A close up photograph of the rocking bench

Art & Culture

Royal Docks Team unveil winning designs for 2020 ‘Pews and Perches’ competition

We are delighted to announce that a series of five new benches designed by emerging architects – the winners of a competition organised by the London Festival of Architecture and the Royal Docks Team - have been unveiled across the Royal Docks.

The competition, now in its second year, invited architecture and design students, recent graduates and emerging practitioners to deliver a playful new take on street furniture that can celebrate the Royal Docks and the communities at home in the area – a series of conversation starters to re-connect everyone with nature and the docks’ built environment.

From a bench that makes use of the wind to perform as a riverside instrument to a design inspired by an unusual shipment of elephants over 70 years ago, the ‘Pews and Perches’ benches combine imaginative design approaches with creative, sustainable material choices to provide locals, visitors and Londoners with unique new spaces to sit and make the most of their surroundings.

This year’s Pews and Perches collection is a series of imaginative and thoughtful responses to the unique setting of the Royal Docks and the times we find ourselves in.

Tamsie Thomson, Managing Director of New London Architecture

The five winning designs and locations are...

1. ELE-Bench by RAB Studio
Thames Barrier Park

Referencing an unusual delivery of 20 baby elephants to the George V Docks in 1947, the ELE-Bench helps bring to life this moment in the docks’ history for future visitors. Inspired by the gait and rhythm of the elephant’s stride pattern, this simple, colourful bench creates a striking elephant silhouette from afar. With a comfortable seat made from cork, the design offers shelter from the wind as well as space for both back-to-back seating and for multiple family members to sit together, encouraging visitors to pause in this location.

This bench is supported by Crafted By Design, Hanex UK and Wyliewood limited.

ELE-Bench by RAB Studio Water Water Everywhere Bench

ELE-Bench by RAB Studio (left) and Water, water everywhere by Betty Owoo and Quincy Haynes (right)

2. Water, water everywhere by Betty Owoo and Quincy Haynes
Royal Victoria Gardens

With piles of rubbish such as plastic bottles and face masks still commonly thrown into the Thames, this design seeks to start a conversation about how we can inspire people to treat our waterways better and reuse these objects. Water, water everywhere uses these found objects and suspends them in resin where they seem to be floating in water, and jesmonite, where they are almost riverbed fossils waiting to be uncovered. Frozen in time, the result is a bench simple in form but complex in materiality, providing a sculptural seat for people to gather and connect with the water’s edge.

This bench is built in collaboration with Helen Caulfield of the Redundant Architects Recreation Association (R.A.R.A.) and supported by Sophie Percival and Priscilla Wong.

3. The Royal Resonance by CAST (Chutimon Suetragulwong, Austin Joseph, Sonam Dahya, Tyler Natdanai)
Outside UTC College

The Royal Resonance tackles the topic of the pandemic and social distancing with playful urban furniture that allows people to be together while remaining safely apart. In a design inspired by nature, several aluminium poles vibrate in the wind, performing as a riverside instrument and an art form. The modular design promotes both isolation and relationships between people and nature, forging local interactions as well as social distancing as a community safely.

This bench is supported by Jian Jun Hayashi, Jeremy Tay and Karakusevic Carson Architects Workshop.

People sitting on a sculptured bench Standing by a bench at the Royal Docks

The Royal Resonance by CAST (left) and Afloat by Ben Child and Luca Luci (right)

4. Afloat by Ben Child and Luca Luci
Connaught Crossing North

Referencing the docks’ marine context, this design recycles rowing oars to create a crossed structure for the bench. Building on this, Afloat sees different oar lengths used to support the back rest and armrest, which also includes a small table. The back rest and seat itself are made from marine plywood, cut with a CNC machine. Finished in a bright teal colour and engraved with ‘Royal Docks’, the bench stands out from afar, creating a contrast with the wooden texture of the oars and highlighting its structure.

5. The Rocking Bench by Duncan Graham
Thames Barrier Park

A call for playfulness and for a bit of fun in today’s less than fun world, the Rocking Bench stands out with its bright, yellow colour, and seeks to encourage interaction while keeping people safely apart. Inspired in part by the beam scales once used in the Royal Docks to weigh imported goods, the bench uses a simple rocking motion to provide a connection for friends, family, and neighbours, but also calls out for companions for those sat alone. The bench consists of CNC cut plywood fastened together with steel rods, and was manufactured entirely within the Lee Valley.

The rocking bench by Luke O Donovan

The Rocking Bench by Duncan Graham

This project also expands on the legacy of the first edition ‘Pews and Perches’ competition, which sees three benches remain installed across the Royal Docks waterfront, where they are still enjoyed by the public. Building on this success, these five new benches will continue to champion the Festival’s mission to support and showcase emerging talent. In response to the regulations put in place due to coronavirus, they will not only bring a fresh, new design perspective but also provide space to safely enjoy the Royal Docks.

A map of the Pews and Perches bench locations

The locations of the winning designs.

The teams have each been awarded £2,000 including a design fee of £500 to develop, build and install their benches, which will be in place for the next year. The competition was judged by an expert panel including Dan Bridge (Programme Director in the Royal Docks), Tamsie Thomson (Managing Director, New London Architecture), Frances Williams, (Technical Editor, Architects’ Journal), Pedro Gil (Founder, Studio Gil), Rawnak Jassm (Community Engagement Officer, Royal Docks Team) and Kevin Twyford (Principal Landscape Architect, London Borough of Newham).

Tamsie Thomson, Managing Director of New London Architecture, said:

“This year’s Pews and Perches collection is a series of imaginative and thoughtful responses to the unique setting of the Royal Docks and the times we find ourselves in. Thanks to our brilliant design teams, these benches draw upon the Royal Docks’ rich history, offer commentary on our environmental impact, and reconcile our desire to be together while remaining socially distant. Every year I’m inspired by how the winning teams address the brief, and I hope that many people will enjoy these benches and experience the difference that great design can make to our everyday lives"