A second life for fallen London trees

Lea Bridge Library by Studio Weave

Beautifully lined in a colourful patchwork of hardwoods from felled urban trees, Studio Weave’s pavilion is a dynamic and delightful addition to Lea Bridge Library.

Lea Bridge Library by Studio Weave

Images © Jim Stephenson. A red pre-cast concrete colannade runs the length of the wing. The non-structural columns contain downpipes taking rainwater to the tree roots.

Built to the rear of the existing Edwardian brick library, this single-storey, timber-framed extension provides an open plan café and flexible spaces for individual, community and group activities.

The building has a slender form with a solid rear wall against the boundary wall of the site and an entire face of glazing overlooking the newly planted ‘Friendship Gardens’.

Tucked just off the busy main street, the pavilion’s arrangement is responsive to the existing mature trees growing in the garden. Semi-circular cut-outs punctuate its rectangular form, allowing space for canopies, trunks and roots.

A tapestry of timber

Inside, a rich variety of wood salvaged from trees felled across the parks, streets and gardens of London forms the joinery and furniture. The architects worked closely with local furniture maker Sebastian Cox to design a continuous wall of fluted timber panelling that connects shelving with built-in seating. Cox also designed and made custom desks, collapsible tables, stackable chairs and upholstered sofas for the pavilion.

The visual inconsistencies and blemishes of the repurposed hardwood is celebrated in the fluted panelling.

Overall, twenty-five cubic metres of salvaged wood was used for the fitted and loose furniture, from species including London plane, poplar, sycamore, ash, Holm oak, Turkey oak, sequoia and horse chestnut. The wood was sourced, milled and planed with the help of Fallen and Felled – a London-based timber company set up to reduce wastage of fallen trees in the capital.

Picked up by the cascading light from a full-length ribbon of skylights, the varying tones and textures of the cabinetry bring a pleasurable complexity and warmth to the interior while reinforcing the connection to the garden and trees outside.

Enhancing a library and garden

The brief from the London Borough of Waltham Forest had been to provide the listed Carnegie Library with a café and more social space for users, thus freeing up the existing library for quiet reading and study. Beyond this, it was open to the design team to site the building and decide how and where to position additions.

To the rear of the library was a sizeable but underused garden with limited accessibility, however Studio Weave quickly realized that the mature trees growing there were an enormous heritage asset to the site. To keep the garden as large as possible and to restrict encroachment on the trees, they decided to run the extension along the site’s perimeter wall.

Tree-sensitive design inside and out

Thorough Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) surveys were carried out to establish the root distribution, and the design of the substructure was developed through close collaboration between structural engineers Timberwright and an arboricultural consultant. A durable reinforced concrete slab supported on small diameter bored piles was chosen for the foundations to minimise ground disturbance. The design also allows rainwater collected from the roof to be directed beneath the suspended slab, ‘re-watering’ the tree root zone covered by the new building.

Lea Bridge Library by Studio Weave

View from the rear of the pavilion towards the cafe and existing library building. The plan squeezes here to protect the roots of a Common Lime tree.

The pavilion’s structural frame, built primarily of LVL, was designed by Timberwright, with timber supplied by Metsä. In order to protect a tree growing close to the building, the floor plan scoops in with a glass cut out and raises up, providing a deeper deck section and offsetting the root protection area. At the far end of the pavilion both the floor and roof are also cut away, allowing a tree to grow unencumbered through the structure.

Studio Weave used the halfway squeeze in the plan as an opportunity to divide the pavilion with a pivoting timber door which can swing across to create a temporary events space. As the floor steps up by 500 mm at this point, level access to the rear of the building is provided via an outdoor covered ramp on the walkway.

The previously unloved outdoor space has been transformed by award-winning designer Tom Massey into a ‘climate resistant’ edible forest garden with clearings for community activities and timber play structures.

Completed in 2021, this peaceful, playful extension has been welcomed by all sorts of users and become a vibrant public resource, hosting regular events from toddler sessions to workshops to art exhibitions. By prioritising connection to the natural world; the careful preservation and reuse of existing resources; and the creation of flexible, communal space the pavilion interweaves environmental and social wellbeing.

Lea Bridge Library by Studio Weave

An outdoor stage area has been created from logs and self-binding gravel.