[From top: The Floating Cinema; “Bowered Glade” of Floating Forest; End-of-the-Pier; Teatro del Mondo]
London is abuzz with water activities this summer – not the beach-surfing, water sports type but a rather meditative and narrative-based ones around three much-talked-about floating structures dubbed The Floating Cinema, Floating Forest and End-of-the-Pier that made the city’s waterways become a backdrop for projecting architectural imaginings.
The Floating Cinema – a collaborative project led by Studio Weave – is a long, narrow work boat-turned-cinema, with bespoke flip-up seats in its interior and a spill-out space under a soft-quilted canopy for on-board screenings and workshops; the Floating Forest designed by Atmos Studio consists of a “Root Lounge” (a ten-seater grassy mounds atop CNC-carved plywood ribs built on two lashed-up canoes) operating in symphony with a “Bowered Glade” (another forestral floor built on plastic pontoons with a “tree” of sinuous CNC-carved trunk clusters); while The End-of-the-Pier is a movable waterlogged pontoon transformed into a seaside pavilion-inspired Victorian-style pier built out of new and reclaimed materials by Voluntary Design & Build.
The novelty of these aquatic platforms, however, could be traced back to the floating theatres of Venice. Aldo Rossi’s Teatro del Mondo at the 1979 Venice Biennale, with its enclosed edifice that somehow fit into the city’s fabric, was a reflection of, and counterpoint to, the traditional low and open-air “theatres of the world”.
But as much as these recent floats vastly differ from Rossi’s in scale, function, and intention, by being complementary platforms to existing events, as opposed to mere structures, they may be similar in their programmatic symbol as ‘a place where architecture ended and the world of the imagination began’ – as Rossi described of his project.
As part of The Kindest Group’s mission to deliver public spaces that foster sharing, the Floating Forest is an interactive odyssey in which guests picked laser-cut wooden symbols found at the “Root Lounge” to be collectively interpreted upon reaching the “Bowered Glade”, after which they would leave one of the symbols hanging on the “tree” as a wish. With the idea of a float as a place of fantasy, the End-of-the-Pier is a whimsical docking point for boats hired to roam around the algae-infested Lee canal and Olympic rivers next to the Folly-For-A-Flyover site, where a six-week programme of canal-side cinema, performances, and canal tours took place under a flyover.
As the Floating Cinema and Floating Forest continue operating this summer up till their intensified use for the Olympics, and as the Hall of Mirrors becomes a new play facility, they would go beyond gesturing infinite possibilities as temporary structures. Through community construction, imaginative design, and creative social strategies, they raised the potential of organically developing alternative uses of otherwise derelict waterways – rediscovering their balm-like power, not just as tourist attractions, but as activities embedded in canal-side communities.