Play, Sit and Engage

During the London Festival of Architecture being held in the month of June in London, the Pews and Perches design competition sent an open call to designers and recent graduates and practitioners to deliver playful and creative benches that celebrate and transforms the Royal Docks as a place to sit, rest and play. SCALE looks at the winning designs of this competition.

Following the success of the previous years, the Pews and Perches competition open call invited architecture and design students, recent graduates and emerging practitioners, to deliver playful and creative bench proposals that celebrate and transform the Royal Docks as a place to sit, rest and play. Designers were asked to respond to the LFA theme of ‘act’, creating a bench that actively engages its users and visitors whilst the bench is in situ. After such a long time of enforced passivity, the imperative to act is felt by many, while the pandemic has exposed so many things that need to change. How, for instance, should architecture act in the face of the climate emergency, social injustice, and the needs of a changing society? How can architects make their actions felt beyond their profession – how can they be heard more clearly, become more valued or collaborate more meaningfully?

Rosa Rogina, Director of the London Festival of Architecture, said: “Working on Pews and Perches is an incredibly exciting and rewarding experience as we offer tangible opportunities to emerging architects and designers to work with councils and gain their first real commission. This year’s winning designs are truly impressive, as they all bring a wide range of designs and concepts that embody the LFA 2022 theme of ‘act’. I’m looking forward to seeing the public interact with the benches later in the year”.

Now in its third year, Pews and Perches competition highlighted the transformative impact of small-scale interventions in the public realm and offers visitors and residents alike unique spaces to sit and make the most of their surrounding public space.

The winning teams, designs and locations are:

What-A Water Waste!

Leroy Yuen and Gemma Louisa Holdaway with support from ReCyrcle, Grymsdyke Farm and Absence from Island.

What-A Water Waste! is a public bench made from community HPDE plastic waste. The bench stands as a socio-cultural sculptural piece that aims to represent how we can all come together to act against the current climate emergency. Collected from the Royal Docks and the surrounding local area, the plastic waste has been transformed into unique plastic sheets that read as a map of waste traces, rightly indicating the act of coming together across communities to find new circular ways of designing.

Location: Royal Victoria Dock Floating Garden

Leroy Yuen is currently working as a Part II Architectural Assistant in London after completing his studies at the Royal College of Art in 2019. Gemma Louisa Holdaway is currently studying Design Management at University of the Arts London and focuses on circular practices in the creative industries.


Fiona Hartley and James Parkes, with thanks to Made CNC

Gam is a modular bench that takes cues from nearby manmade infrastructure. The bench transforms typically overlooked objects of industrial architecture to create approachable objects for interaction. Gam references, replicates, and reuses the industrial and weathered materiality of its location through a layered papercrete construction formed from wastepaper collected from surrounding locations.

Location: Connaught Crossing (South Side)

Fiona Hartley and James Parkes are designers and consultants based in London. They met whilst studying architecture at Central Saint Martins and worked for dezeen upon graduating. They bothwork across architecture, design and fashion.

A Cautionary Bench/Mark

Andre Kong Studio, with support from Andrew Tan, Daniel Meier and the learners at UTC

A Cautionary Bench/Mark is built from reclaimed materials and is set on two levels. The lower bench invites passers-by to sit and reflect on the individual and collective actions that will lead to the higher-level looming 2.6m above – the water level expected during a severe tidal storm in 2030. The red gradient of the bench, reminiscent of a change in colour caused by cumulative water level marks and highlighting the increasing risk, reinforces the urgency to act on the climate crisis now or never.

Location: London Design and Engineering UTC

Andre Kong is the founder of Andre Kong Studio, an emerging architecture practice that explores how material tradition, context and technological innovation can be unexpectedly combined to develop fun, elegant, and future-proof solutions for sustainable and inclusive buildings, objects, and experiences.


Lo² (Alcina and Benjamin Lo) with thanks to Adam Bodnar

Aspiring to capture the vibrancy and rich history of the Royal Docks, the shape of Sail-Phone is an abstract take on the Lightship ‘LV95’ of Trinity Buoy Wharf with its iconic bright red paint. With its multifunctional use as a bench and with an interactive speaking tube, reminiscent of those used to communicate on ships, Sail-Phone’s captivating appearance and multi-functional use aims to bring everyone together, engaging in playfulness and to have fun outdoors.

Location: Royal Victoria Garden

Lo² is an architecture and civil engineering duo founded by siblings Alcina and Benjamin Lo, recognising the importance of community engagement with cultural heritage in public spaces.

The Turning Tide

Mvuu, with support from Odace Engineering and ZedWorks

The Turning Tide aims to symbolise the forever fluctuating effect that actions cause, with the structure ‘shifting’ from one state to another. Stones scribed with community messages of climate change anchor down the bench, signifying that action will never be without effect.

Location: Thames Barrier Park

Mvuu is a multidisciplinary design group consisting of brothers Toko and Tim Andrews.

All Images Courtesy London Architecture Festival

Photography Courtesy: Luke O’ Donovan