to help implement and manage the estate and its various activities, further strengthening community ties. But even if these were not instituted, the physical design interventions alone would catalyse various forms of vibrant community life with knock-on benefits for the areas around.


Citizen Mag — Design Think Tanks

Shifting Gear

The City of Access: realising the walking and cycling city

There is far more to this proposal than its title suggests. The project articulates in some detail the benefits of a major shift away from the 20th-century city shaped around motor vehicles, to a more multi-modal city. Instead of citizens being passively transported between the dispersed destinations, the project advocates active and autonomous movement modes of walking and cycling. If today’s London is for disengaged travel on the way to somewhere else, then, in the proposed ‘City of Access’, everywhere is somewhere to be actively enjoyed for its character and diversity of uses.

Also advocated is a re-localisation and intensification of the amorphously dispersed modern city into vibrantly mixed-use 15-minute cities, each accommodating within easy walking or cycling distance all aspects of urban life. The streets of the once vehicle-dominated primary grid connecting these will now be for pedestrians and cyclists, and the space once dedicated to vehicles given over to a range of community functions. These will range from islands of allotments to playgrounds and planting, including shade trees. Although many fewer of them, cars can still negotiate different routes through secondary streets while the primary streets will accommodate emergency and service vehicles – the latter at night only.

Particularly towards the cores of the 15-minute cities, along wide streets of the primary movement grid and close to public transit stations, diversity of use and density will be increased by new, taller buildings and upward extensions of old ones, giving an urban buzz devoid of traffic noise. Many other benefits will accrue from more efficient land use, less time wasted commuting, diminished pollution from exhausts and other greenhouse gases, as well as the health consequences of more exercise, cleaner air, less noise and stress, and absence of traffic accidents.


Citizen Mag — Design Think Tanks

Symbiotic City

Bridging the gap between young and old at the former Haggerston Baths

This DTT brings together two abundant and underused resources of many cities: derelict yet treasured old buildings; and people, young and old, seeking suitable space and facilities to share with others pursuing lives as ‘creatives’ and ‘makers’. From these core concerns, and focused around the regeneration and expansion of the Haggerston Baths complex, the further concerns, ambitions and ideas explored are exceptionally wide-ranging.

Many contemporary challenges are addressed: from the local and immediate to the more global and longer-term; from the social and age-related to the economic and employment-related; from those of the lonely elderly to the creative, entrepreneurial young. Also sought are the symbiotic synergies sparked when addressing these through the conversion, reuse and extension of the derelict baths and adjacent buildings to promote mutually supportive interactions between the diverse activities accommodated, as well as with the surroundings. Moreover, this project demonstrates a pragmatic strategy to be replicated and broadly applied, in a series of interventions spreading out from here, and inspiring similar ventures elsewhere.

At the heart of the complex and lending it a distinct identity is Haggerston Baths, an abandoned 1904 indoor swimming pool. This is to be converted into a flexible public space, ‘The Street’, that provides entrance and access to the whole community and can be adapted to many other uses to serve locals. To one side of this, old structures will be converted into a range of differing sorts of workshops for practising and learning a range of craft skills and art forms. On the opposite side of The Street, and built of laminated timber panels over what were garages to be converted to cafés, will be a new co-housing complex providing affordable housing for a mix of older people and professional creatives. The constant presence of these residents adds to the sense of this being a community facility pulsing with life day and night to be enjoyed by regular and less frequent users, even by passers-by.

Both by itself, and even more so as initiating a snowballing series of such mixed-use interventions, this complex will give further impetus to the ongoing regeneration of Haggerston as a desirable place to live and enjoy a plethora of activities.



Citizen Mag — Design Think Tanks


A framework for rebalancing the High Street ecosystem

Ever more of our daily lives are moving online, impoverishing the urban experience. This is particularly so with the displacement of the serendipitous, physical engagement with people and products still associated with the now threatened streets and shops of the traditional high street. Although not explicitly expressed as such, this project is a counterproposal to not just preserve, but considerably enhance what the high street contributes to urban life by increasing its diversity and intensity as part of the ‘experience economy’.

As background research it compares examples of high streets that provided community focus and identity to their neighbourhoods. And it contrasts two very different Hackney high streets: the salubrious Church Street and the chaotically congested Kingsland Road – both apt to their communities and contexts. It also looks at the forces now threatening high streets, such as online shopping, as well as the impact of recent policy changes including use classifications and permitted development rights.

Using Church Street and the area around as a demonstration, it proposes considerably intensifying and expanding the retail now found in the fronts of shops lining the pavements. This extends through the shops into what are currently service backlands that will diversify into ‘quarters’ of differing focus, such as arts and crafts, health and wellbeing, gastronomy. Streets, too, will be transformed by narrowing the vehicular portion to create more hospitable pavements; a particularly daring proposal is to set back existing shop fronts to create arcades along Kingsland Road.

If in addition to the convenience and cheapness offered by the online revolution, we also choose to preserve and enhance the conviviality and community life associated with the traditional high street, there is much to be learnt from this proposal.


Citizen Mag — Design Think Tanks

Home Office

Retrofitting the city to establish a new Green Mile for London

Designed by SOM in the 1980s, 135-175 Bishopsgate is the largest building in the Broadgate development on the eastern fringe of the City of London. Despite this wealth of office space and its prime location, the building is to be vacated, with its current tenant, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, moving to Canary Wharf. What to do, then, with this empty behemoth of a groundscraper?

Seizing the opportunity, Home Office proposes repurposing the building into a biophilic oasis, part of a larger plan to designate the wider area as the ‘Green Mile’, to link up with the adjacent ‘Square Mile’ of the City, the ‘Culture Mile’ to the west and ‘Tech City’ to the north.

The building itself would be transformed into an Institute for Green Research, encouraging and incubating green industry by turning former office space into research laboratories, community education hubs, workshops, testing facilities and conventional classrooms.

With the socially deprived London Borough of Tower Hamlets nearby, Home Office stress this is also a place for education and re-skilling, linking work and education on-site. Visitors are encouraged into the revamped building through the insertion of more entry points and a sloping surface mediating the building’s elevation above the street. This raised ground floor has become an internal streetscape, filled with a food hall, resource library, workshop and retail.

Multiple atria have also been enlarged and carved out, primarily to let in more natural light, but also to create visual connections across floors and most dramatically to allow auditoria in the form of floating timber pods to occupy the space. Enhancing this experience, winding wooden walkways take visitors up through the atria, flora and internal tree canopy to the building’s roof, where air-conditioning plant is replaced with further vegetation as part of a rooftop rewilding strategy. Here, public sports facilities such as a gym, and squash and basketball courts, can be found, alongside community allotments, conservatories, beehives, bar, restaurant and outdoor cinema.


Citizen Mag — Design Think Tanks

Urban Agriculture

Creating a fully self-sustaining community in the Lea Valley

To occupy the Lea Valley site being vacated by the New Spitalfields Market, Urban Agriculture propose a new self-sufficient ecosystem comprising 500 homes and a myriad of growing resources to feed residents (plus visitors) and bring them closer to nature and food growing and production processes.

A series of rounded islands form a mini archipelago in a new water basin that allows the site to exploit flooding and rainwater. The landscape is built up from different layers of soil, sand, peat and wetland, and underneath has a remediation basin and hydroplant so water can be stored, drained, filled and reused as freshwater. In winter, higher water levels allow wild rice to be grown.

The complex, self-sufficient system comprises many more elements working together to make the site a thriving producer of food. These include: an anaerobic digester using organic waste from homes and food production to create biogas; a CHP plant run on biogas to generate and distribute heat and electricity; a pasteuriser turning excess organic waste into biofertiliser for the food production systems or sale and export; an algae bioreactor, powered by the excess heat and electricity from the CHP plant; and a seed house that reveals the seeding and growing process through its living hydroponic ceiling of tomatoes. These eminently visible processes epitomise the celebratory culture around growing food on-site, exemplified most by an annual festival that coincides with the site’s cherry trees blossoming.

The most public area of the site – three buildings of concentric circular cloisters – houses a production exhibition, brewery and large communal kitchen. On other islands, meanwhile, can be found a food market, orangery, playgrounds, farms for different foods, and specific islands for spices and aromas. These amenities are for non-residents too, attracting them to the area to get a taste – literally – of how fulfilling a life more entwined in the production of the food we eat can be, fuelling similar change across other areas of the city


Citizen Mag — Design Think Tanks


Living (and sleeping) in a world with Universal Basic Income

‘Sleep has become work, hard work. It’s an obligation.’

— Beatriz Colomina

With increasing demands for a Universal Basic Income (UBI), Habit@ explore consequences of this being instituted in a project for Fish Island, east London. As UBI makes work a choice, how can our ways of organising time and space, public and private, and the family unit be transformed?

Answering this question, Habit@ defer to the bedroom, or more specifically, the bed, to reorientate our approach to domestic life in the hope that a good night’s sleep will facilitate more fulfilling lives. Proposed is a standard space, a ‘sleeping cell’, where occupants can compose and arrange various sleeping conditions.

Beyond this are private and semi-private spaces for cooking, working and communal amenities. These units form two housing blocks, one of stepping units and the other of more conventional shape. Dwellings catering to polyphasic sleeping patterns (those who nap throughout the day) are near the base and have better immediate access to the building’s amenities, while monophasic sleepers (those who sleep once during a 24-hour period) are at the top, further from potential disturbances.

Strips of concrete slab from an old scrapyard are retained, between which wild plants grow and water flows down to the adjacent canalside. Mounds of earth rise around the site, to remediate the soil of its toxic industrial residue and to partially buffer noise. Across this landscape, existing industrial buildings from the old scrapyard have been repurposed into more community amenities. These include a community hall, gym, contemplation space, impluvium, a centre for care, which hosts spaces for learning and play, and a ‘kiln’, which serves as a workshop, gallery and evening napping space-cum-cinema. Together, they form an estate where those liberated from conventional forms of labour by UBI can enjoy a life where free time –particularly time to sleep – is no longer a luxury.


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