At a recent international property conference in Cannes (MIPIM), Boris Johnson announced a major competition to design and develop a large floating development on the water at London’s Royal Victoria Docks.
My first thought was ‘another ill thought through gimmick’ (perhaps like the Cable Car where I played ‘spot the passenger’ one day last week before going to a conference on Singapore and its approach to Smart City Growth).
But my next thought was ‘Why not? What do you do with a vast expanse of water which was a dock?. You could use it for some sort of water based sporting activity, or a marina perhaps, but I think that the former tends to be space hungry for the benefit of a few people as well as potentially anti-social if the activity is power based, and the latter invariably looks a mess and is in reality a car park for boats most of the time. Other ways of dealing with disused docks in the past have also included filling them in and building on top of the newly created site, but to me this a waste of something which we could not afford to create nowadays.
So, a floating village of homes and places of entertainment, if of high quality, could be an inspired use for such a large space of open water. But is there such a shortage of open space and available development sites in the Royal Docks that we have to build on the water? The answer to this question is ‘No’: there is plenty of room at the Royal Docks so why build on water? Why not retain the open expanses of water as a foil to the high density development which will be build around the old docks, and to provide beautiful vistas and light effects with the sky and light being reflected in the glassy calm water and provide a sense of space?
So, in the end I think that it is best not to build on the water when there is plenty of space surrounding it, unless building on the water allows other sites to be made-over to public open space and parks which otherwise would not be provided due to lack of space – although high density development such as proposed for the Royal’s ought to have public parks and space designed in from the beginning anyway.