Design Masterclass

How To Grow Food in Your Flat

Ever complained that you don’t own enough space to grow a plant?

In this ten-week project, together with the Swanlea School, in east London, we addressed the possibilities for growing food in council flats in Whitechapel. We came up with a proposal for maximising the potential of the balconies of the flats, using every nook and cranny to create a flexible, tidy and green outdoor space.

The project was part of the Royal Horticultural Society’s 2016 ‘Green Plan It’ Challenge: it won first prize, for best concept and execution.


What was the problem to solve?

Team Swanleaf identified an urgent need for council flats in Whitechapel to offer an outdoor green space for their Bengali residents, so that they could store their tools and seasonal items properly, as well as having a green spot in which to enjoy a cup of tea on a sunny day.

Using the measurements of a typical council estate balcony, the team listed all tools and equipment a Bengali family usually needs in their home, and researched different approaches for storage in order to maximise all the available space. They came up with the idea of foldable, lightweight furniture that could be assembled quickly to create a small sitting area. They ‘greened’ this space with plants chosen both for their looks and their edibility, mainly herbs used in traditional Bengali cuisine.

Plants were grouped on shelves made of reused pallets, or they were planted in food-tins and old drainpipes. Mirrors were also used in order to lighten up the dark corners of the balcony and create the impression of a bigger space.


Project take-aways

The project offered an overview of how a design scheme works, from concept to final presentation, with a strong focus on the available budget. It urged pupils to come up with a pragmatic solution to an existing problem faced by most residential estates, in which a garden feels like a luxury.

The project was student-led, encouraging pupils to take on leadership whilst being a part of a team. Throughout the project, pupils practised their research skills, came up with questionnaires and interviewed people, narrowed down the list of problems, did a lot of online research, built a variety of 3D models in order to choose the ideal design proposal and finally practised their presentation skills. The team built up their confidence by defending their project in front of an audience: they gave an outstanding speech to the judges, connecting with them, demonstrating their passion and keeping their story simple and clear.


What was the great thing about this project?

The pride and enthusiasm the whole team showed for Bengali culture. They made us all proud and curious to try a Bengali take-away. They put forward a very promising message: even where there is only an inch of available space, there is the possibility for a seed to grow.