This is an essay written by Diego Ivan Correa G, an architect who lives in Barking. I met him while on holiday, in November 2009 and he gave me a guided tour around the places that he is describing.

Creating a new Sense of Belonging

New architecture in Barking

by Diego Ivan Correa G - December 2009

What define a community?

According to Wiktionary, a community is a “Group of people sharing a common understanding who reveal themselves by using the same language, manners, tradition and law”. I think this is a common and well-accepted definition, but when we try to apply it to the reality of cities, towns or villages I feel there is something missing in it.

For me, the lost element could be the “land” and how that community uses it in order to prioritize its institutions, whatever they are, regarding their function: commercial, religious, political,
educational and housing among others.

It is interesting to notice that towns or cities, regardless of their sizes are living entities, therefore changeable in time as it happens with any living creature. The way they modify their shapes is given by the way their inhabitants' hierarchies function in it, disappearing or modifying old ones or creating others.

The name given to the discipline which study, conceptualize and propose these changes in our cities is ‘urbanism”. Of course it is not an isolated discipline, nowadays, we citizens are invited to be part of the decisions, thus playing an active part in the change of the urban landscape.

Urbanism is extremely linked with architecture: urbanism creates a kind of order; architecture gives form to that order.

Barking, a small town in the east of London is living right now what is called an important - and without precedents - “regeneration” , an urban proposal which aims at giving new life to a part of the city which has seen its importance diminishing in the last years.

The town was a fishing port from the 14th century until the second half of the 19th century. Numerous trades associated with ship building developed and after 1887, the beginning of industrialization, business was a reality in Barking bringing fresh air to the Borough. This prosperity has markedly decreased in the last century, creating one of poorest boroughs in London and therefore, causing a lack of interest in it not just in the government but in the main commercial businesses and logically in its own multicultural community.

Now all that has been changing since 2004 when this part of the city was designated as a major center in the London plan which guides the planning of the Borough up until 2020 embracing different parts and activities within the town. These are the four key sites in the town centre subject to development plans: the station quarter, Axe Street, the London road site and the town square development (the one shown in the pictures), developed by Allford Hall Monaghan and Morris . The latter is the one that we can see actually in front of the Town Hall’s building.
Between this structure and the new complex there is a square which aims to be the new heart of Barking where its inhabitants can develop a sense of belonging and proud about their place, their new and improved town. The decision for the huge project in this part of the town was inspired to create a real feeling of change, within the community which will be extended to other parts of the town: the Abbey Green, the High Street, new housing developments, improved communications routes, etc. (... )

As with ancient Roman cities, (the Town Square development)  was developed around the ‘plaza”. On each side of the square, there is a building or monument which looks back to the past and makes a statement about a promising future as well.

On one side is the Town Hall building which became the one which links the present with those most prosperous times: designed in 1930, it was built in 1950.
In front of the Town Hall building, there are 2 buildings and the arboretum. One of them is the library built on the site of the old library. At the other side stand the “secret garden” or “folly”, a 7-meter high façade which has been built using old bricks and salvaged architectonic elements. It gives a sense of frozen time to the site and at the same time plays with our perception about the present, the past and why not… the future.

Facing the plaza in a scale that lets the Town Hall building keep its “majesty”,.the library's art gallery stands , a part of the main building but with its own volume,

On the top of it, a “garden housing scheme” was developed and it was awarded a project winner for outstanding achievement in the field of housing and sustainability. This is a beautiful building with a modern and classical approach: modern in the use of the proportion of its volumes, materials and color.

(The Garden Housing Scheme is) classic in the way it creates a boulevard at one of its sides which face the arboretum giving a wonderful sense of urban scale to the site. The boulevard is lit with huge modern chandeliers.  The other building is a colorful one which emphasizes the corner at the plaza with humour and style.


Amidst these buildings, there is the arboretum, a wonderful idea which has already received awards. I must say I do not understand why some details were changed after its construction was ended, like the circles of earth around some of the trees and the not so nice pieces of wood in the hand rails that avoid the possibility of accidents. Was it lack of design?

Working as back up of the arboretum there is the tallest building of the complex “the lemonade”, whose design is part of the scheme color but whose proportions I found difficult to understand: it seems flattened, the top of it ends without any sensibility.

Despite the fact that we can enjoy or not the new architecture of this attractive town’s heart,  without any doubt there is the desire to inspire and being inspired by this place.

Now it is the turn of the community to take it, to embrace it and make it theirs, this sense of belonging is the most important feeling a community can develop, it creates pride, love and therefore inspire you to care about your place.

Barking is living a new birth; I hope that with it a new and constructive sense of community has arrived to the town as well.