As the UK's first charred timber building, Parkside Pavilion was developed using a unique technique specifically devised by DSDHA to burn the wood.
DSDHA worked on two pavilions on either ends of the strip of landscaped ground between City Hall and Tower Bridge, on the south bank of the Thames. One, now dismantled, used to the entrance to the park from Tower Bridge Road, while the other, the charred Parkside Kiosk, is still standing and houses a café, public toilets, ATM machines and a parking garage for the giant cherrypicker used to clean the windows of adjacent City Hall.
Parkside Kiosk looks like a geological formation, whose rough, dark exterior is both tactile and inviting, yet similarly rugged and mysterious. This blackened, burnt architecture is a reaction to the past and history of the site.
The notion of burning came about the first time we visited the site. Roy, a taxi driver, dropped us off on Tooley Street, and as we left he said: "I used to play here on the bomb sites". This history, this important emotion of the site, seems to have been forgotten, papered over by the new developments. We wanted to recapture the emotional resonance of the area that has become very corporate and slick — it isn’t part of the real Bermondsey, it doesn’t reference itself very well with the past.
So we set out to find a materiality and form that bridged between the ossified world of More London and the natural world of the park. We decided that timber was the obvious choice as it’s used often for park buildings, and we could manipulate it to make it look like it had been turned to stone.
We tested timber samples to see how they burnt. We scorched oak and cedar and Siberian larch. The first took too long to burn, while the fire had no pronounced effect on the second. Thew larch instead yielded enough to the flames, its grain standing proud while the surrounding softer fibres shrunk away.
It was all very well us doing the testing, but we needed to know how to write a specification for the contractor to char timber. We thus worked with timber research association Trada to develop a methodology of how to produce large amounts of burnt timber. In this process we found out that our charred timber structure had a precedent in the Japanese technique Yakisugi.