Poplar’s pop-up pavilion a place of sanctuary against city life

PUBLISHED: 11:26 14 September 2017

The Poplar Pavillion has been set up at Chrisp Street Market by artist and Wellcome Trust Fellow Alex Julyan

The Poplar Pavillion has been set up at Chrisp Street Market by artist and Wellcome Trust Fellow Alex Julyan


Dwarfed by skyscrapers in the City of London, a small wooden hut is celebrating Poplar’s past.

Poplar Pavilion in Chrisp Street Market explores how buildings and community spaces affect people’s wellbeing.

The installation will be repeatedly taken down and rebuilt over its five-month lifespan, reflecting the area’s journey from a rural hamlet to the post-war, socialist vision of the Lansbury Estate.

“It’s a harsh city environment in some respects, being on the East India Dock Road and being surrounded by concrete,” said curator Alex Julyan, who is running the project in partnership with housing association Poplar HARCA, “but it’s equally very much a neighbourhood and a social space.”

She added: “I was interested to look at how I could do something that disrupted all of that concrete and pollution; something that was on a different scale, with different kinds of materials and that provoked conversation about how people feel in the city.”

The Pavilion, made mostly from converted garden sheds, includes three low stages each with a tree. Plants, chairs, tables with chessboards and a piano fill the space, with an upside-down shed atop a nest of scaffolding and wooden planks.

“There was never a masterplan as such,” the 55-year-old said. “We just started with the shed and, by talking to people and also just watching the way people behave in the space, we’ve created the overall design.”

Since construction began in April, the site has hosted impromptu renditions of Schubert, countless chess games and an exhibition of photos from the Tower Hamlets Local History Library & Archives.

“Initially, I think people struggled to figure out what we were doing, but I think now actually people just use it [the Pavilion] and inhabit it,” Julyan said.

The artist, a public engagement fellow at the Wellcome Trust, the world’s second-largest private funder of scientific research, said her team would stop building on September 16, the start of the Open House London architecture festival.

“Then, almost straight after that we will start deconstructing,” she said. “My aim is to donate as many of the materials as possible to community groups.”

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