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AGORA: a community leisure centre for Tower Hamlets

Part 1 Project 2004
Nicholas Lister
William Mondejar
University of Westminster | UK
Agora is a project for a community-leisure centre, originating on a site between the two concrete slab blocks of a housing estate in Tower Hamlets. The aim of the project and the purpose of the design is to draw the members of the local community together in modes of action and communication to discuss, decide and enact their collective future. This activity addresses both the future of the local community and the future of the centre itself.

Tower Hamlets is one of the most deprived areas of the country; the industrial shift that occurred in the Docklands area was managed by central government in such a way as to starve the resident community of industry. This community now has little opportunity to work itself out of the state of socio-economic and physical degradation that it can be found in. Through careful analysis of socio-economic factors and understanding of the systems of community belonging, possession and involvement, Agora has been designed.

The Agora is to appear in three forms. Firstly a network of underground spaces, created by the linking of reinforced brick shells; these spaces house materially specific leisure activities, such as bowling, swimming, ice skating and dining. Their shell shapes offer structural support as well as support for the gathering of groups of various sizes.

Secondly a 40m by 80m glass and steel box, which floats above the underground spaces and shelters unknown activities and events. The roof and floor are detailed in such a way as to allow these to change at utmost speed, such that a farmer’s market might occupy the space in the morning, and a volleyball tournament in the afternoon.

Thirdly a large, red, helium inflated dome acts as a shelter and an auditorium for formal discussion and decision making. When this is not in use it is raised up above the Tower Hamlets cityscape revealing a clear field of air underneath and acting as an advertisement for the centre and a beacon of the life for the user

Nicholas Lister
William Mondejar

Nick Lister’s Agora project has a clearly designed social agenda; it does not however rely on cliché or do-goodery for its strength. Nick has designed an extensive kit of ‘beneficial’ (architectural) components, which range from a paper cup incorporating a planning notice, a re-configurable underground workshop a gilded bowling pin and inflatable auditorium. This unreverential response to Alison and Peter Smithson’s Robin Hood housing project in Tower Hamlets is refreshing, complex, evolvable and experimental. Nick Lister is a serious minded student who has defined his own approach to architecture during three years of study. Congratulations.


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