words Oliver Wainwright
The smell of freshly baked bread wafts down Dalston Lane in east London, mingling with the area’s heady scent of kebab shops and cement dust – the aroma of a neighbourhood undergoing redevelopment.
It’s not coming from the local Turkish bakery, but from a scaffold tower that rises up to a supersized spinning wind vane. Referencing the vernacular of construction sites nearby, French architecture collective EXYZT has built this urban mill and bread oven as part of the Radical Nature exhibition at the Barbican (until 18 October).
Entering via a timber tunnel, visitors are treated to a surreal oasis beneath the tower, where a wheatfield stretches out in a recreation of Agnes Denes’ 1982 installation on a two-acre landfill site in Manhattan.
“We have turned it into a productive public space for the community,” explains Nicolas Henninger of EXYZT.
An elaborate Heath Robinson mechanism connects the vast propeller, through cog and pulley wheels, to a diminutive domestic grain grinder. “We don’t know anything about making bread,” he grins, “but we have come here to learn.”
For three weeks, this derelict railway site has hosted a series of workshops covering subjects from cake decorating to African drumming.
Whereas Denes’ project ended by industrially harvesting over 1,000 lbs of grain, which was then planted across the globe, this version is local in its reach.
“Our Kurdish neighbour popped by, very excited,” says Henninger. “He said his mother knows how to harvest wheat.”