PUBLIC WORKS & ISAAC MARRERO-GUILLAMON
Hackney Wick and Fish Island (HWFI) is located in east London,
directly adjacent to the Olympic Park and separated from the
surrounding neighbourhoods by a network of motorways and canals. It
is, quite literally, an island. And it is so in a figurative sense
as well; it was one the last industrial areas in the East End and
until the late 2000s a semi-secret, unregulated and cheap
Artists and creatives started coming to the area in the late
1980s. They transformed many of the empty warehouses into
self-built, collectively-run studios, and with them came a wide
array of more or less unsanctioned uses, from live/work to informal
markets, gra!iti or notorious raves.
The early 2000s showed the fragility of this ecology. During the
economic boom, East London became a prime investment "opportunity"
and the kind of generic new builds that have become synonymous with
London made an appearance. Some industrial buildings were
demolished, others converted into expensive lofts. Prices went up;
new cafés opened.
And then, in 2005, the bid to host the Olympic Games was won. A
huge plot of land that had until then existed in close
psycho-geographical continuity with HWFI was compulsory purchased,
emptied, fenced up, remediated, cleansed. The blue fence erected
around the 16 km perimeter of the future Olympic site - later
replaced by an 3,000 volt electric version - made clear that the
mega-event was to be protected from its undisciplined neighbours.
The physical extirpation of the Olympic park from its surroundings
was later complemented by an exceptional set of measures destined
to further isolate it, from the military policing of the fence and
dispersal zone orders to image-making restrictions and tax
However, the concentration of most interest and resources around
the Olympic project, together with an economy in ta"ers following
the 2008 crisis, produced a respite for HWFI. This is the context
in which R-Urban Wick has developed: an area under temporary
relief, enjoying a "delay", existing in an interim condition.
Now that the Games are long gone and the respite almost
certainly over, the question is whether the Olympic site will
expand into HWFI or the other way around; whether exceptionality
and order will take over, or rather the informal, collective, DIY
city-making practices that have shaped the area will prevail.
HWFI has not been a site of protest in any traditional sense.
Unrest has been subdued, if at all. And yet, we argue that the
bo"om-up city-making practices that have shaped the area o!er an
important experience of vernacular progressive architecture. These
actions occupied an interstice, a terrain of urban vagueness which
o!ered the possibility of experimenting with and prototyping a city
made from below. R-Urban has been inspired by these practices, and
hopes to contribute to their continuing capacity to a!ect the area.
Within RUrban, architecture is a tool amongst others for creating
networks of commoning practices, i.e. an infrastructure for
producing and capturing the commons, a time and a space for sharing
communities and o!-market exchanges.
We have proposed exerting two displacements in approaching the
relationship between planning and protest:
- From urban planning to minor urbanism: actions that operate
tactically, in the interstices of planning. -
- From the politics of protest to the micro-politics of the
commons: practices that stand for creating commons through
reciprocity and solidarity.
Somewhat surprisingly, Olympic-related development did not trigger
an immediate surge in construction in Hackney Wick and Fish Island.
Combined with the economic crisis which hit the city soon
afterwards, a very unlikely respite took place instead. This
produced a vital parenthesis for the area. In spite of the
increasing pressure that private landowners were putting on
tenants, the Wick's informal condition continued to prosper under
the shadow of the Olympic spotlight.
From urban planning to minor urbanism. The actions and projects
here gathered do not operate at the level of planning. Rather, they
are embedded in tactical networks of bottom-up practices which
operate in the interstices of planning. They are temporal and
mobile; they roam and adapt. They are also relational: they involve
more than plans and propositions; they summon objects, events,
publics and knowledges in the pursuit of an alternative,
From the politics of protest to the micro-politics of the commons.
R-Urban does not attempt to foster protest in the sense of
"standing against" something; it rather aspires to contribute to
ways of "standing for things together". It is about creating
spatial commons which feed into, and are fed by, other social,
cultural and environmental commons. Re-appropriations,
self-management, knowledge exchanges, sharing and caring are some
of the methods deployed.
R-Urban exists within a glocal network of bottom-up city-making
initiatives. It draws from its parent project in the City of
Colombes, near Paris, led by aaa (1). It is closely linked to
Richard Brown's Affordable Wick campaign (2). It shares key values
with Assemble's Yardhouse project in Stratford (3). It could be
seen as part of a local movement for collective self-management,
which also informs the people's plan for Carperters Estate, also in
Stratford (4), or neighbours-led planning in nearby Clapton
The practices included here show us how so-called scarcity can
be a source of abundance. In times of imposed austerity and
generalised precarity, it is not banal in the slightest to consider
the politics of these actions. The respect and understanding of the
environment, the rejection of corporate strategies, the production
of unsanctioned knowledge, practical wisdom and ingenious tactics,
the will to share and learn from each other, they all speak about
activating relations of solidarity and reciprocity. R-Urban Wick
shows how an expanded understanding of architecture can contribute
to creating what aaa call "networks of commoning practices, i.e. an
infrastructure for producing and capturing the commons, a time and
a space for sharing communities and off-market exchanges."
What follows is a glimpse of the constellation of subjects,
objects, knowledges and practices which are effectively re-making
Hackney Wick and Fish Island from below, collaboratively, openly.
The four legs of R-Urban Wick and the methodologies they use are an
extension of the local dynamics the project has identified and aims
to support. They represent four ways of doing, four distinct ways
of intervening in the city fabric and developing an economy of the
The Wick on Wheels (WOW) is a roaming production and recycling
unit. It is an open resource which engages with local communities
in order to reuse, recycle, repair and re-make. It facilitates
direct, collective on site production using existing local
materials, resources and skills. WOW has been used to organise
experiments with Comfrey plants, in 'suplus food harvesting', and
in workshops which are part of the process of building an anaerobic
The Wick Sessions are a series of talks, walks and workshops
dedicated to Hackney Wick and its surrounding area. They are
designed to provide a public forum for debating and creating a
shared body of knowledge around issues of bottom-up and sustainable
developments. The politics of self-building; the legal side of
communityled development; or strategies for interim use are some of
the topics that have been addressed. Sessions take place in varying
locations, hosted by supporting organisations, and frequently
co-organised with collaborators.
Experiments in Household Knowledge are a series of
collaborations with East London ecological and environmental
innovators. They gather and showcase unusual and inventive ways of
making and experimenting, from gardening techniques to alternative
forms of energy production. These are often unique and self-taught
skills that operate outside of sanctioned knowledge. They include
making cladding material out of burnt timber, building a
self-regulated plant growing system using discarded bathtubs, or
extracting human-friendly juice of market waste.
The Wick Curiosity Shop is an alternative archive which exists
on-line and as a series of pop-up events. The Shop documents the
area's unofficial and "minor" history through an eclectic
collection of memories, local produce, memorabilia, oral history,
songs and stories. It doesn't provide an overarching narrative, but
a tapestry of mostly disregarded facts and experiences one can
navigate in various ways creating as many narratives. The Shop
highlights the area's industrial and working-class history, and
provides the elements to connect it with present-day
To download this contribution as a pdf click here.
Posted November 20, 2013 10:07 by Dorian
All publications are now in one place easy to view and download
as pdf files here at Issuu.
Posted November 17, 2013 16:46 by Dorian
LEAP micro AD is a cross sector partnership developing micro
anaerobic digestion, a renewable technology that turns all organic
waste (except wood) into a clean fuel and fertiliser. The biogas
produced can be used for heating, cooking and lighting or be
cleaned and compressed for use as a vehicle fuel. The fertiliser is
a valuable product with excellent levels of nitrogen, good for food
growing and turf strengthening.
Just as a pearl forms from a tiny grain of irritation, so the
LEAP project evolved in response to a dissatisfaction. In 2011
Community by Design, the organisation who went on to found LEAP,
realised their latest 3-year project was not sustainable. It relied
on regular injections of funding to deliver its free health and
wellbeing services to the community.
Previous projects followed similar lines, with the excitement of
an initial concept leading to fundraising and subsequent
realisation of the idea. However, missing in their design was an
inbuilt ability to become economically sustainable, thus limiting
benefits and autonomy.
Another concern arose; providing something for free can
sometimes encourage reliance; how could we create something that
generates concrete opportunities for people so they can sustain
themselves? And while we’re at it, how can those benefits be
mirrored in the environment, particularly those largely
unsustainable arrangements we call cities?
These questions led to research into establishing a social
enterprise to generate biodiesel from waste oil. Several months in,
anaerobic digestion (AD) emerged as more promising technology
around which multiple social, environmental and economic benefits
could be woven.
Sending out roots
Networking played a large part in forming the LEAP partnership.
Later in 2011, a 3-year pilot project exploring micro AD was
reaching its culmination after having commissioned several reports
and demonstrated the technology with a 0.6m3 digester in
Led by Cath Kibbler from the Community Composting Network (CCN),
it had gathered substantial interest across the country, forming a
Micro AD (mAD) steering group with members spanning
engineering/manufacturing, public, academic and community
This blend of private, public and community interests informs
LEAP, which comprises Community by Design, the Community Composting
Network, several members of the mAD steering group including James
Murcott and Angie Bywater from Methanogen, Guy Blanch (Alvan Blanch
research engineer) and David Neylan PhD, plus a few new additions -
Mark Walker and Davide Poggio from Leeds University and Aleka
The partnership’s first funding application with Camden Council
was successful, giving us a solid 2-year foundation upon which to
build. Camden is known for its progressive approach to
sustainability, which led to their installation in 2008 of the
first biomethane refueling station in Europe, despite other
countries having larger AD industries e.g. Germany’s 7000-8000
plants compared with the UK’s 100 plants. Biomethane burns cleaner
and more quietly than petrol or diesel, significantly lowering
PM10s ((particulates) and NOx (nitrogen oxides), the most harmful
emissions for health.
Kicking off in April 2012, the project designing its first
system building on CCN’s experience. While AD plants in the West
are generally medium-high tech large-scale industrial affairs,
developing countries actually have more m3 of digester
capacity, with millions of low-tech micro plants in China, India,
Our challenge involved making micro AD cost effective in a
colder climate where heating and mixing are required, and
expectations of user friendliness, aesthetic design and regulatory
compliance are generally higher.
Our initial system design addressed changing gas use across the
seasons to include electricity and heat generation in winter and
cooking and water heating during summer. It also featured feeding
flexibility with a mill and pre-feed tank that could receive
feedstock (organic waste) and pump it ready macerated and mixed
into the digester at regular daily intervals.
Regularity is important, as the digester is essentially like a
stomach where microorganisms break down organic matter in the
absence of oxygen, releasing methane, carbon dioxide and traces of
hydrogen sulphide and moisture in the process.
This methane is largely identical to the mains gas we use to
cook with and heat our homes. It is also given off from landfill
sites when food waste is dumped there. Currently, around 50% of UK
landfill sites capture and clean up this gas for fuel use however,
the rest don’t, allowing it to escape into the atmosphere.
Methane is a greenhouse gas 20-30 times more potent than CO2.
Reducing methane emissions is a an effective way to combat climate
change. Scotland has taken the bold move of banning food waste to
landfill from 2014, while Wales has committed to zero waste by
2050. England remains on the fence and currently relies on raising
landfill tax to dissuade people from dumping waste there.
We applied for full planning permission for our pilot
2m3 AD system after having found a home at Camley Street
Natural Park – a London Wildlife Trust environmental education
centre set in a beautiful 2-acre nature reserve by the canal near
While waiting for consent to build, we were commissioned to
produce a report for the Technology Strategy Board’s Future Cities
Competition, where cities were encouraged to dream up ways of
integrating systems within a dense urban area to demonstrate
sustainability, efficiency and better quality of life.
Our proposal naturally focused on micro AD and how networks of
small-scale digesters ranging between 1-500m3 could help
reduce waste transport and emissions, save waste management costs,
generate local energy and employment and produce fertiliser to
support local food growing and greening projects. The report
quantified these outcomes and explored the business case for their
sustainable development post funding.
Meanwhile, with planning permission granted, we began building
the infrastructure for our pilot plant at Camley Street, a process
that would take us through the cold winter of 2012. It was
freezing! A welcome interruption in the spring of 2013 came with
another feasibility study, this time for WRAP – Waste &
Resources Action Programme – a government funded body focused on
waste prevention and recycling.
While the Future Cities report had a theoretical budget of £24
million to play with (which eventually went to Glasgow), WRAP’s
DIAD II fund was more modest and realistic, focusing specifically
on driving innovation in the AD sector. We scaled down our initial
AD network concept to three sites within a 1-mile radius. A
potential fourth self-funded site was 6 miles away.
WRAP liked the proposal. They felt it was both innovative and
achievable and granted us funding to demonstrate the network.
For a group of engineers, academics and community bods, this was
hugely exciting! A chance to show how decentralized, closed-loop,
integrated thinking can create sustainability and benefits on
multiple levels. Aside from environmental and economic gains, the
project has great potential to develop educational and community
engagement opportunities as the technology is easier to grasp at a
more human scale. People get to see the benefits close up and can
be inspired by it.
Street Natural Park would be upgraded to include a micro CHP
(combined and power) unit. Its about the size of a boiler and
generates electricity and heat from the biogas, which will be
scrubbed (cleaned) to remove most of the hydrogen sulphide,
moisture and CO2, leaving largely methane. The design is
simple and if it works as well as we hope, will be a massive cost
reduction on the nearest scrubbing unit we can find. The site will
also host algae cultivation and low cost hydroponics to utilise
fertiliser and CO2 from the AD process. We plan to grow Spirulina
and Chlorella, two stains of algae with regenerative properties
used in cosmetics and soap making, and as a food supplement.
Site 2The Calthorpe Project on
Grays Inn Road is a well-established community garden and centre.
The biogas there will be used raw to heat polytunnels and a
greenhouse - a fantastic use as the CO2 and sulphur
released during burning helps plant growth, so nothing is wasted.
The fertilizer will of course be extensively used on-site. The
Calthorpe’s 1m3 modular digester will be a low-cost, manually
operated system that will become affordable to community
Wholefoods was established in 1975 with a factory and
successful wholefood shop, both close to Kings Cross. Their
commitment to becoming the most sustainable business ever, led them
to manufacture high quality organic wholefoods. They have also
created a 300m2 forest garden, vineyard and orchard on
their factory grounds - ample space to utilise the fertiliser from
a 6m3 digester. The biogas there will be scrubbed and compressed to
biomethane for use in their local food delivery van.
Site 4Loop Management Services based
in Waltham Forest collect a wide range of recyclable waste
including half a tonne of food waste daily. They are keen to keep
on improving their sustainability both economically and
environmentally. We proposed a 20m3 system with the ability to
convert biogas to biomethane for their collection vehicles. We’re
still waiting to see if this might materialise but it is worth
mentioning as the economics of this size work out nicely with a 5-6
year payback period.
This may still seem a lot in today’s world but is worth it for a
technology that saves waste miles and makes use of what might
otherwise be a wasted resource, not to mention the benefits of
recycling nutrients and closing the urban waste-energy-food loop.
As the technology is more widely taken up, these costs will reduce.
This is what we are working towards.
We launched the pilot system at Camley Street Natural Park on
October 4th this year. Commissioning is still in
progress, which means some feedstock has been introduced into the
digester from established digesters as a starter culture complete
with microorganisms. The heating has just been turned on as the
organisms like to be around 38-42oC. Energy wise, this
along with power used for mixing and monitoring is considered a
parasitic load and must be carefully managed to ensure systems
produce a positive net energy total.
We use a cargo bike for collections and have so far collected
200kgs food waste from local businesses including Kier, a large
construction company championing our cause and supporting us with
timber, St Athans Hotel, whose manager Stefan Geyer is Chair of the
Permaculture Association, and London Contemporary Dance School,
whose CEO, Kenneth Tharp OBE personally made sure they were
involved with the project at the early stage.
The more businesses we talk to the more we are realising the
scale of available food waste and how many people there are wanting
to do something useful with it. One 2009 statistic described the
volume in Central London as 200 tonnes produced in a 2-mile radius
We are currently in early discussions with R-Urban a Hackney Wick-based
initiative and Cob in
the Community, both with exciting visions involving urban micro
digesters in closed loop demonstrations.
Cob in the Community’s proposal is evolving around a 20m3
digester insulated with cob and straw that would become a
beautiful, educational sculptural feature. Site expansion would
include a café and resulting food waste complete with Loowatt
waterless toilets providing AD ready feedstock.
R-Urban Wick aims to set up a citizen-led Re-Use Centre in
Hackney Wick & Fish Island (HWFI), a public facility supporting
and making public the culture of re-use, invention and
resourcefulness that is embedded in the area. Their proposed centre
would include a 20m3 digester, workshops, tool library, kitchen,
shop, archive, research space / artist residency space.
For both proposals, community engagement opportunities would be
maximised throughout the building and operational phases and the AD
systems could be modular, able to expand if more food waste became
LEAP’s previous research contributes a number of additions;
pre-processing biomethane collection vehicles operating locally
with parallel zero carbon cargo bikes collections to canalside drop
points; biomethane barges to transport this waste plus residential
barge food waste and sewage pump outs collected en route to the
digester; barges could also distribute fertiliser to users along
By utilising AD byproducts methane generated heat and
electricity, CO2, sulphur and fertiliser, a range of micro
enterprises could complete the closed loop demonstration;
polytunnels with raised beds for food growing,
micro algae cultivation to produce ingredients for soap and
aquaponics (micro fish farming) and
a micro brewery (thermal synergy with AD).
Waste products from these activities would be fed back to the
These projects would benefit temporary sites or brownfield sites
by the canal, which could be regenerated using digestate and
provide a training ground for young unemployed people learning to
grow food. Any potential site owners out there…?
Part of the groundswell
The future is a creative act we all participate in on a
day-to-day basis. We tap into rich seams of energy and inspiration
when we focus on the best we can be, the best we have to offer at
any given time. In this collective endeavor, every contribution
counts, be it local or global, corporate or community individual or
state. We hope these micro ADventures can contribute to the
emerging vision of sustainability and joined up thinking that may
just carry us through the 21st century.
Our publication - BEYOND RECEIVED WISDOM - is
slowly dissaminating through different networks. We were especially
pleased when Tom
Fletcher used it last week to spread his work on food
waste in Burssels at an European Union meeting on Reuse.
The 400 copies are flying off the shelf and if you want a hard
copy you need to get in touch quickly.
Get in touch if you
want a copy - or if you like you can
download the pdf here
Or visit our Issuu account to see all
R-Urban Wick publications in one place.
Posted November 9, 2013 14:09 by Dorian
We are delighted about the launch of our new publication
Beyond Received Wisdom: An Anthology of Experiments in
With contributions by:
We need your extra bits The stuff you have too much off The stuff you don't mind sharing, or lending. Your surplus!
R-Urban Wick is assembling a pop up Surplus Shop as part of Open
East - the opening festival for the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park
which takes place on the 27th and 28th of July 2013.
In the two weeks leading up to the event we are collecting the
stuff Hackney Wick and Fish Island has in abundance.
Most of it will be documented in form of a poster.
Some of it will be on display.
Some of it can be sold or bartered.
We are collecting everything you might have too much off:
Materials, time, advice, compliments, boxes full of things, stacks
of stuff, generosities of all kinds, things you don't mind lending,
your can of old coins, performances ...etc...
Whatever is in abundance and you are happy to share.
The surplus will be documented in form of posters which will
form the backdrop of the shop. The shop will display some carefully
selected contributions at the back of our milk float
(www.wickonwheels.net). It is part display, part brokering agency,
only a selected number of items are for sale - most of them on a
'pay what you think its worth' basis.
Last week I had the pleasure of meeting up with Louis and Maxim
from Gaia Gallery, who share my passion for the waterways and run a
mobile exhibition space floating freely on London's canals...
The Gaia Gallery project seeks to refit a 43 foot steel barge in
such a way that it exists totally off-grid, requiring no mains
electrical, water or fuel input and no sewageoutput and will run
solely off firewood and solar power generation. Gaia want to use
low-impact building technologies to refit their barge, combining
predominantly natural or recycled materials with traditional
building techniques (cob construction, carpentry) and cutting-edge
tech (solar-panels, rocket-stove mass heating and rainwater
Gaia aim not only to be the first off-grid exhibition boat in
the U.K., but also bringing natural material building and
permaculture to the attention of many Londoners for the first time.
Whilst the project is still in its early stages, with much work
wtill to be done on the barge, Gaia are cracking on, recently
installing their bespoke-designed rocket stove, and beginning work
on their cob-ballast heated benches. The cob itself is novel -
barges of this type normally use concrete to provide weight - or
ballast - to steady the boat, but Gaia have sourced London blue
clay from Crossrail excavations to provide theirs.
Louis got in touch with us through Superuse Studio's Harvestmap
(Oogskart) platform, which we have been testing in its beta-mode.
The platform allows users to share knowledge of supplies or
re-usable materials and seeks to facilitate an economy of re-use
that is both globally connected and useful locally. We hope to put
them in touch with our contacts at the London Legacy Development
Corporation and see if we van hook them up with some of the
material surpluses coming out of the Olympic Park transformation
Visit the Gaia Gallery's facebook page here and their main
webpage here. If you email Louis and ask nicely, he can probably
send you a dossier of information about their project!
Posted July 5, 2013 18:12 by Dorian
A big thanks to all at Public Assembly for putting
together a very enjoyable and multifacceted event on open source
learning. It was a realy pleassure to contribute and extend the
Micro Anearobic Digester network.
My favourite bit was Lawrence ringing the school bell
and announcing 'brain drawing classes' to the bemused pizza eating
Posted July 1, 2013 11:19 by Dorian
Wonderful to meet with Umi Baden-Powell - a fellow milk float
enthusiast - who dropped by for a mini milk float convention in the
yard. Umi lives in her HOME FLOAT and uses it to host events and
curate shows by others. Nicely fitted out with wintergarden and
composting toilet - nearly off grid.
Also on the same day I finally managed to bump into our neighbor
Sarah and April who have repurposed a similar Milk Float into a
Frozen Yoghurt station. 3 Floats in a day.