Re-inventing the Docklands

Allies and Morrison discuss the challenges of re-working an industrial past for the tenants of the future.

Architect Jason Syrett of Allies and Morrison, the same practice tasked with the Wood Wharf masterplan, took cues from the site’s history as a thriving, working dock to inspire his vision for 
15 and 20 Water Street. The two buildings are, in many ways important within the masterplan, as they announce the intention and set the scene for the 
Wood Wharf community. Syrett describes the two buildings as gatehouses as they’re the first two buildings perceived when crossing the bridge from Canary Wharf. With that in mind, Allies and Morrison used materials to reflect the shift in character and feeling, while also connecting past with present.

“This was once a bustling dockside community with people loading and off loading onto ships and railways. The modern working environment has moved away from that industrial scale to a new industry where technological skills and creative design, engineering and even creative financial services are the new engines of London.”

In order to achieve the transition, these new buildings employ brick and masonry materials, as well as colour. The silver and grey of Canary Wharf is traded for palette-warming red brick and warehouse-like spaces with a slightly industrial feel which are designed to attract a mixed community of businesses integrated with residential and retail space.

On a practical basis, that translates to smaller floor plates with a flexible open plan environment to accommodate smaller scaling businesses that may take only one floor or part of one floor, rather than big trading floors and multi level offices.

“20 Water Street is designed for denser occupation than the traditional Canary Wharf office towers, with more ventilation, data, and power. 
It really represents the way people 
work nowadays.”

But, that intensity demands balance, which is why the team at Allies and Morrison has used balconies and roof gardens on each of the buildings to provide breakout and connect the buildings at many levels to outside spaces. With shops at the ground floor, balconies and roof terraces, Allies and Morrison’s goal was to unite the office space with the wider environment. The development’s engagement with the waterscape keeps the surroundings and the history of Wood Wharf relevant.

“Across the masterplan, we worked to keep people engaged with the water edge, rather than raised above it, to connect them with the docks.

Allowing the buildings to face the water, building them with materials that feel significant and providing for houseboat moorings are all things that enhance rather than take away from the waterscape. The other thing is the way in which we name and brand the place, the parks, the streets to connect the history. These things help evoke memories.”

While Syrett’s design respects the past, his approach focuses on flexibility for a series of future scenarios, making use of interchangeable core components, such as toilets that can be added or removed, as well as flexible structure and services that allow the occupiers to create larger or smaller spaces and allowing for mixed use buildings or potential conversions of office space into hotel or even residential use.

“Whether everyone will be working on their laptops, tablets, or VR devices in cafés in the future, we don’t know, but we’re trying to evolve a piece of city for them to come together. 15 Water Street is a really good example of that synergy – the hotel, health club, and the co-work space. Hotels and offices sharing the same lobby is very unusual, but many hotel lobbies feel like co-work spaces or offices and vice versa. So we have tried to future proof the buildings by allowing for flexibility in the way spaces are used.”

For Syrett, the best way to honour and preserve history is through people, blending the edges of Canary Wharf into the remaining community of those who used to live and work on the island.

“If you talk to people in the area, many of their family histories go back to working on the docks. We can communicate that through artwork and street names and integrating affordable housing. We can create a place that links the past to the present and shapes a future that’s inclusive with things like small businesses run by local people, say, a bagel shop or coffee house to serve startups. Invite them in with affordable rents and support the little guys to help feed the big guys.”


Interview by Amy Guttman
Twitter @AmyGuttman1