Our last event of 2018 was a walk around Canary Wharf with David Thompson. Jo East reports:
Roof gardens, City rivalry and constant change could sum up the thrust of David Thompson’s latest walk.
Meeting outside Canary Wharf Underground Station David gave a brief history of the area to put in context the 97 acres which constitute the district. Walking through the series of gardens and squares that constitute the public realm – quiet on a weekend – he suggested it was best to envisage these as a series of roof gardens to the shopping centre, utilities and car parks that lay beneath us. The buildings above ground being profitably given over to large office complexes and skyscrapers.
The first of these and one of the newest to which our attention was drawn was then Newfoundland Tower. (Horden Cherry Lee: ongoing) A handsome A framed building that will be purely residential for high end rental when completed. It brought to my mind in its scale and proportions Richard Seifert’s Centre Point, an impression that was reinforced as we walked on and saw how elegantly slim it was in depth. Moving on to a formal garden area housing a Henry Moore sculpture David discussed the current hot topic of Public Private Land. The quality of finish, maintenance and cleanliness, he argued, would not be found in places reliant on the public purse and in the case of the Wharf the land wasn’t accessible previously anyway! Here was also a good vantage point to see one of the many buildings being retrofitted, the driver of this being it easier to obtain planning permission than knocking down and starting again. That and the need to reformat the vast amounts of unused space created by the move to wifi from the miles of cable runs of telecom landlines. Seeming such old technology now but essential for the trading floors of the 90s when such buildings opened. We also looked up at the “Daddy of them all” (My description not David’s!) One Canada Square (Cesar Pelli 1991)
From the outside, it is the same as the day it was the only skyscraper on the site but inside with the vast corporate HQs of its heyday now gone, The Canary Wharf group created the Level 39 concept where the whole of the 39th floor was given out to startups and small companies. Providing both a more dynamic rental base and much needed fresh ideas, rent in this iconic building is competitive or even cheaper than Old Street’s Silicon Roundabout area.
From the vantage point of Wren Landing we looked across to West India Quay – A handsome three storey building (George Gwilt & Son Circa 1888) dating from around the turn of the 19th century now housing the Museum of Docklands. To the East of it Architect HOK’s sail like Marriot Hotel. To the West, the site of another HOK development where only the groundwork has been completed. Spirelondon will be Europe’s tallest residential tower and from artists impressions will be in a similar style to the Hotel in a cluster of 3 tubes with the middle one being taller. Spanning the water and now seeming from another age we saw the pontoon bridge (Futuresystems 1996) Hi Tech from 1996 now looking a bit tired and in need of some much needed tlc.
At Westbury Circus – Another “roof garden” this time to a large underground roundabout and car park system beneath was an ideal vantage point to look upriver at The City of London. Since the Wharf’s inception a sibling rivalry has existed. David pointed out that the cityscape we see today is a direct result of the competition and success coming from this. When firms started decamping from the Square Mile the corporation responded by relaxing planning laws to allow the cluster of skyscrapers that we see today. At the Wharf’s inception in the 90s if we had been in the same spot about the only tall building would have been the NatWest Tower (Now Tower 42) hardly visible today shouldered out by larger, taller buildings.
Marking the underground station for the Elizabeth Line Crossrail Place (Fosters & Partners 2015) sits in the dock basin like a large futuristic ship. To reach it you cross a squashed tube of a bridge reminiscent of ferry terminals around the world. Honouring it’s location slap bang on the Greenwich Meridian the roof garden feature of the top deck is split between planting from East and West hemispheres. Great slabs of Norwegian timber form triangles to create the roof struts and the gabled sides. In some of these sit ETFE panels to provide protection from the outside whilst others are left open to provide ventilation and let in rain This is then harvested and reused to water the garden and provide flush water etc. Having seen a programme about the construction of this I was very keen to see it. I must say I was disappointed. The panels being fritted (dotted to reduce glare) the effect, at least in this dull winter light, was to give them a grey, dirty look and where they weren’t installed a half finished feel to the whole roof.
We moved on to peer across at Wood Wharf. 15 years in gestation (and here I draw on the Society’s September Planning Lecture) the now rapid construction expands the original Canary Wharf site by a third. In that time plans have changed from a Richard Roger’s “grande projet” prioritising office space to today’s mix of live/work spaces sprinkled with a few key buildings by the current Architectural big beasts. Halfway through completion we looked at One Wood Wharf (Herzog and De Meuron Ongoing) With a circular core and a middle section of floors with jutting balconies this building has already been nicknamed the Corn on the Cob. Surprising only in that this appellation hasn’t until now occurred in the Wharf unlike those of the City’s Gherkin, Walkie Talkie etc. Whether this shows clever marketing or the affection which people are now starting to have for the area is contestable but it certainly echoes how the company who run the area wish to be seen – as a fully rounded community rather than a work station devoid of life at night and at weekends.
Finishing back at an entrance to the underground shopping centre we walked through a beautiful (and, according to one of the walk members, expensive as each of the many trees cost around £20K each as they were brought in fully mature) woodland glade – Another “recent” addition from about 10 years ago. Transforming the windswept plaza that I remembered from first visiting over 20 years ago into a tranquil space for office workers to eat their lunch and catch their breath. As David took the group downstairs into the Shopping Centre to “where the people are” I took my leave to catch the DLR. Leaving with a new perspective that I was walking back through carefully planned roof gardens and looking forward to visiting again in a few years by Crossrail… Hopefully!
As with a previous walk around the City of London led by David it is his ability to marry his knowledge of architecture, building techniques and the wider social aspects that make his walks so enjoyable.