A wooden pavilion has opened at Elephant and Castle wrapped around a mature plane tree with a rooftop walkway to peer over the local area. Built around an existing London plane tree and clad with Accoya timber, the pavilion is both a building that houses a coffee shop, but also opens up the roof to the public with more seating upstairs and views across the local park.

It’s part of the, at times controversial, redevelopment of the Heygate Estate which has seen protests about the lack of social housing and how previous tenants were forced out to allow the rebuilding.

Here, the former central park is being revamped with new play areas, a new side street lined with cafes and restaurants, and in the middle, this new wooden pavilion. It manages that odd mix of standing out compared to the brick-clad towers around it, just with the pale wood cladding blending into the existing tree-filled landscape.

There are two sets of stairs, sensibly lined with perforated supports to let the water run away, and up on the roof a plaza space lined with seating and planting, and a walkway around the old plane tree.

Opening up the roof is a clever use of the space, although one that will have been expensive as it requires a lift to be added to what would otherwise have been a single-storey building. On my visit, a chap was reading, and a family was playing, so it’s being used as an escape maybe from the rest of the park around it.

Unlike some community spaces I have seen recently, the structure looks to have been built with attention to the quality of the final finish by Webb Yates, with the metal wall reassuringly solidly built and nice touches with the detailing. And at least with the cafe in the ground floor, it serves a function, rather than just being a piece of trophy architecture that looks pretty but pointless.

Down at ground level, there’s the coffee shop, two public toilets, and a small room that’s an overflow space for the cafe if people want to sit indoors. The space can also be hired out for events, and there are plenty of signs advertising that, including one inside the lift saying that I can “book this space”, and I presume they didn’t mean the space I was standing in at the time.

It’s a nice idea to put the pavilion here in the middle of the park instead of hiding it away in the tower blocks going up, although I was very much irritated by the loud bird scarer they’ve installed. Actively scaring birds away roosting in a mature plane tree sadly reminding me of the social engineering that modern estates often engage in to control human behaviour.

The Tree House was designed by Bell Phillips architects.

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