Clearing up the mighty Thames
the architecture critic Rowan Moore as “the most embarrassingly dismal corner of central London”. Back then, the idea of a Versace-branded, 50-storey building with one-bedroom apartments starting from £780,000 would have been unthinkable. Now, Aykon London One is one of several flashy high-rises on the skyline.
Other Vauxhall schemes include Riverlight from Berkeley, a complex of six residential buildings with riverside gardens, a pier and quayside; it has now sold out. Across the road is Embassy Gardens, where construction is well under way on three accommodation blocks. Between two of them, a transparent swimming pool will eventually be installed.
The huge towers lining the river at Nine Elms will be flanked by the Linear Park, a ribbon of green space running between the development sites, from Battersea Park to Vauxhall Cross, and inspired by New York’s High Line. In addition, a new section of the Thames path will edge the full length of the Nine Elms development site. Off these new public spaces will be leisure and retail facilities and event spaces.
After years of delays, plans for 8 Albert Embankment, the former headquarters of the London Fire Brigade, are taking shape. The Grade II listed building is being redeveloped by U+I, with the current proposal including a new fire station, museum, hotel and 400 homes. The plan also includes three new public squares and a rooftop restaurant.
Further along, developer St James is building three apartment blocks on Albert Embankment, including Murano, which is already sold out, and the Corniche, a Norman Foster-designed scheme where prices start at £2.7million. Alongside the residential buildings, the 1.6-acre site will have more space open to the public, giving access to the river.
The big draw to this part of the Thames isn’t just the waterfront location but the views towards the Houses of Parliament. Though there have been concerns about the number of highrise buildings on this stretch, the benefit is the regeneration of the riverside walks and cleaning up of industrial sites that once blighted this area.
Reclamation of the riverside for homes and recreation is taking place all along the Thames. The former Tate & Lyle offices, Sugar Quay, to the west of the Tower of London, is being reimagined by Barratt London as Landmark Place. Along with 165 flats priced from £1.2million, the glass-fronted building will have sweeping views towards Southwark and Tower Bridge. A refurbished waterfront boardwalk and pier that has been closed to the public since 2004 will also be reopened. To the west, Mount Anvil’s Queen’s Wharf, in Hammersmith, has built a riverside walkway that will connect Hammersmith Bridge with the Thames path for the first time.
Further east, Barking Riverside, once home to heavy industry, is finding new life as a hub of urban redevelopment. “The riverside here had three power stations from the Twenties, then it all became derelict, so locals didn’t really connect with the Thames for recreation or leisure purposes,” says David Watkinson, director of urban planning and design at Barking Riverside. “I was surprised there was so little awareness of the river, even among people living just half a mile away.”
Up to 10,800 homes are planned on the 443-acre site, with 1,100 already built. It is opening up more than a mile of riverfront, which includes habitats for water birds and other wildlife. More than 40 species of birds have been spotted there, as well as water voles and bombardier beetles. The longstalled project, which is also getting connected to overground rail services, is now jointly run by the London mayor’s office and housing association L&Q. Some original buildings remain, such as the power station switch rooms, which will be repurposed as community facilities. The developers are also keen to bring the original wharf and jetty back into public use and are in talks with Thames Clipper to run a regular service.
“The land from the power station to the river is the size of the South Bank; it’s a tremendous asset for the area,” adds Watkinson.
The developers have held events to encourage local residents to appreciate and understand the Thames and its wetlands.
“One of our unique selling points is the river. It’s also more affordable, and offers more space here than many areas of London,” says Watkinson. “We’re seeing people looking to move out to where they can still access the city but live in a greener environment. Londoners are finally rediscovering the Thames and living by it.”