A master class in community architecture
An internationally recognised model for social regeneration, creating a unique place in the heart of Dalston.
We started working on Gillett Square in the 1990s when it was a disused car park, surrounded by derelict buildings, and inhabited by drunks and drug dealers. How were we going to transform it into a public space where people of all ages could come together?
We worked in close partnership with Groundwork East London and Hackney Cooperative Developments (HCD) to prepare a masterplan of a sustainable, community-led space to represent local cultures and ethnic groups.
We helped to raise funds to convert a derelict Victorian terrace in Bradbury Street into workshops, studios and shops, and designed and built a circular building at the entrance of the square to house HCD’s headquarters.
By introducing market pods, we established local trading, and further funding enabled us to convert two derelict terraced buildings into the Dalston Culture Club, which attracted the Vortex Jazz Club, introducing a popular destination and 24/7 activity into the area.
To support and connect these new buildings, we converted the derelict car park into a new town square; knitting together the surrounding buildings and providing communal outdoor space for performances and teaching.
On a Saturday, if we’re around we’ll always come to the square to see what’s happening, as there’s usually something interesting and quirky going on. Also, it’s always free, which is really important for us and other people.
Today Gillett Square is a vibrant ecosystem with a truly diverse range of visitors and tenants. It provides low-rent workspaces, cultural venues, a vivid night economy, affordable retail units and a generous public realm that hosts a variety of free events throughout the year. The square accommodates a broad demographic: local drinkers, young skateboarders as well as Dalston hipsters.
It’s no longer seen as a dangerous place. People stop here and have lunch; mothers and children come through on the way back from school; and we also have skateboarders, radio-controlled cars, mini-handball and dance rehearsals here. We can do all these events because the square has been designed to be flexible.