Page D1.2 . 29 May 2002                     
ArchitectureWeek - Design Department
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London's Thames Barrier Park


Patel Taylor explained, "It was our ambition to create something more than another 'green lung' salvaged from the leftover space between buildings. Instead we aimed for a special place of cultural significance with its own clear identity."

A Walk in the Park

The resultant 12.5 million park now fronts the river Thames next to the northern end of the stainless steel-clad Thames Barrier. The design comprises settings for different activities. The plateau, for example, is mostly mown grassland but features contrasting open and closed views of the Thames through copses of birch trees. This creates informal spaces in which visitors can find their own "private" zones.

A green trench running through the park is a reminder of the area's former industrial heritage. Cutting through the plateau, this "dry dock," with its 16-foot- (5-meter-) high concrete walls, depicts the scale and depth of former dockside structures. In contrast to its stark form, it provides a sheltered microclimate for the "rainbow garden," a series of parallel strips of plantings and paths.

Overhead views of the rainbow garden are available from pedestrian bridges, with a water plaza forming a dramatic entrance to the north. The floodlit water feature, designed and constructed by Ocmis Irrigation, comprises 32 individual jets of water choreographed in a dancing display.

At the river end of the dock is the Pavilion of Remembrance commemorating the local council's war dead. It is an area for sheltered contemplation, reading, and relaxing. It consists of 23 irregularly spaced steel columns supporting a slatted timber roof with a large circular hole. There is also a simple Patel Taylor-designed visitor center and cafe with a frame of green oak.

Detoxification and Construction

The project's first phase, decontaminating the brownfield site, began in January 1997 and was completed in nine months. Surface oils and tars were removed from the site. Water was pumped from the contaminated subsurface water table, to be replaced eventually by natural processes.

Concluding this phase was the formation of a "capillary break layer." This drainage system is made up of a lower layer of rough, nonporous material and an upper layer of porous soil and sand. Rainwater is absorbed by the finer upper layer and transported along the top of the rough lower layer to where it can be safely drained away.

The second phase of construction began in January 1998 and, due to park building and planting requirements, was not completed until March 2000.

A Ripple Effect

When it first opened, it seemed like a lot of effort for little reward. But now, as testimony to the LDDC's vision, there are significant developments in evidence. Housing has appeared nearby, proving the positive effect the park has had on the area. The proposed Docklands Light Railway extension will also help to increase the density of new development and assist in promoting a mix of land uses.

Patel Taylor point out, "The idea of creating a publicly funded open space with surrounding private housing is a model that can be copied when redeveloping more of this area."

The Thames Barrier Park was one of the Royal Docks' three flagship projects. Another is the ExCel Exhibition and Conference Centre on the north side of the Royal Victoria Dock. The third, to the south, is the Urban Village.

To maintain continuity of landscape throughout the Royal docks area, Patel Taylor was also commissioned for the design of Royal Victoria Square as part of the ExCel Centre's development, along with landscape architects EDAW. Although this is classed as an urban square, it still retains elements of modern landscaping prevalent within the Thames Barrier Park, emphasizing the quality and character of the public realm in the regeneration of the Royal Docks.   >>>

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ArchWeek Image

Looking east, an overview of the Thames Barrier Park in London, designed by Patel Taylor and Groupe Signes.
Photo: Martin Charles

ArchWeek Image

The Green Dock with its rainbow garden.
Photo: Martin Charles

ArchWeek Image

A pedestrian bridge over the Green Dock looking toward the residential Millennium Point development.
Photo: Martin Charles

ArchWeek Image

Overview of the Green Dock.
Image: Patel Taylor and Groupe Signes

ArchWeek Image

The entrance to the park is marked by a piazza with pavement fountains.
Photo: Martin Charles

ArchWeek Image

The Pavilion of Remembrance.
Photo: Peter Cook

ArchWeek Image

The Pavilion of Remembrance is a focal point on the river, framing views of the Barrier, for sheltered contemplation.
Photo: Martin Charles

ArchWeek Image

The stark concrete ramp leading from the Green Dock toward the Pavilion of Remembrance.
Photo: Peter Cook


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