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Ideas for furniture fun on the coal line

One of the aims of the Peckham Coal Line is to connect us and not just physically, but by bringing people in the community together to share skills to turn the coal line into a reality. One great example of this is from one of our members, Tomos, who has used the Coal Line as a location to base his ideas around whilst he was studying furniture design. The project has some really interesting ideas around how we interact with the places around us.

This is also a great start to the conversation we are now having around what will the Coal Line actually look like. We would love to know what your favourite parks are, interesting designs for planting, signage so please share them with us.


Set within the Rickets Cockerell siding on the Peckham Coal Line park, Ruinscape is an adventure in a post-industrial landscape. Challenging the way we engage and experience shared urban spaces, it purposely blurs the boundaries of place, furniture, design and art, . Creating spaces that are defined by how you interact.

Map of the coal depot and siding, 1921

Map of the coal depot and siding, 1921. Source:

This collection of furniture designed for the coal siding was created as part of my masters project and in this post I would like to share with you the work I have been doing since I became involved with the coal line community in the summer of 2016. I began my studies in 2015 by investigating how experiences create connections to objects & places and I was looking for a site to put theory into practice, which is when I found the Coal Line. Through further research I quickly realised how important shared urban spaces are to creating open, creative and resilient communities and thus began investigating how I could integrate my passion for both.

The theory behind this work stems from the great work of Jane Jacobs, who in 1950/60s New York, was one of the pioneers of contemporary urban design thinking. The work also looks at the space from the perspective of furniture as this was my area of study.

“One of the major elements in successful public spaces is seating.”

William H Whyte 1980

By 2050 The United Nations forecasts that the trend of mass urbanisation will have 66% of the worlds population living in urbanised environments. Along with this the Royal Institute for British Architects notes that new housing is 10% smaller than the UK average. With this increased density and smaller personal spaces there is a greater need for shared public spaces. Places to meet and spend quality time with friends, family and the communities within which we all live. And one of the benefits of using these urban spaces is it creates the cosmopolitan and pluralist attitudes that we need to enable us to live and support each other in the increasing densities of urban life.

“Diversity is great for democracy”

“The more diverse a city or neighbourhood, the more open, economically thriving and innovative it is”

Richard Florida, 2016

So my passion for furniture quickly swelled into a passions for what a simple chair or bench can do. And why just make it simple, to quote O’Shaughnessy “we are the music makers and the dreamers of dreams” so lets create a dream landscape.

My approach to the space uses play theory to create a platform where we can challenge the rules and allow for an alternative view on how the spaces we create and shared are used. This approach goes beyond how a space works and can also affects us when we experiences it, creating a more open mindset within the people who inhabit that space.

Part of this approach was utilised when we returned to John Donne Primary School to update the students on the progress of the park. We asked them to take part in a role playing activity where they interviewed and filmed each other about their dream park. Asking them to think about the questions we should be asking as well as their own answers.

Image: twitter @JDPSoffice

Alongside this work the Coal Line group has been doing to open the project up to the wider community, I began investigating and mapping a visual, historical, experiential and material aspect of the route along the park.

Through this research the rich industrial heritage of the site became apparent and I was inspired by the poetic element in the relationship between buildings, nature and places where we are in a balance of control between these opposing forces.

“a desolate playground in whose cracked and weed infested precincts

we have space and time to imaging a future.”

Brian Dillon, 2014

Further to my research into play theory I found the benefits of playing are increased sociability, flexibility and resilience and as a species we have evolved to play throughout our lifetime, not just as children. So it was this playful curiosity and exploration I used to create a landscape of ruinous objects inspired by the industrial heritage of the coal line.

Using found materials on the site the work is produced from reclaimed railway sleepers. The British railways used Jarrah, a tropical hardwood imported from Australia. Chosen for its natural resistance to the British climate they were laid without any treatment and during the half century they have been in service they have gained a weathered exterior. When this is cut into it reveals a beautiful sandstone red of the Jarrah wood.

Using this material as a building block original features I referenced original features within the siding, the turn table, signal box and 5/7 plank wooden coal carts to create the ruinous forms. Although the forms are abstract the geometry is taken from furniture, for example, bench heights & lounge chairs.

This series of places create a breadcrumb trail to take you on an exploration through the siding.

Growing, decaying and at points being elevated out of the ground and held aloft as archaeological objects on scaffold, referencing another aspect of Peckham’s industrial heritage, the scaffold yard that currently occupies the space between the railway lines. The journey invites you into the landscape to consider what laid before and what lays ahead.

Urban spaces are crucial to the success of living in urban environments. These spaces can be as simple as areas with seating where we can collect, but they have the potential to be so much more which can all be achieved with simple collective action. Creating fun, exciting and engaging places to live should be the goal of any new or re development and this has become a great passion for me. These objects I have designed for the Peckham Coal Line connect us to our shared heritage and create deeper engagement between residents, and the place they live. Allowing people to create a shared ownership within the places they choose to live.

For More information below are some sources I found interesting during my studies:

Social life of small urban spaces - W. H. Whyte

BBC Radio 4Analysis - Gentrification

Playscapes - I. Noguchi

ISBN: 978-8416282616

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