Bow Arts in partnership with Create London, supported by Newham Council, have managed the redevelopment of The Old Manor Park Library into new creative workspaces and a public space. The Grade II listed Carnegie building, closed as a public library since 2011, has been brought back into public life as a centre providing accessible creative workspaces for artists.
Architects Nicholas Lobo Brennan and Astrid Smitham of Apparata were commissioned to conceive the new design. Lobo Brennan is a recipient of the Swiss Art Award for Architecture and was a founding member of the award-winning architectural collective Gruppe. Both architects collaborated with Richard Wentworth on Black Maria at King’s Cross during Lobo Brennan’s time with Gruppe. The project has been supported by £177,500 from the Mayor of London’s High Street Fund and the building has been provided on a seven-year lease from Newham Council.
Mayor of Newham, Sir Robin Wales, said: “This fantastic initiative will not just bring this Grade II listed building back to life but turn it into an innovative vibrant cultural space that can be used and enjoyed by the local community. We want to help budding local artists further develop their skills and we want other local residents to be able to enjoy the vast amount of artistic talent we have in Newham. The revamped centre will benefit the whole community by hosting a range of other activities including training and employment advice.”
The centre opened mid-November 2015, revealing affordable artist studios, meeting spaces and the Rabbits Road Institute. The redevelopment provides support for artistic practices encompassing making, performance, research and group activities. It hopes to allow artists and residents of east London to connect with each other in new ways, enabling a radical new sharing of knowledge, skills and resources and the furthering of cultural engagement.
The rationale for the reimagined library is inspired by research led by Beale and Feneck on The Free Library Movement of the mid-Victorian period that developed alongside several other workers’ education movements, striving for the improvement of universal municipal education services. The Old Manor Park Library brings the ethos of the Movement into the 21st century, asking what creative practice requires today and what it will continue to need over the next decade. The project also asks what it is that artists can bring to a neighbourhood through self-education, skill sharing and the reimagining of a municipal heritage building.
Lobo Brennan and Smitham, who are based in the Newham Borough of London, and Zurich, responded to the commission by conceiving a design that both conserves the historical richness of the building and provides a new type of public building for the future of creative industries in London communities. They performed extensive research into the nature of work, production and collective life to conceive its design, looking back at the history of municipal learning spaces and investigating the specific history of this Carnegie building. They also mapped local businesses and building suppliers, and aim to incorporate some of these into the build, as well as working with local volunteers.
Elements of the new interior features of the building are transparent and moveable, allowing for a freely adaptable space that can respond to the needs of its users, whilst always maintaining a visible link to its history. An arcade-style walkway runs through the studios on each floor, resembling a streetscape and providing welcoming but secure workspaces. The original decorative features and floors of the building have been beautifully exposed and restored to their original state. The Old Manor Park Library will continue to grow and flourish into a centre of creative excellence that aims both attract and support established and emerging artists in the area.
Rabbits Road Institute is a new public space for community, educational and creative activity.
Drawing on the history of the Old Manor Park Library building, Rabbits Road Institute celebrates the Free Public Library and Worker’s Education Movements by creating an open space dedicated to self-education and independent thought. It exists to promote the development of culture, ideas and debate through everyday knowledge and experience. It is a space for new ways of thinking and creating inspiring activities that are open to all.
The Institute hosts an artist-led public programme of study sessions, events, performances and social gatherings, alongside regular and one-off activities run by local community groups and individuals who want to get involved.
Rabbits Road Institute is a flexible space and can be used for meetings and workshops as well as larger public events and gatherings.
The Rabbits Road Institute takes enquiries and proposals from local people and community groups who wish to use this beautiful space.
The Old Manor Park Library is delivered in partnership by Bow Arts, Create, and Newham Council. It is supported by the Mayor of London’s High Street Fund.
Rabbits Road Library is supported by Newham Council and Arts Council England