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The Building Exploratory 








The London Jigsaw. Carpentry by Spag, Colour design Polly Richards. Image courtesy of Sandra Lousada 

The Building Exploratory was set up in 1996 to provide a model for local multidisciplinary centres. Built by and for local communities, these were designed to provide free education about the local built environment, support local education and skills development, provide local jobs and promote interdisciplinary thinking.


Originally named 'Hackney Building Exploratory', the charity was founded and directed by Polly Hudson and designed with Dr Polly Richards over a seven year period in collaboration with an in-house team of local staff and volunteers, and over 700 Hackney residents.  


The project was funded many organisations and initially developed on an exhibit by exhibit basis.  Particular thanks go to the Clore Duffield Foundation, The Joseph Rowntree Trust, English Heritage, the Arts Council and The Hackney Society, and to Donald Sproson, of the then Department of National Heritage, who facilitated the Exploratory's first grant.


Below are images of some of the beautiful exhibits, used as teaching and discussion tools, made through collaborations between local artists and craftspeople, and  community members and external professionals. Though the permanent exhibition has been disbanded owing to lack of affordable exhibition space, the community work of the Building Exploratory, now based at Alan Baxter Associates, continues at


Around thirty physical exhibits were built by community members for the permanent exhibition, which also included a mini science centre.  These were accompanied by a community Geographic Information System, designed by Polly Hudson and Spencer Chainey, GIS Manager at Hackney Council, in 1999. The system, which was funded by the Housing Corporation and New Islington and Hackney Housing Association, allowed residents to type in their address and zoom down onto their homes using council licensed OS maps and satellite imagery. Users could then bring up layered historical and current data relating to their homes and their local area, or the borough as a whole. The system also included a basic streetview facility, to enable images of housing association (HA)  properties to be viewed. This enabled both virtual inspection and comparison between location of HA and council properties, encouraging more

efficient transfer of housing stock. 


3D animations, which visualised a range of London datasets, supplied by The Bartlett Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis (CASA), University College London, were exhibited next to the giant multi- layered giant  jigsaw of London shown above. 

If you were part of the original team of volunteers, residents, schools, local artists, built environment professionals and community groups who worked on Hackney Building Exploratory's  permanent exhibition between 1997 and 2000 we would love to include your name in this section and any photographs you may have. Please contact Polly Hudson at This work is now helping inform a new digital knowledge exchange project run at CASA/UCL called Colouring London. If you'd like to know more visit










Tower Block (above and below). Concept and photography Tom Hunter. Modelmaking James Mackinnon. Spyholes, and portraits of Holly Street residents, from 24 of the soon to be demolished flats, were embedded into the model along with a miniature screen showing residents in one flat moving around their home.  

A Hackney Street above with its walls removed to promote discussions regarding urban density

The Hackney Model. Built by 350 Hackney primary pupils working with recycling specialists/arts group Escrapology.  Base maps kindly provided by Hackney Council. . 

Residents choosing their favourite period of home. Research Maria Stasiak, Graphic design Polly Richards

3D interactive periodic table. Part of Exploratory's mini science centre. Blank cubes donated by Ian Shrager Hotels. New York. Developed with the Royal Society of Chemistry.  Graphic Design Polly Richards

Above - tactile exhibits looking at land cover

Above: Evolution in Hackney in 3D - prehistoric times to today- Built by Russell beck Studios

Visitors with a cast of the earliest human footprint , kindly donated by the Natural History Museum.

Part view of the evolution section below

The Building Exploratory's community GIS alongside the artist Bobby Lloyd's work on housing with elderly residents' groups

A slice through the street showing water, gas, electricity, sewers and internet cabling.  Built by Russell Beck Studios in collaboration with Cable London and Thames Water.

Gnerously funded by Cable London

When you pressed the button the cables lit up showing an example of private company cabling c 1998 when the internet was beginning to becoming more common in homes , and started the sound and light  on a miniature fax machine, a computer a telephone and a television (which played the EastEnders theme tune)  

3D Puzzles showing typical housing morphologies from specific historical periods.

Built by Dan Cope

The deep geology of Hackney


Hackney Building Exploratory Community GIS, 1999.  Here showing a related project for New Islington and Hackney Housing Association,  with NIHHA stock in red-attached to Streetview photographs. The aim was to help housing officers to  monitor condition of stock, and assess suitability for stock transfers in relation to Hackney Council stock, shown in purple.

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