Individual commissions – Dalston Mill, EXYZT and various artists, London Borough of Hackney

Theme: temporary commissions to animate existing public spaces in the Eastern Curve, adjacent to a major new development in Dalston Junction

The Dalston Mill, EXYZT, 15 July 2009 - 6 August 2009.. Photo by: Eliot Wyman.

The Dalston Mill, EXYZT, 15 July 2009 - 6 August 2009, Dalston, LB Hackney, London.  Commissioned by Barbican Art Gallery. Photo by: Eliot Wyman.

Best practice in: sustainable community engagement in place shaping, through local authority partnership with local and regional arts and cultural organisations and inter-departmental working between cultural development, regeneration and planning teams.

Key facts and figures

Site: Dalston Junction, LB Hackney, 2009 (a £160m mixed use development, funded through public and private investment)

The Barbican Art Gallery 

Funding source for commission:
Arts Council England, RSA & The Barbican Art Gallery, LB Hackney – both cash and in-kind support: £45,000.

Artists/arts organisations: The Barbican Art Gallery, RSA and Arts & Ecology Centre. Arcola Theatre, V22, Gahu Dramatic Arts, Artburst, The Colaborator's Guide Collective and Dan Lepard, Alexandre Bettler, Federico Fazenda and JBT, VoiCE, Celine Condorelli, Angels of Kaos, muf architecture/art, Fergus Walker, UPIA, Kate Rich, Barbara Patkova, Gayle Chong Kwan, Four Aces Club. Restaging of work by environmental artist Agnes Dene: Wheatfield – A Confrontation 1982.

Architecture and construction management:

Project overview
In 2009, work commenced on a major mixed-use development located at Dalston Junction.  The principal components include re-development of Dalston Station led by Transport for London, provision of five hundred new housing units by Barratt Homes and the creation of a new public space: Dalston Square.  The Dalston Junction development is located next to the Rhodes housing estate, managed by Hackney Homes. The site of the Dalston Mill is known as the Eastern Curve and is next to an underground tunnel within the Dalston Junction re-development zone.  

Across the local area, considerable public interest was expressed by many different communities about the scale of changes planned. In response, the Cultural Development Team proposed a redirection of Section 106 funds, originally identified to develop an art commission for the new square, into a programme of participatory arts projects in existing public spaces as a means of mitigating the disruption caused by the Dalston Junction development. The aim was to build positive relationships with local communities, and develop a sense of the benefits of Dalston’s regeneration as being for everyone – not just the ‘haves’ moving into the new Barratt housing.

This approach dovetailed with the results of a mapping study, Making Space in Dalston, funded by Design for London and carried out by muf architecture/art and landscape architects J&L Gibbons LLP.  The study explored possible outdoor host spaces for cultural activities in Dalston and identified the Eastern Curve as one currently neglected site with potential.

This move towards encouraging the staging of activities in adjacent spaces was also designed to build capacity and to develop home grown content for future showcasing in Dalston Square, in order to embed local ownership of and pride and to encourage ongoing use of the new space for arts and
cultural activities.  

In summer 2009, at the suggestion of muf, The Barbican Art Gallery approached LB Hackney to seek permission to commission a temporary installation for the Eastern Curve.  Muf saw the commission as a means of testing and evaluating public response to new and different uses for this space.  

With support and practical assistance from Hackney Council, the Gallery commissioned experimental architectural collective EXYZT to create The Dalston Mill over a six week period in July and early August. The installation was conceived as part of the Barbican’s major exhibition Radical Nature: Art and Architecture for a Changing Planet, and designed to coincide with the annual arts festival - CREATE09, a cultural partnership between the five London boroughs of Greenwich, Hackney, Newham, Tower Hamlets and Waltham Forest, all of which are hosts for the Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2012.

Aims of the commission

Aims of The Barbican Art Gallery

  • To work outside the Barbican Centre particularly in East London.
  • To develop off site work in partnership with local organisations and individuals.

Aims of LB Hackney

  • To enable temporary arts and cultural activity to take place in existing public spaces surrounding ther new development of Dalston Square, in order to create a positive experience of change for local people at a time of great disruption in the public realm.
  • To create an environment to encourage pride and ownership in local residents and a re-valuing of existing public spaces through offering creative solutions to previously redundant or overlooked amenities.
  • To provide artists with the opportunity to contribute to an urban improvement scheme concerned with place shaping.
  • To develop a closer working partnership with The Barbican Centre as a major local cultural resource.

Commission description
EXYZT aim to challenge the view of architecture as an independent field of practice and ‘conceive and organize each project as a playground in which cultural behaviours and shared stories relate, mix and mingle.’ 

The Dalston Mill featured a restaging of pioneering environmental artist Agnes Dene's iconic work Wheatfield – A Confrontation, 1982, commissioned by the American Public Art Fund, where she planted and harvested two acres of wheat at the Battery Park landfill site in downtown New York. This act of transplanting rural nature into the heart of an otherwise extremely dense urban environment was EXYZT’s inspiration for The Dalston Mill

EXYZT installed a functioning windmill capable of producing low-voltage electricity and supplying enough power for an LED lighting system and to grind wheat for some of the flour required by a resident baker to run a bread oven. The mill was located adjacent to a 20 metre-long wheatfield planted for the occasion. 

During July and August, a programme of events presented by artists and local arts organisations such as Gahu Dramatic Arts, Arcola Theatre and Artburst transformed this previously neglected, overlooked, wasteland into a highly popular place with local people. The addition of a small bar encouraged people to spend time on this site. The project showed how a small, tranquil semi-rural oasis could be created in the midst of a highly urban space, which at the time was dominated by major construction work.

The Dalston Mill attracted 14,500 visitors over the few weeks it was installed; 75% of these visitors were from Hackney and 33% were from the immediate area.  

The Dalston Mill was chosen as the location for the Create09 launch event and was a major highlight within the festival programme.

Funding and encouragement from LB Hackney Cultural Development Team and Hackney's Town Centres Team, to get local artists and arts organisations involved over the Create09 opening weekend, drew in a large new local audience – particularly from the Rhodes Estate immediately adjacent to the new development. This work was led by Gahu Dramatic Arts, Artburst, and artist Gayle Chong Kwan who programmed events for families.

For the Barbican Art Gallery, the events progrmame was rich and varied and left sufficient space for new events to be included spontaneously over the course of a month.  Evaluation suggested that this resulted in genuine engagement with a range of hard-to-reach groups.

The success of this initiative gave local people a positive experience of change.  It demonstrated vividly how temporary interventions can alter the perception of place and instill new ambition.  The installation work has since led on to a commissioning opportunity for EXYZT to design and install a temporary timber pavilion for the Eastern Curve, which will allow local people to use this reclaimed space as a venue for activities all year round.

The health and well-being benefits of the project were increased community cohesion, and increased access on a temporary basis to an extraordinary leisure amenity.

The positive experience of change in the Eastern Curve brought about by Dalston Mill has also helped to get community support for seven new capital projects to deliver public realm improvements identified through Making Space in Dalston study, with funding support from the London Development Agency (LDA). The programme has been built by working with local residents, businesses and other organisations to develop a shared vision for Dalston.  Over six months planning and consultation, they aimed to "celebrate what is there, nurture the
possible and define what is missing.”   

The result is a £750,000 scheme to improve Dalston’s open spaces that will complete the regeneration of the area by ‘joining up’ the existing heart of Dalston with the new housing, public square and station at Dalston Junction.   The scheme is a partnership between the LDA and the London Borough of Hackney and is due for completion in 2010.  

These projects are designed to create local landmarks and include an artist’s commission to provide cladding treatment to a container housing play equipment for temporary events located in Gillette Square,  a pioneering community asset management scheme for a public planting scheme in Ashwin Street, new access and an outdoor sitting/performance space for Ridley Road Market, a new community orchard, food growing and play space for the Rhodes Estate, and a lighting and way finding scheme to improve orientation around the whole town centre.

Key factors for success

  • The local authority matched excellent arts expertise available on their doorstep (by working in partnership with The Barbican Art Gallery) with internal cultural community engagement skills within their Cultural Development Team.
  • LB Hackney adopted an approach to community consultation which made use of its strong networks, knowledge and contacts with local arts and community organisations to ensure that the statutory ‘duty to consult’ could be achieved in a meaningful and enjoyable way. This built relationships with local people, assisted in opening positive channels of communication and developing trust. This was assisted by the knowledge shared by the consultants who carried out the Making Space for Dalston study.
  • The added value that the Cultural Development Team's local knowledge and skills brought to creating a positive experience of change for Hackney residents and businesses was recognised by Planning and Regeneration teams and assisted in delivering an effective consultation process.
  • A clear strategy and proposals for a series of temporary commissioning opportunities to animate different spaces were put in place to address the results of the consultation process.
  • As a result of the work of the Cultural Development Team, key local organisations and groups such as the Trinity Centre, the CLR James Library and the Rhodes Estate TRA were proactive in promoting the events programme at Dalston Mill, which drew in new local audiences. 

LB Hackney Cultural Development Team, email:

The Barbican Arts Centre
Create Festival 
Making Space in Dalston