Social sustainability prize for Knowle West outdoor community hub

‘Intersectional piece of architecture which goes beyond a building’

An outdoor community hub which involved Knowle West residents in its design and build has been awarded a social sustainability prize.

Block West – which stands at the front of local arts charity Knowle West Media Centre (KWMC) – was constructed last year as a temporary hub, costing £75,000 and made out of 145 plywood blocks.

Image Ibolya Feher

It received the accolade from the Architects’ Journal (AJ) Small Projects which described it as “an intersectional piece of architecture which goes beyond a building.”

The structure was created in just ten days by Automated Architecture Ltd (AUAR) working with KWMC, social scientist Dr Claire McAndrew and local people. It was launched to the public on 11 September last year.

Knowle West residents learned their design and construction skills through online training during lockdown.

Construction taking place last summer. Image Ibolya Feher

The judges were impressed by the collaboration and the way the scheme “engaged its community with its digital process.”

The blocks were made at digital manufacturing site KWMC: The Factory, based at Filwood Green Business Park.

The structure has since been used for outdoor meetings and small community events, with restricted numbers during the pandemic.

It was originally due to be dismantled after a month and re-assembled into benches, planters and a stage – to be distributed across the Knowle West community – but is currently still in use.

Learning from the development of Block West has already been applied to KWMC’s We Can Make housing initiative, which is using Modern Methods of Construction (MMC) to design homes for micro-sites in the area.

Last year We Can Make submitted plans for the first two homes – designed by architects and local families working together.

‘Knowle West residents showed their heart and imagination in coming together to design and build the Block West Pavilion’

Director of We Can Make, Melissa Mean, said: “We’re delighted that Block West has been recognised by the Architects’ Journal.

“During a really tough year, Knowle West residents showed their heart and imagination in coming together to design and build the Block West Pavilion, creating a new shared space for the community.  

Resident Lucy Harris was one of the local people who helped design and build Block West. Image Ibolya Feher.

“Since its completion in September 2020, Block West has hosted outdoor events, community workshops and artist performances, giving people a much needed outdooor safe space to meet with others face-to-face…”

She said that the project showed what is possible when you “open up the design and development process to people and communities.”

She added: “We now want to use this approach to take on bigger projects – for example for new housing – so Knowle West and other communities can lead the change they want to see in their neighbourhoods.”