New cities on the Thames: plans to transform London's river by 2020 are underway

The Thames is at the heart of a greener and more sustainable London with plans for new floating villages, piers, Victorian-type pleasure gardens, cheap rental offices and thousands of new homes.
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Totally Thames, a month-long festival celebrating the river, reaches its climax next weekend with the Great River Race, a 21.6-mile boat “marathon” from Royal Docks to Richmond with more than 300 crews from around the world.

The event is yet another example of the Thames’s remarkable revival since the closure of the old docks in the Seventies. What was a polluted waterway, and cut off by industrial tracts, is now at the heart of imaginative new thinking about how our city can flourish in a green and sustainable way — as a de-carbonised place, a transport artery and a venue for culture and recreation.

Cities evolve around their great rivers, the ancient processional routes of  kings and conquerors. They should be a proud statement with  ground-breaking architecture a key part of this vision. And as London revisits its Thamescape after years of neglect, the future looks exciting.


Floating villages are just a part of the big new picture. The village is being built in Docklands as a distinct neighbourhood of modern, eco-friendly houses linked by pedestrian and cycle bridges to a market square, events space, restaurants, cafés and shops.

Developer Carillion Igloo says the village will be a far cry from London’s traditional makeshift, bohemian houseboat communities. Residents will be involved in the design process, have security of tenure and own the property and the water below them on leases.

Elsewhere, new piers, promenades, parks, Victorian-type pleasure gardens, pontoons and moorings are being created, while there are plans to regenerate Victoria Embankment with a beautiful “garden bridge” and a new lido, or urban baths, at Temple Steps.

The lido will be a “controlled environment where it is safe to wild swim”, says Chris Romer-Lee of architects Studio Octopi. “And the space can be used for cultural events if the pools are covered over and a temporary gazebo-like roof put up.”


Pop-up: King's Cross Pond Club is a temporary project alongside Regent's Canal while the area takes shape

London’s extensive canal network, its giant reservoirs and “lost” rivers are also the focus of fresh and resourceful ideas and initiatives. King’s Cross Pond Club is a temporary project alongside Regent’s Canal, behind the railway station, where a new district is taking shape.

The pond and gardens are a place to swim and relax, with water purified through a natural process using wetland plants. Plimsoll Building, next to the park, has new apartments and houses priced from £995,000. Call Knight Frank on 020 3691 3969.

ContainerVille, on the Shoreditch section of Regent’s Canal, is another innovative project, offering affordable offices and desk space in recycled shipping containers from £320 a month.

Architect John Robertson, a “future city” specialist, says we need to reconnect the Thames to its city flanks, and he has come up with the idea of a Thames Eco Park with “green” islands and amphitheatres in the river connected to each other and to transport interchanges by link bridges, and also providing facilities for leisure, sport and entertainment while boosting the capital’s water supply through rain- harvesting and purification. “This would provide far more varied links between north and south banks,” he adds.

His particular focus is the strip between Temple and the Tower of London, and he proposes an enhanced river walkway, tree-lined and part of a new green necklace around the Square Mile financial district, where the digital economy is already making office buildings obsolete.

“Over the next decades demand for residential space will increase significantly, particularly on the riverfront. London has a fantastic ability for self- regeneration and the under-utilised river should be at the centre of this change,” says Robertson.

Already the City Corporation is relaxing its policy of favouring new offices above new homes. Heron Tower, a sleek and slender 36-storey skyscraper, looks like a corporate headquarters but has 284 apartments, while in the pipeline is Broken Wharf House, 36 new apartments at the foot of Millennium Bridge, facing Tate Modern.

Temple marks the western boundary of the City, and 190 Strand occupies a strip of land running down to Victoria Embankment, right by the proposed garden bridge. It comprises six buildings with 206 apartments, many with a river view, ready in 2016. Prices from £1. 225 million. Call St Edward Homes on 020 7118 9190.


A more traditional view of the Thames at Chiswick

A new wave on the river Thames
The best way to see what is going on and earmark a location is to take a riverboat cruise. On the main stretch of the Thames between Richmond and Royal Docks are 158 housing schemes — refurbishments of historic wharves as well as fabulous new-builds — and thousands more homes are in the pipeline.

Whereas an earlier generation of developments created “cliffs” of river-facing apartments that were a barrier to the Thames, the latest architecture seeks to open up and enhance the waterfront for all.

Vauxhall and Nine Elms will be London’s main riverside regeneration zone over the next 20 years, with at least 16,000 homes and a linear park alongside the river, and plugged into the two new Northern line stations will be the pedestrian spine of this new district.

The first homes in listed Battersea Power Station have been released for sale, with designs inspired by the building’s industrial heritage: exposed brickwork walls, polished concrete floors and kitchen worktops, even free-standing copper baths. Prices from £980,000. Call 020 7501 0678.

At Battersea Reach, towards Wandsworth, dramatic, glass-clad apartment blocks are interspersed with lawns and a riverside promenade and piazza. One-bedrom flats from £850,000, penthouses from £2.5 million. Call 020 7978 4141.

One Tower Bridge, being built next to London’s most iconic landmark, comprises nine distinctive modern buildings, including a 20-storey “campanile”, or tower, with just one apartment on each floor, the top one a spectacular triplex with roof garden and glazed enclosure.

But the development of 356 flats is about the urban realm as much as river views. It is not gated and integrates seamlessly with the riverside promenade and a public park alongside City Hall.

A listed Victorian school on the site is being converted into a boutique hotel and a performance space created, while high-quality landscaping will include an interactive fountain clock with water jets and colour-changing lights. Prices from £1.325 million. Call 020 7871 0011.

Fulham Reach, with 744 homes, occupies a tranquil section of the river  favoured by scullers and oarsmen  between Putney Bridge and Hammersmith. It is quite a bit cheaper than developments further east, towards Chelsea, and is now attracting people priced out of the Royal Borough.

Developer St George has created a new riverside promenade, called Hammersmith Embankment, and put in a new park. A community boat club and jetty are also part of the scheme. To register, call 020 7870 9500.

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