Guest blog: architect Nicolas Henninger on the Dalston Mill and his contribution to the Dalston Eastern Curve Garden

Ahead of our next winter lecture on Making Space in Dalston 2007-2010 and ongoing, architect Nicolas Henninger (OFCA/EXYZT)with Francesco Manacorda (Curator of the Barbican Art Gallery’s Radical Nature Exhibition in 2009) and Liza Fior (muf architecture/art) – writes about Dalston Mill in 2009 and the start of the Dalston Eastern Curve Garden in 2010.

All are invited to attend the lecture with speaker Johanna Gibbons of J & L Gibbons on 12 November at 6.30pm: you can find out more and book tickets online.

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Abandoned landscape © EXYZT

EXYZT was founded in 2003 by five graduating architects in Paris La Villette. It grew to 20 active members and operated internationally, creating self-build and inhabited urban and architectural installations, until 2015. We first became involved in the Dalston Eastern Curve Garden project in 2008, when we were commissioned by the Architecture Foundation to take part in the London Festival of Architecture. Led by Sara Muzio and I, EXYZT delivered the Southwark Lido, which set a precedent on the local buzzy architectural scene.

Francesco Manacorda, then Curator for the Barbican Art Gallery’s Radical Nature Exhibition, wanted some off-site projects alongside the main exhibition. He asked us to create a “living architectural installation” in East London, this area being the political focus for art and cultural projects in the lead-up to the 2012 Olympics. Francesco explains:

“This was a great opportunity to investigate both social ecology and how communities can take ownership of natural spaces in a city. The important part of the project was combining architecture and art, and with the involvement of different communities in daily activities.”

Francesco Manacorda
Artistic Director, V-A-C Foundation, Moscow and Co-Curator of the 11th Taipei Biennial (and formerly of Tate LiverpoolArtissima, Turin, and the Barbican Art Gallery)  

As I was based in Paris, I asked if someone could take us around the area. This was how I met Liza from muf. Muf had recently started a project with J & L Gibbons on Making Space in Dalston – a research and mapping exercise to identify Dalston’s cultural assets and plan potential projects to improve its public spaces.

“Sensitive to how much was being lost through an ‘efficient approach to development’, muf began mapping the assets of cultural and community organisations while J & L Gibbons mapped the green and open spaces. These strands then merged to identify empty sites which could be deemed – in the widest possible ways – a host to culture.

With the furious and energised residents of Dalston, we identified the derelict Eastern Curve as a garden in waiting. We saw the approach from the Barbican Art Gallery and EXYZT as an opportunity – to test the idea of a host space.”

Liza Fior, muf

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Top down: ‘Dalston Wheatfield’ and curved railway landscape from top of windmill © EXYZT; ‘Dalston Wheatfield’ and windmill © Eliot Wyman

The muf team took me on a tour of Dalston and showed us an abandoned landscape off Dalston Lane including the derelict Eastern Curve railway track – which actually still lies under the garden today. We were able to report to Francesco at the Barbican that this was the perfect site to host a month-long summer installation for the exhibition.

We planned to plant a wheat field, to re-enact Agnes Denes’ 1982 “Wheatfield – A Confrontation”, including the construction of a 16m high scaffold tower with a wind propeller at the top, so that we would be able to grind the wheat grown at ground level. The grain could then be used by the community to bake bread and other foods.

At this point, muf helped us build links with local community organisations such as Hackney Young Carers, to plan the project and bring it into being during the summer of 2009.

During this one summer month of our installation, the Dalston Mill quickly became a hugely popular public garden – a hive where everyone came to socialise, participate in workshops and engage with our wheat field oasis. It was also the place to meet local figures from Dalston’s art and cultural scene, including the internationally acclaimed local artist Stik and the legendary DJ Newton Dunbar from the former Four Aces Club.

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Anti-clockwise (all © EXYZT): ‘Dalston Wheatfield’, Stik in the Dalston Wheatfield and his artwork; Newton Dunbar and friends; community baking at the Dalston Mill.

The Mill was a real-life test of muf and J & L Gibbons’ research, and the impact on the Making Space in Dalston project was immense.

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Top down: Flour mill © Brice Pelleschi; pizza oven © EXYZT; and pizza workshop © EXYZT

Whilst the public hugely enjoyed our Dalston Mill for a summer, planners and councillors from Hackney Council also came to join us, and saw that this hidden public gem had amazing potential to be developed into a community garden.

“The Windmill was a powerful catalyst to turn Making Space in Dalston into a capital project. 15,000 people visited the garden in three weeks, and what had been dismissed as just an art project ended up bringing £1 million to Dalston. £150,000 of this was the capital for the Dalston Eastern Curve Garden, along with two years of a small grant.”

Liza Fior, muf

A few months after the Dalston Mill installation had ended, Liza told me that the Making Space in Dalston project had secured GLA funding to deliver some of its projects and recommendations, and that she would like to collaborate to deliver the Dalston Eastern Curve Garden.

My role from the beginning was to design a versatile structure to host various activities, and to build it with young people from the local Forest Road Youth Hub. The garden design process was accompanied by a series of workshops with these young people, to ensure they had all the necessary training and gained the confidence to build our design:

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Top down: Forest Road Youth Hub, Caitlin Elster and Nicolas Henninger © muf; Forest Road Youth Hub and members of the design team © EXYZT; Building the barn © EXYZT

“muf’s Caitlin Elster worked behind the scenes with the Hub to establish the structures, protocols and training for these young people to work with EXYZT. This answered the question: can cultural life include those who live in a place? Yes, if you create conditions where this is possible.

Our initial mapping helped build a detailed understanding of the area and its “actors”. The power of the Dalston Eastern Curve Garden is that many of these actors remain part of the life of the garden now.

As more development happens and empty spaces are given more context, more spaces are open to use, and transformation becomes even more important.”

Liza Fior, muf

For me, there was one essential element that I retained from the Dalston Mill experience through to designing the Dalston Eastern Curve Garden. This was its access through a physical door: the door created a threshold through which the public had to go, to discover another world on the other side.

Nicolas Henninger, OFCA / EXYZT


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Threshold, 2009 © EXYZT

A further guest post on the Dalston Eastern Curve Garden by Marie Murray and Brian Cumming will follow in November. 

Credits – Dalston Eastern Curve Garden
Landscape Architect: J & L Gibbons
Public Realm Architecture: muf architecture/art (Liza Fior, Caitlin Elster, Aranza Fernandez and Alison Crawshaw)
Artist: Nicolas Henninger OFCA / EXYZT
Structural Engineer and Civil Engineer: Civic Engineers
Cost Consultant: Artelia
Soil Consultant: Tim O’Hare Associates

Julia Kennedy (concept for blog content and editor)

Introducing Open Garden Squares Weekend 2019: 8-9 June 2019

Ennismore Gardens © Diana Jarvis 5710
Ennismore Gardens © Diana Jarvis

We are pleased to announce that we are making some exciting changes for next year’s Open Garden Squares Weekend! 

We have listened to your feedback, and this has led us to refocus our next event. The number of gardens taking part in Open Garden Squares Weekend has grown over the years, and so for 2019 we will be curating fewer gardens, but ones offering more exclusive access – and all in central London. We will also have a handful of ‘star’ community gardens for you to visit, which showcase how we can all work together to create and nurture unusual local green spaces.

Eversheds Sutherland Vegetable Garden © Diana Jarvis 5403
Eversheds Sutherland Vegetable Garden © Diana Jarvis

This means you can be sure your ticket will buy a unique experience, whichever gardens you choose to see – plus you won’t have to spend long travelling between visits!

Don’t worry – plenty of what you love will be staying. We will continue to have a printed guidebook, packed with beautiful photographs for you to keep as part of your visit. We will have our wonderful, welcoming volunteers on hand to give you the best experience. We have plenty of exciting activities and tours planned, as well as new gardens and much more. Better still, we are keeping our tickets at the same price as last year – but do buy early to get the best value.

Our OGSW 2019 Christmas ticket sale runs from 21 November until 26 December, with adult weekend tickets costing just £13 – but don’t leave it too late, as ticket numbers are limited. Early bird tickets will then be on sale for £15 from 12 February to 8 May. After that, full price tickets will be on sale at £20.

Follow us on Facebook, Twitter (@OpenSquares) and Instagram for the latest updates including reminders of these ticket deadlines. Don’t forget to follow this blog too, for inside information and guest posts.


Wesley Square
Wesley Square © Diana Jarvis

OGSW is the main fundraising event for the London Parks and Gardens Trust, which campaigns for parks and green spaces facing development pressures.

You can make a donation online to the Trust and help us to cultivate, celebrate and champion London’s green spaces.

Guest Blog: Bandstands – the love affair continues, but will it last?

We are pleased to welcome back guest writer Paul Rabbits, who gave a wonderful lecture for the London Parks and Gardens Trust on 8 October, for the second part of his blog on our love affair with bandstands.

Find out more about the rest of our winter lecture series and book online.

On Wednesday 20 April 2016, the Queen, with Prince Philip, officially opened the new bandstand in Alexandra Gardens in Windsor. Apart from the obvious significance of our longest reigning monarch’s 90th birthday, the opening of this simple yet elegant bandstand, with the background of Windsor Castle, is also important.

2016 marked 20 years of Heritage Lottery Funding being committed to our urban parks and nearly £800 million invested in them. Lottery funding has in essence saved our parks from inevitable and almost non-reversible decline. The decline in many of our most important parks has been signified and exacerbated by the loss of one of the most iconic of features in the majority of our public parks. Bandstands have been a feature of the British way of life for well over a century, but after the Second World War an increasing number had fallen into disuse and were neglected. Sadly, many were demolished as public parks went into a spiral of decline in the 1980s and 1990s. At their peak, there were over 1,200 bandstands across the country, now sadly reduced to less than 500. There are over 150 in London alone but two-thirds of those in our capital city have been lost.

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Arnold Circus, Boundary Estate, London © Paul Rabbitts

However, in 1996 the Heritage Lottery Fund started investing in our public parks and gardens and this has seen the rediscovery of bandstands, with over 120 restored or replaced as a result of lottery funding. In London alone, bandstands on Clapham Common, Myatt’s Fields, Horniman Gardens, Wandle Park, Southwark Park, Raphael Park, Arnold Circus, Ruskin Park and in Hyde Park have all been restored or replaced and are now once again being reused.

Bandstands continue to be restored and are now in use up and down the country. They are once again becoming the focal points of restored and vibrant parks, not just echoing to the sounds of brass, but often bouncing to rhythm and blues, rock – Bowie, Pink Floyd, Fleetwood Mac and the Bay City Rollers – opera, street theatre and drama.

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Parliament Hill, Hampstead, London © Paul Rabbitts

With Heritage Lottery Funding and the opening of the Windsor bandstand, funded partly by the local authority, 2016 not only marked 20 years of bandstand restorations but also the beginning of a new generation of bandstands bouncing back to life. Restorations and re-introductions are still planned in Hull, Leamington Spa, Stoke-on-Trent, Swanage and Edinburgh and in London, with options being discussed at Dukes Meadow, Chiswick, and Croydon Road Rec, Beckenham (the Bowie bandstand). The work continues with a new wave of restoration expertise from companies like Lost Art of Wigan, responsible for many of these projects.

A bandstand, however, is merely an empty shell unless music is played on it. Local authorities and town councils have been active in engaging bands and community groups. But much work remains to be done and there are major concerns that the love affair may well be over already. Local authorities are in crisis and cash-strapped councils are facing difficult decisions.The Mail on Sunday (30 September 2018) headline is ‘Save Our Parks’ – is all this work about to be undone? Already parks are falling into decline and features such as bandstands are not being maintained. Many have fallen silent. Many still need restoring. Lottery funding has become more difficult to obtain. So, what can be done?

The Regent’s Park Bandstand was centre-stage in the Klezmer In The Park Festival last month. Organised by the Jewish Music Institute, this popular event drew a crowd of around 5000 this year © Tammy Kazhdan-MART Photography
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Battersea Park Bandstand, London © Paul Rabbitts

The bandstand is often the heart and soul of a park and if it is lost the park itself loses its identity. Local communities need to own these wonderful features, and councils need to be more innovative in their use – for example, wedding ceremonies can now be held on the bandstand in Battersea Park – making them freely available to local communities, cutting out bureaucracy and making sure they are well maintained and remain part of our communities. We have seen decline and revival on too many occasions, but we must learn lessons from the past and ensure that these wonderful icons remain with us for many years to come.

BBC Radio 3 DJ Max Reinhardt was compere again for the Klezmer In The Park Festival in The Regent’s Park – here he interviews composer, bandleader and trumpet player Sam Eastmond © Tammy Kazhdan – MART Photography
Klezmer In The Park is exactly how communities and park owners should celebrate our love affair with Bandstands” (Paul Rabbitts) © Tammy Kazhdan – MART Photography

Guest blog: A long-lost love affair? Paul Rabbitts writes about the Victorian bandstand

Paul Rabbitts has worked in parks for nearly 30 years, initially as a landscape architect and latterly as Head of Parks for Watford Borough Council. He has written extensively about parks says that “my obsession has led to a love affair with one particular aspect of public parks – bandstand!” Paul will give the first of the London Parks and Gardens Trust’s winter lectures this year on 8 October from 6.30pm. Find out more and book lecture tickets online.

1.1 Rabbitts Bandstands book cover - ref. English Heritage 18.9.18
Bandstands fascinate me – especially the beautiful Victorian ornate ones, cast iron with all their wacky and intricate finery. I am part of a small weirdly obsessive ‘band of bandstand brothers’ who obsess over these things. Why? It’s all to do with their design, their use and the social history attached to them, and that most are in public parks. Thankfully Historic England agree with me because they have just published my ultimate book on them (see left) – Bandstands, Pavilions for Music, Entertainment and Leisure

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Francis Fowke’s bandstand in the Royal Horticultural Society’s Garden at Kensington, London, photographed during the 1862 Great Exhibition

Bandstands have now been a feature of British life for well over a century. The first domed bandstand is believed to be one erected in London’s Royal Horticultural Society’s gardens in South Kensington, which went up in 1861 on its slender cast iron legs.

As the parks movement grew, it became apparent that each park needed a focal point. A bandstand, with its rich decoration and oriental shape, provided that. But a bandstand wasn’t just decorative – it provided music too. It was our Victorian forefathers who thought that ‘good music would free the mind of urban griminess and humanise the industrial landscape,’ and nowhere more so than in our great capital city. Thursday night concerts at Myatt’s Fields, Lambeth were always packed, right up until the Second World War:

“I arrived on time but there was no room on the seats or railings, so I leant against a tree and enjoyed the music. The children danced to it, played ball to it, sang to it and ignored it. The grown-ups, all listening, sat round on their wooden seats or leant against the green railings and were happy.” Daily Express, 1937

Bandstands were erected in many smaller local parks: Belvedere Recreation Ground, Barnet; Erith Recreation Ground, Bexley; Plashet Park, Newham; and Telegraph Hill Park, Hatcham. At one stage, there were over 150 bandstands in London’s parks. In 1890, London County Council obtained the power to fund and provide music in its parks; by 1901 the LCC had ordained the building of no fewer than 22 bandstands and had established four bands to give summer performances in them during daylight.

Hyde Park in 1913 (top – see The Royal Parks website) and Battersea Park bandstand (bottom two)

However, the Council’s policies on music for the people had already run into political trouble, as The Musical Times reported in 1893. Local vestries, lobbied strongly by ‘musicians, artists, literary and medical men,’ called on the Council to join them in representations to the Home Secretary ‘to mitigate the nuisance’ being caused to these sensitive classes by street musicians. The main offenders were organ grinders, ‘of whom the Italians alone number 920’. Next came ‘German bands’ and then ‘hundreds of mountebanks, singing beggars, fiddlers, cornet players, performers on the harp, clarinet, tin whistle, and other instruments’. Not everyone was well-behaved and it was often reported that in some ‘latter districts the audiences were so ill-behaved… stones were positively thrown at the bandsmen, and the yelling of children (and even of adults) scarcely allowed the bands to be heard.’

But bandstands began a significant revival from late 1960s and early 1970s with bands such as Dire Straits, Fleetwood Mac, Pink Floyd, The Who and the magnificent David Bowie, who performed on the Beckenham bandstand in 1969. This revival has since continued from the late 1990s up until the present day with the Heritage Lottery Fund investing in parks, and bandstands being restored and replaced. The music has certainly improved (sic) as has the behaviour (sic) and many bandstands are back in business, but what next as cash-strapped councils struggle with depleted budgets? Is the bandstand still relevant? This will be the subject of a future blog!