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Canning Town Caravanserai – London

By Camille Vilain

Canning Town Caravanserai

The on-site facilities of the Caravanserai were built over two years, with more than 50 volunteer trainees working alongside experienced tradespeople. Everything was constructed without prefabricated systems. For example: the Long Table, which is 17m long and can accommodate 60 people for a meal, was designed and built by the Caravanserai team with scaffolding donated by local company Loughton Scaffolding.

The Caravanserai opened a few months before the Olympic Games in 2012. Inspired by the caravanserais that lined the Silk Road, and that offered visitors not only food and rest but also opportunities for business and cultural exchange, the Caravanserai is something of a small village. It has a community garden, an open-air theatre, a children’s play area, sheltered tables, market kiosks for local entrepreneurs, and a micro-manufacture workshop. Canny Ash of Ash Sekula aims for the Caravanserai to be a model for a new type of public space, which integrates forums and facilities, events and activities, that are collaboratively created by hosts and guests.

Key actors

The main actor of the initiative is architecture firm Ash Sakula, who created the project.

Beneficiaries include local start-ups and micro-enterprises, trainees who have been involved in the work, and the local community more generally.

Role of design

The design of the Caravanserai has been an incremental process. The various different structures that have sprung up have been the result of conversations between the volunteers and local community groups. And they were made with whatever materials could be found through scavenging and recycling would-be waste materials from local construction businesses. This approach has led to the Caravanserai having an attractive homemade aesthetic. But more important than the visual element is the fact that the focus has always been to build in a way that facilitates and strengthens social relationships.