Amenity Space

by Robert Such

Crossing borders

Wonderwood in London.

Wonderwood, an "urban fantasy garden", in London.

Redesigning overlooked areas of the city with wit and creativity, London-based Amenity Space founders Tony Broomhead and Nicky Kirk also bring humour and a love of architecture and contemporary art to the radio.

Broomhead and Kirk’s arts and architecture show on London radio station Resonance FM started in 2006. With a joke here and there, content ranges from serious topical discussions with leading architects to filling the British capital’s airwaves with atmospheric sound recordings and experimental music.

“Radio is a great medium for exploring a visual subject,” says Broomhead. “It forces you as the producer to research an issue from an alternate perspective, rather than focusing only on its physical understanding.”

Working on a wide range of projects, including lighting, art installations and eco-house design, Broomhead and Kirk’s broad scope of interests is proving useful in the current economic climate. As architects at larger commercial firms lose their jobs, Amenity Space is “just about hanging on,” says Kirk. Despite the recession, they won a commission to design a pocket park called Wonderwood. “This period has allowed architects to rethink their position,” says Kirk. “It has allowed creativity to blossom again as projects become smaller and briefs more complex.”

Amenity Space’s work also crosses over into creating art installations, such as Monitor, a wall projection of 600 moving eyes for a digital media and cultural buildings conference. Radio frequency identification (RFID) tags on badges tracked the movement of delegates. The ‘eyes’ moved in response to people moving through rooms. There was a “mixed reaction,” says Kirk, “with a number of people objecting to being tracked. Our intention was to subvert the use of this technology—typically found in ID and travel cards—and use it in an artistic way.”

The firm’s name, Amenity Space, is also a planning term. It refers to areas of land like road verges and unused gaps between buildings.

One such unused urban plot, left vacant after a developer hit by the recession stopped construction of a new office building, became Wonderwood, a pocket park with large yellow cut-out trees and oversized windmills in the flower beds. It’s an “urban fantasy garden,” says Kirk, designed as a place for local residents to relax in and enjoy.

Mainly interested in working on projects that allow people to “take control of their environment and transform it for their own benefit,” says Kirk, Amenity Space works at re-thinking the way people, and even animals, use border and in-between places. “We are the spark of creativity,” says Kirk, “that inspires people to look at their everyday activities in a new way and help to develop a better public realm.”

Published in Domus. Updated for Collaborative City.

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