Last night, Baca architects hosted an informative and entertaining evening theme ‘Aquatecture’ in the new White Post Quay building on the Hertford Canal in East London.
Part of London’s Open House, Green Sky Thinking, the symposium examined how the role of water in cities is changing and the role it can play in shaping our built environment in the future, in response to the need, threat, benefit and pleasure that can be found from water.
Some very interesting themes were raised and discussed in the wonderful new foyer space fronting on to the canal. The building itself is an example of Baca’s integrated design approach, in which the foyer space, a covered public private space fronting the canal, creates activity and animation of the waterfront as well as providing a safe haven for occupants of the surrounding buildings and users of the canal towpath.
A ‘who wants to be a millionaire’ style quiz tested the knowledge of some of the leading experts in the water and design industry. Following a tiebreaker question the bottle of champagne went to Samantha Heath.
Amongst several suggestions, Kevin Reid from the GLA, called for new development to make better connections with London’s waterways both the River Thames and it’s many (often forgotten) tributaries, such as the River Moselle in North London. Kevin also cautioned that urban flood water is rarely blue, therefore efforts to make space for water must bare in mind the contaminants and clean up.
Samantha Heath, from the London Sustainability Exchange, highlighted the problems of water both in-terms of localised flooding, where it is often unexpected, and in-terms of drought.
Marnix de Vriend from Aquae, Netherlands, called for modesty and grace in connecting with ‘kissing the water’; and provided thought provoking stories of African communities that celebrate the arrival of annual flood waters, where children are excited to visit their grandparents by boat.
Hosts, Robert Barker and Richard Coutts presented a number of projects including the LifE approach, Amphibious Construction, Climate Adaptive Neighbourhoods, and their latest masterplan in Paris examining waterspace planning through a rage of scale and applications. Baca architects made many suggestions to use London’s waterspace more creatively, drawing upon examples from their recently completed waterspace plan for Liverpool South Docks, Hamburg and Austria. They also suggested the opportunity that water brings to make better planning, transport links, amenity and place making. Baca proposed two challenging proposals – ‘The Three generation rule‘ and ‘The Innovation License‘
The first of which, captures the spirit of sustainability, in advocating a three generation rule. Three generations from grandmother, to mother and to daughter could conceivably span over 150 years. If the planning process considered a 150 to 200 year future (as explored through the award winning LifE project) the plans proposed today may need to change, to leave the opportunity for the 2nd and 3rd generations to thrive in the environment in which we leave them. If we do not take this view then we are at risk of falling foul of the Boiling Frog analogy, in which we may willingly participate in climate change overwhelming our civilisation.
The second, The Innovation License, would be to grant licenses for innovative buildings and designs to be carried out on pre-selected sites on floodplains, in inner city urban flood risk sites and on the waterspaces. These licenses would need to meet a series of overarching environmental, hydrological and, importantly, design aspirations to be granted one of a limited number of annual licenses. Failure to meet these requirements would see the license revoked. Riding the Legacy wave of the Olympics, these initial licenses would be an incentive for public and private companies to innovate and compete to make better design solutions that could stimulate wider regeneration in London, establish a technological creativity hub in the UK and provide the opportunity for UK businesses to demonstrate innovation internationally that could be exported to the rest of the world. Should these schemes succeed in achieving their performance criteria then these pilots would become future exemplars, incrementally raising the bar for sustainability and filtering down into policy reforms with each new year’s license.
To put this into context Baca made a comparison of scales between the Royal Victoria Dock and London landmarks, demonstrating that it could accommodate two and a half Westfield shopping centres, 20 Buckingham Palaces and 500 White Post Quay buildings! The Innovation License could act as a precursor to the regeneration of many of the under-utilised docks and marinas that are often no more than glorified reflecting pools to the tall buildings that over shadow them. If only 5% of the enclosed, waterspaces in London were considered for floating development this could provide an additional 2000 homes or businesses in the capital. Perhaps these new floating businesses might also capture the spirit of creativity of the buildings in which they inhabit.