The Poplar Pavilion

The Poplar Pavilion

Wood clad phone boxes, upside down sheds suspended in mid air, plants and trees disrupting the urban landscape under a bright June sun…what are these mysterious structures appearing in Chrisp Street Market?

We headed down to East India Square, outside the Poplar Idea Store, to explore the area’s newest attraction, Poplar Pavilion. There we met artist Alex Julyan to find out more about the project that’s slowly taking shape – and will continue to evolve over the summer months.

What is the Poplar Pavilion?

The Poplar Pavilion is an experiment, a venue and a conversation piece. At its heart are questions about the ways in which we can all engage with and influence the built environment, to promote a greater sense of wellbeing.

Sitting in the shadow of Canary Wharf this area is undergoing a period of intense change, raising questions about the future of social housing, public spaces and infrastructure. The large-scale architectural transformation that is taking place brings opportunities and challenges in its wake.

Throughout our design / build process we are inviting local groups and individuals to contribute their ideas, run activities and inhabit the pavilion. At the end of the project these ideas, as well as the materials and component parts will be re-distributed into the community.


Where did the idea come from?

This is the culmination of my 2 year Public Engagement Fellowship with the Wellcome Trust. I’ve been investigating ways in which the built environment intersects with health, talking to architects, planners, teachers and makers. I’ve also been visiting buildings and projects which directly address different aspects of our health, from hospitals to housing. It seems to me that the best way to investigate this subject is to create a physical conversation piece, in other words a place where anybody can offer ideas and opinions and influence what is made.

As an artist I’ve been making sculptures from found and utilitarian materials for many years. I use these materials to create forms that are surprising, playful and disruptive, this structure is an extension of that work, one which can be inhabited.

Can you tell us about yourself and the people working with you? 

Bethnal Green based architect Kate Minns is working with me throughout the project, and for the last 3 weeks Alex Henderson an architect from Rural Studio, Alabama, which is a highly unusual University programme in the USA.

Sam Roberts and his colleagues from Cloud 6 scaffolding have donated their time and expertise to get the structure in place and John Bennett made our planters.

Trees for Cities advised us on the three River Birch trees and planted them with the help of the folks at Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park.

Numerous individuals from the community have been helping us in all kinds of ways, from advice, sourcing materials, volunteering, problem solving.

The whole point of the project is that people are inspired to get involved, to influence what we do and to extend these ideas into their own environments.

Finally I should flag up the ACCENTS team at Poplar HARCA  who have given permission for me to use the site and fielding  all my bizarre requests and the Wellcome Trust who are funding me.


3 weeks in, can you summarise what has happened and how/why the pavilion has developed the way it has? 

There is no master plan as there would normally be in an architectural project, this is because the structure will be determined to an extent by conversations and activities that happen in and around the structure. This way of working is a challenge for architects who usually work with a defined brief and make a plan, which they execute.

Kate is taking a great leap of faith in working with me in this way, we are evolving the project step-by-step and week-by-week, sometimes the materials we can find dictate what happens next. We decided early on that the trees should be the focal point and it seemed a natural next step to build the platforms to create a sense of place, which people walk through. The sheds are a great way to start a building, they are familiar and friendly as well as being fast to erect, however expect to see them change over time.


What has been the local response so far?

It’s been overwhelmingly positive, so many people are ready to talk, discuss and inhabit the space as well as their broader architectural environment and thoughts on wellbeing. It seems that the pavilion speaks for itself and the moment the trees were planted the space was used. Many people are anxious about the changes in their area and in their city in general, many have expressed a sense of being excluded from meaningful conversations about their environment.


How can people get involved?

The best way is to come and see us at the pavilion and talk to us!


How do you see it evolving? Where will you go with it next?

I sense that it is going to become more anarchic, but that will depend on the materials and people that cross our path.




The pavilion project is devised and led by artist and Wellcome Trust Engagement Fellow Alex Julyan. It is supported by Poplar HARCA and architects Kate Minns and Alex Henderson. It will run until October 2017.

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