Pea Soup House

Royal Institute of British Architects, London

Pea Soup House: discussing London’s air quality over a cup of soup


Pea Soup House serves a colour-coded soup that changes daily according to local air quality levels. Built for the 2016 London Festival of Architecture in association with the RIBA, it raises awareness of invisible pollutants and furthers conversations about what we can do to improve air quality in our cities.

The name is a play on London’s last major pollution crisis, when the air was described as ‘thick as pea soup’.  In the great smog of 1952, 11,000 deaths were attributed to poor air quality, prompting legislative reform and the Clean Air Act.  However in 2016, a study by King’s College found that nearly 9,500 people in the capital die early each year because of air pollution.  The challenge today, is that the pollution is invisible.

Visualising Data

Pea Soup House uses soup to engage people with the topic of pollution, and perhaps even get them to think about how the air quality forecast might affect their plans for the day. The soup is colour-coded, changing each day to reflect the Air Quality Index forecast, from a green pea soup (clean air) through to a deep purple beetroot (high levels of pollution).

The structure is clad with 365 brightly painted batons, to give an immediate visual representation of the air quality for every day of the past year.  The data for the project was provided through a partnership with King’s College, London, and their research is exhibited inside the structure with a series of infographic displays, which were produced by Studio Mothership.

“We have all this data and it’s just great to see it communicated in such an engaging and interactive way”

– King’s College Researcher

Pea Soup House was designed, built and painted by a handful of architects working at FCBS, in collaboration with the RIBA Young People’s Forum. The structure is bolted together, demountable and lightweight, which allows easy relocation to sites around London to further raise awareness.

The Soup

Catering was provided by Clarke’s Kitchen, a family run business specialising in Caribbean and French Creole food.  The chef, Angeletia Clarke created four delicious creole inspired soups specifically for Pea Soup House, which had people coming back day after day regardless of the soup’s colour.

Client: RIBA

Structural Engineer: Expedition

Research: King’s College London

Graphics and Displays: Studio Mothership

Soup: Clarke’s Kitchen

Photography: Richard Battye

Role: Designer, Painter, Carpenter, Mentor

Pea Soup House was designed and built by a group of architects working at FCBS (myself, Chris Allen, Charlotte Knight, Mina Gospavic, Lauren Shevills and Kristian Bjerre), alongside members of the RIBA Young People’s Forum.  The design was developed, painted and built through a series of collaborative workshops, which provided hands on experience for a group of 15-18 year olds interested in learning about architecture.

The project was one of three winning designs chosen by the RIBA to be installed at 66 Portland Place as part of the London Festival of Architecture 2016.