“Social infrastructure is crucially important, because local, face-to-face interactions are the building blocks of all public life. People forge bonds in places that have healthy social infrastructures—not because they set out to build community, but because when people engage in sustained, recurrent interaction, particularly while doing things they enjoy, relationships inevitably grow.”
— Eric Klinenberg
The Hithe is a new piece of social infrastructure for Rotherhithe. A community hub, in a neighbourhood undergoing rapid change.
The relatively small site is located on Albion Street, within the wider Rotherhithe masterplan area, and was identified by Southwark Council for meanwhile use of up to 11 years while they developed plans for its long term future.
Working within the constraints of a tight budget, the structure has been designed to be fully demountable and re-locatable, ensuring long-term use. It is constructed of an efficient lightweight steel and timber frame and sits the site’s existing foundations, largely eliminating the need for any new concrete in the project.
The 200m2 building contains ten micro studios for local start-ups, arranged around a ground floor central gathering space with links to the kitchen and yard to the north of the site, with two larger workspaces on the first floor. All units are accessed externally, reducing the requirement for built circulation space.
The building acts as a hinge point between the existing community and the new developments around it, aiming to connect new and existing residents as the area undergoes significant change. Double-height glazed lanterns on the north and south elevations create a landmark within the streetscape, with the aim of increasing footfall to other businesses along Albion Street.
Working in partnership with Meanwhile Space CIC, extensive community engagement and consultation took place throughout the briefing and design process, both to understand the community’s concerns and needs, and to help build capacity for the future. The design complements the vision that local people have for the identity of the area, without losing sight of the Rotherhithe’s dockland history.
The building was conceived as a piece of social infrastructure for the local community. One that both supports local businesses, by providing them with the type of space that they need, and enables local people to forge meaningful long-term connections, by providing a place for them to come together to work, socialise and play.
"At Meanwhile Space, we see our role as an organisation that pushes the boundaries of temporary use practice, to experiment with finding solutions to difficult projects, and paving the way for others to follow. Albion Street is a hugely exciting project from this perspective; not only are the site conditions constrained and complicated, but we have designed this project to combine the extremely challenging trio of design objectives—it must be of a high design quality, it must be demountable, and it must be built for a low build cost. We hope this project will bring a high-quality, temporary use for the people of Rotherhithe to test and grow their ideas over the next decade, but also that it will pioneer an alternative new build solution to temporary use projects that is replicable elsewhere."
— Emily Berwyn, Meanwhile Space CIC
"The council is committed to ensuring growth and development work for all. Creating affordable space for small and start up businesses is a key element of our overall vision for the future of Southwark, so we welcome this great project that will provide new, affordable units for businesses working with the local community."
— Councillor Johnson Situ, Cabinet Member for Growth, Development & Planning, Southwark Council
London Borough of Southwark
Meanwhile Space CIC