Uses for community spaces are continually changing, along with the people and industries that inhabit them. As once quiet peripheral urban areas become revived and rapidly developed, certain opportunities arise for innovative use of space. One such area is the east London Borough of Hackney—home to the UK's burgeoning tech, web and design community aptly dubbed Tech City.
When an upcoming development rendered a 3,200-square-foot space in the Shoreditch district of Hackney vacant for 18 months, Nicolas Roope of local creative agency Poke jumped at the rare opportunity to provide a blank canvas venue to the vibrant community. Named for its non-designated use, BL-NK is a space for businesses, artists, conferences, individuals and just about anyone. We recently got a look at the space as the finishes touches were being added during the recent London Design Festival, and caught up with co-founder Roope for more insight on what's to come.
"If you're going to do anything that represents an area," says Roope, "you have to embrace what the area is about, and the defining element is openness—where you can operate outside of the disciplines and you're not beholden to the heritage of the discipline." Roope says the last thing they wanted to do was put a label on the space (like "art gallery") because that would impact and dictate the sorts of uses for the space. Rather, the idea is that both local businesses and tech giants alike can use the space to showcase new innovations or simply hold conferences for the exchange of ideas. Non-profits and local businesses get free and reduced rates while private businesses pay a range of fees for the space.
BL-NK is aiming to structure the building into modular units for workshops, as well create a place people can reliably turn up to for a quality coffee and a bit of wi-fi. Major partners have also already signed on for events. The famed Victoria and Albert (V&A) Museum is using BL-NK as an outpost for documenting the art and design hub that the surrounding area has grown into. "It's not really being done and it's really challenging for an institute like the V&A from its Victorian building in West London," Roope says. Meanwhile, design publication It's Nice That has brought its weekly forum Nicer Tuesdays to BL-NK for a special free talk with various creative leaders. "We want to keep the ambiguity alive," says Roope, "in the longterm we'd like to line the walls with screens so it can become a completely transformative space."
Though partnering with the local council, BL-NK is entirely funded by the private sector. "With public money, there are lots of hoops to jump through as well as scrutiny from the public over the use of funds," says Roope, "we were able to act quickly, we started talking about three months ago and did a rapid build." Since BL-NK's destruction is inevitable in 18 months, the building itself will be gone, but the impact will live on. "The way it will be defined is by the activities that will pass through that space, it will be deep and wide. You're getting a glimpse of the area," he explains. Roope says the infectious energy of such a community-driven project is sure to spill over into other areas. Given the success of last summer's Hackney House, a media center and exposition space in Shoreditch, expect big things at BL-NK and possibly even a permanent home in the future.
BL-NK is now open at 37 East Road in Shoreditch. If you're in the neighborhood stop in for a coffee at the café and be sure to keep an eye on the BL-NK website for future events.