- Client : London Borough of Hackney
- City : London
- Country : United Kingdom
Text description provided by the architects. Stanton Williams was commissioned in 2008 to provide a new ‘Community Hub’ at the South Marsh. New changing rooms, plus facilities for spectators and the local community, will be housed in a welcoming, inclusive structure that recognises the special qualities of this place by bridging the boundary between the natural and artificial. It will connect not only with its immediate surroundings and the local community, but also the adjacent Olympic Park and the rest of the Lea Valley.The Marshes as they exist today are the product of a series of interventions in the natural environment, and in this respect they recall Cicero’s ‘second nature’ – a landscape shaped by human hands. The Marshes have long been known as the home of grassroots amateur football: the site holds the record for the greatest number of pitches in one place, with over 900 matches played per year.
The Hub has been developed after discussion with local stakeholders and consideration of the needs of users. It is firmly embedded within its landscape setting: it is not an ‘object’ at odds with the surrounding environment. It is located on the south-eastern boundary of the pitches, defining a threshold between the South Marsh and the car park beyond by plugging the gap between an avenue of trees to the south and a coppice to the north. Materials have been chosen for their ability to weather into the surrounding landscape and also for their durability, as there is a particular need to secure the building given the lack of natural surveillance that results from its isolated location. The ground floor envelope is treated as a landscaped wall. Gabion blocks, more usually associated with landscaping or civil engineering projects, are deployed in a fashion that recalls agricultural dry stone walls. They will weather well, are resistant to vandalism, and form a good structure for climbing plants.
The result will be a living, ‘green wall’, through which light will filter into the changing rooms beyond. Elsewhere, weathered steel is used. This is an industrial material that recalls the manufacturing traditions of the Lea Valley and which, in its contrast with the more ‘natural’ landscaped wall of the lower level, recalls the combination of nature and artifice that gives the site its particular character. But it, too, has a natural quality. As a material which changes over time, weathered steel has a lively appearance and a rich textural finish. It will be deployed not only to clad the upper level of the structure, but also to form secure gates, louvres and shutters. Punched openings will allow light to enter by day and will also create controlled night-time views into the building, which will glow welcomingly as light emerges through the shutters and the gabion walls.
The way in which the Hub seeks to reconcile the natural and the artificial through its massing, materials and location embodies a broader aim to synthesise sporting activity and the natural environment. Sports venues often demonstrate something of the tabula rasa in their approach, replacing natural materials with tarmac or artificial hard surfaces, and permeable boundaries with fences. As a result, playing becomes a solely physical experience. Instead, the Hub emphasises the ritualistic nature of sport. Within it, individuals are fused into teams, emerging onto the pitch to demonstrate their collective and individual skills, and to gain sensory and even spiritual stimulation from this rich location.