The Caravanserai Stands as an Oasis in the Middle of a Capitalistic Desert « Canning Town Caravanserai

The Caravanserai Stands as an Oasis in the Middle of a Capitalistic Desert

The Caravanserai represents in many respects a pushback against modern capitalistic materialism in the heart of London’s East End. This area in particular has historically been home to many of London’s poorer working class and has had a number of attempted urban redevelopment projects. In more recent times the area in which Caravanserai resided has been subject to a number of gentrifying pressures and redevelopment projects often resulting in the abandonment of council housing. On our visit we were able to visit one such site, where council housing once affordable to London’s poor sat abandoned collecting only broken glass and graffiti, waiting to be demolished. Nearby however there is a totally different story as new high rise buildings with modern flats are rapidly appearing. Moreover the construction of a new high street with modern suburban shops is currently underway. It is within this setting that the Caravanserai is situated, in the midst of a rapidly changing neighborhood which is struggling both with poverty as well as rapid change.


The site itself truly harkens back to the ideals of anticapitalist counter culture movement which became prevalent during the nineteen seventies. These movement focused upon a rejection of the ideals of capitalism and scorned “consumption for consumption’s sake”. A major focus of counterculture anticapitalist movements was sustainability and reusing material, ideas which were reflected in nearly every corner of the caravanserai. In the lot which held the Caravanserai there was practically nothing, save the electric lighting, which was not created out of something which was reused. From the theater to the hut in the back which were created out of nothing other than wood (and some hanging bricks) which was reused from old construction sites. Moreover there was a seesaw which was created out of some old wood, a metal axle and some leftover synthetic grass. Although many of these objects lack refineries common to objects used in most places in modern society (eg paint or a “professional” finish) they stayed true to the purpose of the Caravanserai which was to create a truly sustainable space in the middle of a sprawling urban metropolis. Also, the Caravanserai created a number of gardens and habitats for bugs which were both portable and environmentally friendly. The small gardens which were portable by their nature (due to the caravanserai having only a four year lease on the land) are representative of the types of movements which this place embodies. Movements which are focused on sustainability and on reusing that which already exists around us. The site also sold tea and salads both of which utilized materials from around the site.


The Caravanserai is in a number of ways the perfect response to the change which is going on around them. As buildings for the poor are abandoned and replaced with new high rises and high streets, the Caravanserai stands as an oasis in the middle of a capitalistic desert. This place is a true representation of counterculture movements which focus on suitability over materialism and aimed to truly engage with the community. Its ideals however are likely to be lost as the place will soon be demolished and the tide of urban progress will continue to reshape the area in which the caravanserai currently exists.


Adam Cavecche