Keeping our capital working for the UK

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Take Me to the River

Stuart Fraser

Partner, Make Architects

As London’s ongoing housing shortage intensifies, so do calls for densification, particularly in the form of mixed use schemes. Flats set over supermarkets have already gained traction, and there’s a growing push to integrate new homes into transport hubs and stadium redevelopments, as we’ve seen at a number of Crossrail stations and at Watford Football Club.

Making the most of London’s limited land requires ever-more creative thinking. I suggest we turn our attention to the riverside, which is home to many industrial sites ripe for development. A number of riverside schemes – like Butler’s Wharf – have successfully transformed derelict warehouses and factory buildings into residential developments. But what if we looked beyond disused docksides and began incorporating housing into functioning ones?

There’s great potential for this in London’s safeguarded wharves – active docksides legally shielded from the ongoing containerisation and construction of deeper docks to the east that have made many commercial wharves extinct. Safeguarding these sites protects them against change of use, and ensures London’s waterways can be harnessed for passenger and freight transport – a key step towards reducing our dependency on road haulage and cutting carbon emissions.

As of 2017, London has 50 safeguarded wharves, 28 of which are upstream of the Thames Barrier.  Is it possible to retain these sites’ industrial use while also incorporating housing?

There’s certainly potential for development atop the large-scale depots dotting the Thames. The principles of this are no different than constructing over a large supermarket box; a structural transfer deck could facilitate horizontal use separation, with residences overtop benefitting from excellent views. Waste transfer stations also have scope to host residential additions. You can see this in action at Battersea Power Station’s Cringle Dock, where a transfer station is currently being rebuilt in an inventive new form so that residential buildings wrap around it. This form visually conceals the transfer station, and controls associated dust, noise and hazards.

Diversifying the uses of these sites will do more than just add much-needed homes; it will help regenerate whole neighbourhoods. Many safeguarded wharves have the potential to support riverboat hubs that link in with key transport nodes across the city – hubs that could quite literally put these communities on the map. By building on the existing uses of safeguarded wharves and integrating high-quality public and private elements, we can ensure they serve a wider segment of the community, from workers and residents to commuters and passers-by. Smart densification starts with this kind of big-picture thinking.


Stuart has been a partner at Make since 2004 and works across a variety of sectors, from residential to commercial to hotels and resorts. He’s passionate about embedding sustainable principles into architecture and has achieved a BREEAM ‘Excellent’ rating for many of the projects he’s led, as well as planning permission for the first zero-carbon home in the North West of England. Stuart is a Wren Technical Forum contributor and a regular guest speaker at conferences and educational establishments in the UK and overseas.


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