Organisers of the annual Antepavilion architecture charity competition have released footage of police storming their building and arresting staff ahead of the opening of the rooftop tensegrity structure targeted in the raid.
CCTV footage shows more than 40 officers streaming into the canalside Hoxton Docks arts building in east London after the door was forced open with power tools.
Another clip shows eight officers pulling owner Russell Gray off his motorbike when he arrived at the building after being told about the raid. A third clip shows police pushing Gray against a shutter and handcuffing him.
Gray, who heads the Antepavilion charity and owns the building it is based in, was arrested on suspicion of attempted assault and dangerous driving. He and two employees spent a night in jail but were released the next morning.
Police have issued "no apologies and no charges" following the raid, Gray told Dezeen.
It is thought that police believed the building was being used by environmental protest group Extinction Rebellion to prepare for protests against media groups that are dismissive of climate change.
Installation similar to Extinction Rebellion structures
The rooftop installation, called All Along the Watchtower and designed by a collective called Project Bunny Rabbit, is similar to structures used by protesters to block roads during demonstrations. One of two winners of this year's Antepavilion competition, it will open to the public on 23 July.
During its construction, the arts venue hosted workshops that showed members of the public how to assemble similar lightweight, reusable tensegrity structures made of bamboo poles and steel cables. During the raid, police threatened to come back and remove the structure, according to Gray.
Police said the raid and arrests were “proactive action to prevent and reduce criminal disruption which we believe was intended for direction at media business locations over the weekend”.
However, Antepavilion insisted there was no connection between Extinction Rebellion and the installation. "Antepavilion has no links to Extinction Rebellion beyond commissioning the construction of an art installation at their site using long-established ‘tensegrity’ structural principles," it said in a statement.
"Extinction Rebellion has sometimes used the same tensegrity principles to erect temporary structures at protest sites. The raid is clear evidence of the carte blanche powers police have been given to harass and intimidate, in the government’s efforts to crackdown on dissenting voices."
Raid triggers concern among architecture community
The footage of the raid, which Antepavilion organisers have been projecting onto the side of the building, triggered widespread concern. "The more I look at this the more appalled I am," tweeted architect and head of Central St Martins school Jeremy Till in response to the footage. "While the [right-wing] press bleat on about rising crime, 40 police raid innocent artists."
Architect Julia Barfield described the raid in a tweet as "A shocking misuse of power and resources particularly in a #ClimateEmergency."
"May not be entirely accurate but I count 41 coppers here," wrote Financial Times architecture critic Edwin Heathcote. "Is that not also an insane waste of resources?"
"Utterly mad to hear the Met [police] has arrested the team from this year's Antepavilion, tweeted Open City director Phineas Harper. "The police are out of control."
"This doesn’t seem to have had much attention beyond the specialist art/design press but the sight of 30+ police breaking into a private building to remove an artwork, apparently on political grounds, is….sinister," wrote Simon Hinde, programme director of journalism and publishing at London College of Communication.
"On Friday 25th June 2021, Antepavilion was raided by dozens of police spearheaded by the Territorial Support Group (TSG)," the Antepavilion team said in its statement. "Upon entering, the authorities handcuffed everyone on-site and three people were arrested, held until 4 am the next day and had their phones confiscated."
"The police continued to occupy the site until Saturday night, 26 June."
Antepavilion is a charity that "aims to promote independent thought and symbiosis in the fields of art, craft and architecture". It has organised the controversial annual competition, which commissions designs for temporary structures that challenge planning constraints, every year since 2017.
This year the tensegrity structure was commissioned as a "special early summer commission" alongside the overall winner of the competition. The winner, AnteChamber by Studio Nima Sardar, will be built later this year.
Photography is courtesy of Antepavilion