New tricks for old docks

London's derelict spaces are usually ignored by everyone except graffiti artists, but new proposals for the Royal Docks have architects excited.

The Royal Docks in East London is an area of unrealised promise. In Victorian times, most of London’s trade ran through them but now they are unused, redundant, and disconnected.

To regenerate the area the government has invested in big, heavy, but boring infrastructure. London City airport, huge extensions of the Dockland Light Railway and the tube, the ExCel exhibition centre, and the University of East London are all new and nearby.

Finding a creative solution


To build on this investment, the local council (Newham) and the London Development Agency launched a competition to get ideas for temporary uses on three locations around the Docks. They were looking for a creative solution to a long-standing problem.

The winners? A riverside festival, a pleasure garden, a business park and a floating swimming pool.

Caravanserai has been proposed by EXYST, Space Makers Agency, Ash Sakula and others, and aims to create a “adaptable open courtyard surrounded by busy shops and production spaces”, collaboratively produced by architects, thinkers, makers, community groups and local residents”.

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Another is the 21st Century Pleasure Gardens, proposed by the creators of Shangri-La at Glastonbury - Strong and Co. They will create a “waterside festival site” to feature year-round attractions and summer-time spectaculars.

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Less aesthetic, but more business-like is Industri[US] by Fluid, with Colliers International, Dare and others. Their concept aims to rework and revalue found materials and waste products.This proposal was so well received that Newham Council and the LDA will extend it to other sites in the borough.

My favourite, Royal Docks Baths by Studio Egret West. This will be a "floating swimming pool in Pontoon Dock made from seven re-used Thames Lighters to form a pontoon, floating structure, cafe, restaurant and spa". This is an old idea - there was a similar structure further up the river - but a good one.

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Why only temporary?


But if these ideas are so good, why only temporary uses? London is rushing to make the most of next year’s Olympics - so these proposals are a last minute attempt to cover up some unsightly wasteland.

As London’s major, Boris Johnson said: ”With the eyes of the world on London in the run up to 2012, the ingenuity of these schemes will show the world just what the Royal Docks have to offer to businesses, entrepreneurs and visitors.” The proposals will last only one year from at least from summer 2011, in the spotlight of preparations for the 2012 Olympics, and while the games are under way and beyond.

These are great proposals, but perhaps a more creative project would have found a long-term use for the docks.

Photos: London Development Agency

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Tue, 22.03.2011 0

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22.11.2010

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