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A Tour of Ash Sakula's Canning Town Caravanserai

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Footprint pays a visit to the Caravanserai on the eve of Open House weekend


Caravanserai north entrance, as seen from Canning Town DLR station


The Market is open for business 10am-5pm every Saturday

Car-a-van·se·rai [kærë”vænsëraû] n. pl. -rais

1. An oasis-like inn and trading post. Hundreds of Caravanserais lined the world famous Silk Road which connected people and provisions from Asia to their counterparts in the Mediterranean, North and East Africa and Europe. These hubs offered rest, water, food, entertainment and business opportunities.

Footprint was welcomed into the Canning Town Caravanserai ‘cultural exchange and urban ideas hub’ and brainchild of Ash Sakula Architects by on-site manager Ibrahim Buhari. A comprehensive tour of the project commenced amidst the twenty construction volunteers busily preparing for a weekend of workshops, glitter art and no-car boot sale, as part of Open House 2012.



Canning Town Caravanserai began life as a successful bid for Boris Johnson’s 2011 ‘Meanwhile London’ competition, where entrants submitted proposals for three brownfield sites on the journey from central London out to the Olympic park in Stratford. Since the opening of the project in April this year, the task now is to sustain interest and engagement with the local community while continuing to add and enrich the site, until 2017 at least.




The Caravanserai has a strong environmental agenda - construction materials are to be re-appropriated or recycled and all locally sourced, with emphasis on upcycling and making resources stretch as far as possible.

Timber sleepers were upcycled from the nearby Olympic park and are now used as decking. The remainder of the wood was sourced from ISG, contractor of the nearby Siemens Crystal (see next week’s AJ), and previously diverted from landfill. Scaffolding was donated from nearby Loughton Scaffolding.


The caravanserai is divided into eight micro-enterprise units which support local start up independent businesses rent-free. Ash Sakula’s ‘Dragon’s Kiosk’ competition held in April this year provided a platform for prospective traders to pitch their ideas and business strategies for the Caravanserai.

Successful proposals were then offered a location on-site, current occupants include upholstery and vintage furniture upcycling, artwork and printed canvases, pet accessories and ‘Iman Made’, skincare line without harmful chemicals, run by chief trader Iman Ogoo.



Additional structures to support the market activities include a dining table for feast events, theatre for live performances, cafe, children’s play area, and The Cube - a structure created by architecture students at UEL as part of their construction week programme.

Since April, the Caravanserai has played host to a series of events including Chelsea Fringe (pop-up garden event as a branch of the Chelsea Flower Show), community feasts and a series of live music events held in conjunction with local bar Arch1.




Trade School London are operating an educational programme and skill-share series in conjunction with the Caravanserai. Activities have included willow lantern making, an upcyling furniture workshop, print-making, photography and an appearance from a local graffiti artist.

A series of free language classes - which to date have included Spanish and Italian - have been hosted by bi-lingual speakers who work on-site.

The Caravanserai also collaborates with local charities, including homelessness foundation Anchor House, where participants have been invited to assist the volunteers, helping them develop construction skills which could be the fist step in working towards a life off the street.

The project also has close links with E16, part of the Meanwhile allotment project in Canning Town, with gardener Valerie working between both sites.




The plan is for the Caravanserai to gradually be handed over to the community, with the chief trader taking an active role in the project ownership and management of the project.

Footprint posed two questions to chief trader Iman Ogoo:

What do you think the Caravanserai has done for Canning Town as an area?

‘It has opened up opportunity for local traders to start up who couldn’t have previously afforded retail outlets. It also functions as a testing ground for entrepreneurs to trial their ideas and business strategies. This support of independent business shows residents what is on offer and provides a meeting place and playground for the children in the community.’

What do you see as the future of the Caravanserai?

‘The aim is to expand the Caravanserai and make it more inclusive. We have plans for an urban farmers’ market, and the next thing the interns will be working on will be improving and creating a comprehensive theatre structure.’




Open House weekend - the Caravanserai will be buzzing with activity from 10am - 6pm both Saturday and Sunday (22/23 Sep). Walking the site talks with Cany Ash of Ash Sakula architects 4pm, 4:30pm, 5pm, including a chance to chat to site volunteers. Children’s activities include painting, planting and selling.

The Caravanserai is also looking for bilingual volunteers to host free language workshops. If you are interested, please contact Ash Sakula on info@ashsak.com


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