On September 25, 2015, Dr. Jones’s class, COLWRIT R4B Reading and Composition, went to
Caravanserai in Canning Town—“the new trading post in East London”. In the midst of cranes,
new high-rise buildings, and redevelopment zones with signs like “A brand new neighborhood”
(which all seem to herald a new urban era), Caravanserai is a rare oasis for city dwellers because of
its stark contrast with the developing city around it. Its architectural foundations and community
garden are just a few of the examples that show how it is an alternative space for urban-dwellers
with no access to more natural materials in Canning Town’s regeneration scheme. In particular, the
first impression that struck me was its ecological efficiency and commitment to conservation.
The most notable aspect of Caravanserai is its architectural framework. Volunteers within
the community build the entire town from recycled products, such as wood and poles from
construction sites. For example, according to our tour guide University students built “The Cube”. It
is a rather impressive feat with its sturdy wooden planks, roof, deck, and doors. This type of
construction shows the way in which Caravanserai allows the urban community to be involved with
ecological manual labor, exposing students to the ways in which “discarded” items can be reused
and recycled to construct something practical and beautiful to the community. In addition, it
reconnects students to the idea of the interdependence of the environment, economics, and the
social ideals by showing how items can be reused in a sustainable manner.
Another way that Caravanserai provides an alternative space for urban-dwellers is “The
Community Garden”. It is a space with transportable gardens in wooden stands where anybody in
the community with no room in their own abode can come and grow flowers, fruits, and vegetables.
It is a rather clever design in that the garden can be transported at anytime without disturbing or
ruining the ecosystem it sits on because of its self-sustainable access to dirt and sunlight. The
garden is not simply for aesthetic purposes either; it contributes its harvest to the “Oasis Café”,
which serves delicious mint tea and cake made from the garden’s crops. This may be biased from
my positive experience, but I would definitely say there is more flavors to these food because it is
fresh from the garden.
This Caravanserai contributed to my own re-education of being more environmentally
conscious because it demonstrated that it is possible to be self-sustainable even within a new
towering city. By “limiting” oneself to purely recyclable or natural materials, one can be more
creative and flexible with buildings, the use of space, and materials. For example, I would have
never thought it would be possible to create a live, interactive theatre without a formal stage. What
the town has done is to set the scenes of the play at different parts of the town, using the
environment and conjuring up imagination in order to depict memorable “Macbeth” scenes. In
example, play-actors and audiences can move from a tiny garden of headstones on the far side of
the garden all the way to the other side to the “Longest Table in England” for a banquet, where
perhaps everybody can eat and be involved in the play.
Overall, Caravanserai is definitely a rare space for city-dwellers not only because of its
ecologically friendly aspect, but also the ways it can reconnect people to environment, the
community, and to their own creativity.