London faces the possibility of new areas of with the highest residential densities in the world. South Quay, alongside Canary Wharf, will attain these levels, if all available sites are developed to the numbers seen in those proposals that have already been made. This prospect has been criticised and rightly so, if it is the accidental consequence of speculative punts and ill-considered planning decisions. But what if, in designated areas, hyperdensity were embraced as a way of making exceptional urban zones, if by meeting the market for these properties, it were also possible to enrich London’s urban realm? The demand issue that this proposal addresses is therefore the considerable pressure exerted by investor-led housing. By doing so it seeks to turn this investment to maximum benefit for London, and free up other areas of the city to meet other needs.
South Quay is in multiple ownership. It faces the prospect of a series of disconnected fragments between buildings. The lack of an overall vision would put it at a commercial disadvantage. But South Quay contains the elements of an extraordinary situation that can make it world-famous. It can go beyond the good-quality but generic types of space created by Canary Wharf and Wood Wharf. The key is in the making of shared spaces.
Beat the High Line
The most powerful and memorable shared spaces are those which grow out of the particular characteristics of a time and place to create territories like none other. The High Line in New York is one example, the floating lido in Copenhagen harbour, the vibrant paving by Burle-Marx in the Copacabana waterfront, Bo Bardi’s conversion of SESC Pompeia, Sao Paulo, AWP’s observatory tower for viewing the Seine in Poissy or the conversion of old steel works in Emscher Park, the Rhür, are other. Each is exceptional in its own way. The way to match or exceed their success is to learn from their fundamental principles.
If South Quay ‘s most powerful characteristic is its very density, an opportunity for a 3D park presents itself here- a park that is not confined to the ground plane but extends into buildings of 2, 3 or more storeys. It combines landscape and buildings to create cultural, social and sporting facilities for the area’s residents. It occupies the quay, extends into thedock, and connects with accessible zones within the new towers. The cliché of “public” sky decks is not offered: developers are free to maximise the value of their private penthouses. Although made of many elements this 3-D park will be conceived as a single integrated work. It will learn from the best of the mentioned example and create something new. The Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park is a model: a public asset creates the setting for new development.
The 3-D park is not in itself a housing project, but it makes a significant contribution to London’s housing issues. It makes the ideas of hyperdensity and housing built for investors, which are negatively perceived, into positive and creative forces for the city, and it turns high-density living from a potential nightmare into something enriching and inclusive. A home is not made by a housing unit alone, but by the city around it.