Build your own front garden retrofit kit

So, you want to build your very own set of community-owned CNC furniture? You’re in the right place! 

This guide is part of our Library of Social Infrastructure project, exploring neighbourhood approaches to developing and growing tangible infrastructure that creates space for shared community life. Our neighbourhood of Knowle West was informed by Garden City principles, which included generous green space for each dwelling. Today in Knowle West, over a third of front garden spaces have been paved over for parking. These spaces became sites of interest for social infrastructure, and so we began with the question: 

What if… we re-imagined our front yards as part of the shared ecological and social infrastructure of our neighbourhoods? 

Together with local people, we co-designed a set of furniture – the Front Garden Retrofit Kit – to create space for nature and social life in our front gardens. The furniture in the kit was designed in partnership with Texas-based Better Block, and can be cut by practically any workshop with a CNC router. It is completely open-source for you to use, supporting communities across the UK (and the rest of the world!) to manufacture their own library of social infrastructure.  

We’ve used our kits in front gardens across Knowle West, but the kit could be used to animate a number of different spaces and places – from the school gate to the bus stop… Community groups working at a hyper-local level are in the prime position to identify the need for social infrastructure, and we can’t wait to see how this spreads! 

How to…

1. Choose your ultimate front garden retrofit kit!


The first step is deciding which pieces of furniture you’d like to make. To browse the library and download the files, head on over to our friends at Better Block. The kit contains the following pieces: 

2. Choose your material


What are you going to make your furniture out of? The choice of different materials and finishes can be confusing, particularly if you’re unfamiliar with the digital fabrication process. Cost, durability in different conditions, environmental impact, and ease of maintenance are all important factors to take into consideration. 

Last winter, we put 36 different combinations of sheet material/treatments through their paces in the rain, snow and sun to figure out which fared the best in the British weather. Below, you’ll find an online tool where you can play around with different factors (ie. cost, durability, environmental impact etc) to decide on the best material and finish to suit your needs and context. 

The calculator below works out the amount of sheet material and finish needed to make each piece. This just an estimate based on October 2023 prices, but it should give you a ballpark idea of how much your project will cost.

3. Find a local fabricator


Each piece in the Library of Social Infrastructure can be cut practically anywhere with a CNC router! We’re lucky enough to have a CNC router at our community micro-factory, but don’t fret if you do not – there are hundreds of CNC fabricators and makerspaces across the country who can help. We’ve begun plotting some of these on our open-source map, and if you know of one that isn’t currently listed, you can add it yourself. 

We know there can be a lot of unfamiliar technical language involved when working with a CNC fabricator, so we’ve developed a sample letter for you to use which contains technical instructions for the design files. You can access the letter here. 

Once you’ve located a fabricator, you can send them the files you downloaded along with the letter and your material choices, and start planning your community assembly day while you wait for the pieces to be cut! 

4. Assemble your kit


When your furniture has been cut, we recommend treating it first to ensure your treatment (which is your weather-protection!) gets into all the little nooks and crannies. When it comes to assembling the pieces, making this as accessible and straightforward as possible was essential to this project. The assembly manuals are packaged up with the files you download from Better Block, and have been co-developed with our community members to make it as straightforward as possible. If you have any comments on its useability, please get in touch. 

Got any questions? Get in touch!