Design for Life


Landscape Institute and Groundwork


Tower Hamlets London Borough Council


Plan Projects, Luke Greysmith Associates


Whitechapel, London


The Design for Life competition aimed to encourage housing providers, designers and local communities build on the example set by Groundwork London’s successful series of pilot projects in the Hammersmith and Fulham areas. These pilots worked with local residents to design and implement climate change adaptation measures to housing estates. Plan Projects’ submission, put forward for the Tylney House Estate, came joint second in the competition and were awarded support from Groundwork to take the project forward.

Through retrofitting sustainable urban drainage systems (SUDS) into the existing landscapes of housing estates, Groundwork’s pilot showcased how the environmental performance could be improved in parallel to increasing resident satisfaction and building local resilience to climate change.

The design brief asked professionals and communities to put forward ideas to design and implement climate change adaptation measures to neglected or underused spaces in their local area.


In collaboration with Luke Greysmith Associates, Plan Projects were invited to a walking tour of the Whitechapel area led by the Tower Hamlets Regeneration and Public health team. The aim of the tour was to critically assess a number of outdoor spaces requiring spatial and social improvements.

The team were particularly interested in addressing the challenges faced by the Tylney House Estate which encompassed a series of small disconnected spaces which as well as being neglected and in poor condition, were also suffering forms of anti-social activity.


As described in the competition brief, incorporating SUDS into high density city spaces is essential in combatting some of the on-setting effects of climate change, reducing flood risk and preventing pollution of our waterways.

Our scheme focussed on introducing these systems to the residential housing estates of London which often have high potential in terms of useable space but are lacking in the correct infrastructure to adapt to more sustainable systems. Our response aimed to adapt these spaces with sustainable drainage systems whilst also introducing multifunctional dimensions and functions to the spaces created as a result of their implementation.

The idea of introducing play to a sustainable drainage system is a way of unlocking some of the cities hidden processes by creating a visual and interactive story about the journey of water. This visual and interactive injection into the classic sustainable drainage system looks to provide environmental education to children portraying the intricate process of sustainable water collection in the city.

Integrating play opportunities into the sustainable drainage system also offers a cost effective way to retrofit play areas across city estates, introducing wildlife and biodiversity to spaces which are all too often sterile, un-inspiring hard surfaced areas.


We believed that this idea could be replicated across London’s housing estates to re-invigorate play areas and re-think their relationship with surrounding spaces. The scheme would provide local residents with an opportunity to adapt a design concept to their particular spaces and needs, creating new spatial relationships between adult and children’s recreation.

Essentially our design proposed introducing a playable sustainable drainage system to Tylney House, which is a small housing estate situated in the heart of Whitechapel.

Tylney house had a mix of green, hard-surfaced and play spaces that were disconnected and very underused. Our response was about creating a synergy and physical connection between these spaces by providing a sustainable drainage system that would introduce visual and interactive relationships between the various outdoor areas.

In summary, bringing water into children’s play areas aims to respond to two challenges that are present across a number of London’s housing estates.

– introducing and equipping housing estates with sustainable drainage systems
– regenerating rundown play spaces with an opportunity for natural play

  1. A green roof would be introduced across Tylney House which would allow clean rain water to be harvested and run off into the children’s play area and wider sustainable drainage system.
  2. The vertical drainage system that takes the water from the roof to the play area would be configured to provide visual interest presenting the journey of the water through a number of twists and turns. The system would also include a number of filtration points that would allow for a gradual and prolonged release of rainwater that is clean of pollutants and safe for play.
  3. At ground level the filtered rain water would flow from an outlet pipe into the mosaic play stream which runs through the children’s play area. The water is constantly moving and not allowed to stagnate.
  4. The play stream would flow slowly through the playground snaking in between swings and slides. The shallow stream would give children the opportunity to interact with water after rain showers teaching them about the journey of water and it availability.
  5. After flowing gently through the playground the water will be dispersed into the green verge which replaces the current fencing surrounding the play area.


Local involvement in the design and construction of the scheme would be crucial to initiating an understanding of the drainage system and how it works. We would expect to work collaboratively with local residents and children to incorporate their aesthetic ideals and general ideas.

We imagine the route, twists and turns of the downpipe which carries water from the green roof to the play stream could be an interactive exercise for children where miniature models could be produced teaching them about water flow and the filtration process.

Adults would be able to take forward the construction of growing boxes and make decisions as to how they are allocated amongst residents of the estate. They would also decide what they are planted with.