Excellent Evolution at London Docklands
by Don Barker
Emerging as the hub of London's Royal Victoria Docklands regeneration program, one building, above any other, has become the catalyst for creating its own commercial infrastructure. It has also raised the profile of the "unfashionable" area of east London.
Surrounded by new architecture such as Edward Cullinan's University of East London residence buildings and Ian Ritchie's new Thames Regatta Centre, along with the celebrated Canary Wharf and the much-maligned Millennium Dome, the ExCeL Exhibition and Conference Centre is purported to be one of the biggest exhibition venues in the world.
The Royal Victoria Dock on the Thames River, opened by Prince Albert during the Crimean War in 1855, was the first to make use of railways designed for the new iron steamships. It was also the first to use hydraulic cranes and lifts to raise ships in a pontoon dock.
This is the location for ExCeL, which opened its doors to the public in November 2000, some "15 minutes early, and some millions of pounds under budget," according to Moxley Architects' senior director Mike Moxley.
Already the surrounding commercial infrastructure is growing with plans for several hotels, including two on floating ships, nine apartment blocks, and a £500 million business park master-planned by Aukett Europe, which will provide 1.7 million square feet (160,000 square meters) of office space.
The story of ExCeL began not in London but in Malaysia. The Association of Exhibition Organisers (AEO) chairman Stephen Brooks was visiting the new Malaysian Exhibition Centre when he mentioned London's lack of adequate "big time" modern exhibition facilities to the owner, Tan Sri Lee Kim Yew.
The three-tiered ExCeL Exhibition and Conference Centre, by Moxley Architects, is London's newest conference venue.
Photo: Don Barker
The ExCeL Centre as seen from the south side of the river.
Photo: Moxley Architects Ltd
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