You might not be familiar with Becontree Estate in east London, but when it was completed nearly 100 years ago, it was the largest council estate in the world. Now, in celebration of is centenary, the Royal Institute of British Architects have teamed up with Create London and London Borough of Barking and Dagenham (LBBD) to revamp and redesign 12 neglected and underused corner lots located within the estate. Together, they have announced that Squaring the Corners, a proposal by Nimtim Architects ard artist Katie Schwab, has been selected to revive Becontree’s corner plots.
The first homes in Becontree were built in 1921 and it would take another 14 years for the estate to be completed. Part of the Garden City movement, Becontree was nestled in farmland that was sectioned up and made into plots for individual homes. Life in Becontree offered parks, front and back gardens, and undefined green spaces. In the end, it was home to 120,000 people
Today, Becontree is a richly diverse area, but 12 of its undefined green spaces need of reconsideration. So, as part of LBBD’s long-term strategy for land in the estate, six emerging and mid-career architectural practices were invited to offer their designs for the corner plot commission. The firms asked to participate were selected in part for their own diversity, having Black, Asian, or minority ethnicities represented within their senior management.
Ultimately, Nimtim Architects’ Squaring the Corners prevailed.
Through Squaring the Corners, corner plots are redefined as civic squares. Each civic square consists of a junction of four corner plots that will be classified into four categories: meet, rest, grow, and play. Some civic squares will embody more than one category. Nimtim Architects along with Schwab have designed a new series of routes that will connect the civic squares to pre-existing Becontree amenities “adding a finer layer to enrich the existing masterplan.”
“Each square suggests new activities and performs new functions by inviting residents to take ownership of them,” reads the announcement of Squaring the Corners. “Their designs borrow generously from geometries, colours, and materials within the estate – both in their original and current customised manifestations. With a strong focus on biodiversity, the ambition is to encourage the re-establishment of the original ecosystem of the heath, thus creating a part wild, part intimate public space: much smaller in scale than the large municipal parks, and much more social than the adjacent front gardens.”
Schwab has worked on crafted interiors and textiles at Becontree and will assist in the sourcing of local materials. She will also help integrate Nimtim Architects’ design into Becontree.
Squaring the Corners will get underway in the spring as part of a year-long programme of events, learning, exhibitions, and commissions, both artistic and architectural, to celebrate the milestone for Becontree.