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Competition: Pews & Perches, Royal Docks London

The London Festival of Architecture has launched a contest to design a series of £1,500 benches across the Royal Docks in London’s East End (Deadline: 2 September)

The Pews & Perches competition seeks proposals for a ‘fun and creative place to sit, rest and play’ which could be installed in the regeneration zone this autumn. It is open to architecture and design students, recent graduates and emerging professionals. 

Winning teams will receive £1,500 each to manufacture and install their scheme in the district, which is tipped for £314 million worth of regeneration over the coming years. Judges will include LFA director Tamsie Thompson, Dan Bridge of the Royal Docks Team and David Ogunmuyiwa, principal at ArchitectureDoingPlace.

Zombie Bench by George King Architects

Zombie Bench by George King Architects

Source: Image by Anna Stathaki (@annalstweeting )

Zombie Bench by George King Architects

Thompson said: ‘We’re delighted to be continuing our partnership with the Royal Docks Team with this exciting project and are grateful to the team for their support in helping the LFA shape its year-round presence.

‘Harnessing incredible emerging architecture and design talent is at the heart of what the festival aims to do, and I can’t wait to see the diverse range of ideas to enliven the waterfront in one of London’s most fascinating new quarters.’

The Royal Docks and surrounding area were constructed in the 1850s, and abandoned just over a century later. They have long been tipped as London’s next major regeneration opportunity. In 2012 the 170ha of land and 96ha of water was transformed into an enterprise zone, promoting a range of schemes including plans for a floating residential village.

The Royal Docks in east London

The Royal Docks in east London

The Royal Docks in east London

Local landmarks include WilkinsonEyre’s base for Siemens, dubbed ‘The Crystal’; the Excel exhibition centre, which was expanded by Grimshaw in 2010; and the competition-winning Royal Victoria Dock Bridge by Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands.

Planned developments in the area include a £1 billion Royal Albert Dock, masterplanned and designed by Terry Farrell with second-stage concepts by BuckleyGreyYeoman, Fletcher Priest, Cartwright Pickard, Maccreanor Lavington and Panter Hudspith.

Fletcher Priest Architects’ £3.5 billion regeneration of Silvertown Quays also won planning in 2015.

The call for entries comes six years after George King Architects won an earlier contest for a new seating structure at the Royal Docks’ former London Pleasure Grounds with his Zombie Bench (pictured).

Principal George King said: ‘Zombie Bench was my first competition win and was the perfect opportunity to design something on a scale that was fun and experimental, yet buildable and functional. It allowed me to think about the qualities I am interested in as an architect and distil them into a small object which still provokes debate to this day.’

LFA’s separate City Benches contest, now in its second year, saw emerging London practices Anna Janiak Studio, Astrain Studio and Delve Architects; artists Sarah Emily Porter and James Trundle; and architect Armor Gutiérrez Rivas deliver a series of £800 benches across the Square Mile last month.

The winning Pews & Perches schemes will be constructed and installed in October. The call for participants is supported by the Royal Docks Team.

How to apply


The deadline for applications is midday, 2 September

Contact details

Visit the competition website for more information

Q&A with Dan Bridge

The programme director at the Royal Docks Team discusses his ambitions for the competition

Why are your holding a contest for a series of £1,500 temporary benches in the Royal Docks?

Dan Bridge

Dan Bridge

Dan Bridge

We have been working closely with the LFA to create opportunities for designers to engage with the Royal Docks and celebrate the area’s new development, history and generous public realm. Competitions are a good way to achieve this. In 2018 we held a design charrette in partnership with the LFA that produced proposals to inform new connections in the Royal Docks. The competition attracted 31 expressions of interest, following which five shortlisted teams worked with local communities to develop creative solutions to address issues of severance and capitalise on the arrival of a new Elizabeth Line station.

We look forward to seeing the ‘Pews & Perches’ competition build upon the success of the charrette, as we seek to offer designers the opportunity to consider how design solutions can help tackle practical challenges in creative ways, from a new perspective and scale.

What is your vision for the new benches?

As we have begun to improve the public realm in the Royal Docks, we want to ensure that high quality and creative design becomes part of the DNA of these waterside spaces, and have identified a number of locations across the area, each with its own potential for public realm enhancement or seating provision.

While there are of course practical considerations - for example designs should be able to accommodate a minimum of two adults – we are keen to see designs that include elements of surprise and play. The benches should spark interaction and encourage visitors, passers-by and the community to engage with them in a fun and creative ways, as well as creating a place to sit, relax and enjoy the surroundings. We have a great programme of cultural activation planned over the next few years so proposals could also explore capturing this to bring to life some of the rich heritage of the Royal Docks and support activity in key locations.

Following installation in October, the benches will be in place for a year, so designers should also think about how the benches can offer a sustainable and low-cost solution that can be easily maintained.

What sort of architects and designers are you hoping will apply?

We are proud to work alongside the LFA in shaping opportunities to celebrate emerging talent, and we welcome submissions from a diverse mix of London’s best young designers to showcase their creativity in the Royal Docks. To achieve that, we’ve opened this competition up to students and emerging architects and designers. We encourage collaborations with more experienced designers but the project should be led by a named emerging architect or designer.

City benches 2018 winner: Patrick McEvoy's bench in Jubilee Gardens

City benches 2018 winner: Patrick McEvoy’s bench in Jubilee Gardens

Source: Image © Agnese Sanvito

City benches 2018 winner: Patrick McEvoy’s bench in Jubilee Gardens

Which other design opportunities are on the horizon and how will the architects/designers be procured?

As part of our programme of public realm improvements, we’re undertaking a significant engagement exercise with local communities and businesses over the summer, to help shape the direction of this programme and generate ideas born from local needs.

Following this we’ll be going out to architects and designers to help us take forward these ideas - do keep an eye on our website and social media channels to stay up to date on new opportunities.

Are there any other recent pop-up bench projects you have been impressed by?

Over the past two years, the LFA’s ‘City Benches’ competition has seen an exciting series of one-off benches appear across the City of London during the festival. This has resulted in some playful takes on public furniture which have captured the imagination of the public and have become the catalysts for positive interactions between visitors, commuters and residents alike.

It was brilliant to see this project not only create some lively additions to the City’s streetscape, but also champion the emerging talent that our capital has to offer, a mission that we share with the Festival and are excited to promote in the Royal Docks over the course of the next year.

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