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Transforming the Thames: eco-friendly homes in floating villages

Transforming the Thames: eco-friendly homes in floating villages

As Boris Johnson pledges to double river traffic by 2020, David Spittles unveils the plans for the Thames superhighway, including floating villages of eco flats and houses and a complete residential revamp of the Royal Docks
* Floating villages will provide Londoners with modern eco-friendly homes close to transport links and pedestrian bridges

* Planned 10 metre-wide boardwalk between Millennium Bridge and Tower Bridge with entertainment pavilions, piers and promenades

* The Royal Docks - Albert, Victoria and George V - will have a new Crossrail station at Custom House by 2017, will become a major business and shopping hub and has 1,500 new homes in the pipeline

John Robertson Architects and Arup's vision of London in 2050
Waterworld: John Robertson Architects and Arup's vision of London in 2050, with floating river eco-parks creating bridges from the City to transport links across the Thames

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As Transport for London and mayor Boris Johnson announce a £10  million scheme to double the number of passengers on the Thames by 2020, plans are being drawn up to create “floating villages” on the river.

The first of three new piers will open later this year with the aim of turning the Thames into a commuter highway. A string of events is planned to boost the international profile of London’s waterways — including the launch of the city’s first floating cinema.

'Royal Docks is an obvious first location for floating villages — only four miles from the City and with vast expanses of waterways waiting to be transformed into a new district'



The floating villages project is intended to give Londoners the choice of modern, eco-friendly homes, where residents have security of tenure and own their property, and where they take out 50-year leases over the water below them. These permanent villages promise to be a far cry from the makeshift, bohemian houseboat communities that have sprung up along London’s waterways.

Houses would look “normal” rather than futuristic and be linked by pedestrian and cycle bridges to parks and islands, transport interchanges, leisure and cultural attractions.

Holland's floating neighbourhood


Inspiration is coming from Holland, specifically the district of Ijburg on the eastern fringe of Amsterdam, where a floating neighbourhood for 45,000 residents is under construction on a lake and neighbouring nature reserves.

“The Dutch way has thrived under an advanced culture of planning, procurement and design and there is no reason why it cannot work in London,” says architect Alex de Rijke, whose firm dRMM is showcasing the ambitious idea at a new exhibition called Venice Takeaway, at the Royal Institute of British Architects until April 27, 2013.

Floating village at Ijburg, Amsterdam
Inspiration: the Dutch, masters of water management, are leading the way in floating village design. Just east of Amsterdam, at Ijburg, a new water neighbourhood to house 45,000 residents is being built over a lake and among watery nature reserves

Royal Docks, around the river bend from Canary Wharf, is an obvious first location for floating villages, he adds. “It’s one of London’s last great regeneration opportunities — only four miles from the Square Mile and with vast expanses of waterways waiting to be transformed into a new district.”

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Royal Docks
By 2017 Royal Docks will have a new Crossrail station at Custom House

New floating boardwalk between Millennium Bridge and Tower Bridge


A raft of water-based projects that is part of the Olympic legacy initiative seeks to exploit the Thames for housing and recreational use and also promote it as a transport artery. New piers, promenades, pontoons and moorings are being created. Launching this summer is a floating cinema, which will bring screenings, tours, talks and workshops to the canals of east London.

Also proposed is 10 metre-wide floating boardwalk along the north bank of the Thames between Millennium Bridge and Tower Bridge. The platform will be linked by eight event and entertainment pavilions and include a lido and a jetty for Thames ferry services. Meanwhile, the Mayor continues to champion a Thames Estuary airport with a floating runway.

The UK's first amphibious house in Marlow


Engineers and architects say floating houses are necessary to cope with worsening wet weather and flood risks. The UK’s first “amphibious house”, designed by Baca Architects, is set to be built on the banks of the Thames in Marlow. The house is to be erected on a floating foundation, a waterproof concrete base that gently rises and falls as the water level changes (in line with Archimedes’ principle).

Archive news story: Britain's first floodproof ark house in Marlow

Baca specialises in “floating and flood-resilient architecture” and is involved in much bigger projects, including a proposed 250-acre lagoon development on threatened farmland at Littlehampton, West Sussex, and a cluster of “on-water neighbourhoods” at nine docks in Liverpool.

The UK's first amphibious house in Marlow, Buckinghamshire
The UK's first amphibious house is to be built beside the Thames in Marlow, Buckinghamshire. Its floating foundation is designed to beat flooding
“Docks are more suitable for floating homes because the water is static, whereas rivers are moving and alive, and you have to be more cautious,” says Baca’s Richard Coutts. “Building more levees is not the answer to flooding because we always lose the battle with Mother Nature.” The Dutch are leading the way with “non-defensive” methods that seek to work with water rather than against it, he adds.

What is "sustainable urban drainage"?


Developers are supposed to ensure that water draining from new housing estates soaks into the ground, and that it doesn’t run off to cause local flooding.

From April 2014, so-called “sustainable urban drainage” will be mandatory for developments of more than one home. Instead of running off hard surfaces or saturated land to flood homes nearby, or disgorging through drains into rivers which burst their banks, the flow of heavy rain is attenuated through the local landscape and back into the system slowly, to avoid floods.

Royal Dock's - Britain's biggest enterprise zone


When built more than 100 years ago, the three Royal Docks — Albert, Victoria and George V) — formed the world’s largest enclosed dockland, from Hyde Park to Tower Bridge.

Emirates AirWays cable car
© Alamy
The new Emirate AirWays cable car linking Greenwich Peninsula and exhibition centre ExCel is already a big draw
Shipping stopped in the Seventies and regeneration has been slow, but the area has received a series of boosts which are likely to propel it as a serious rival to Canary Wharf.

Recently Royal Docks became the UK’s largest Enterprise Zone, which provides tax breaks to companies relocating there. London Development Agency, part of the Mayor’s office, is establishing a green technology campus, while Siemens has opened The Crystal, a £30 million research centre.

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By 2017 Royal Docks will have a new Crossrail station at Custom House, plugging the area into the Tube network with a direct link to Heathrow airport. Long-awaited redevelopment of 50-acre Silvertown Quays, which includes Millennium Mills, a handsome flourmill built in the Edwardian era, is another fillip. This will bring 1,500 new homes plus a new business and shopping hub.

Property company Chelsfield has won the race to regenerate the site with a masterplan that includes “iconic-design” pavilions for top retailers and technology companies to showcase their products.

The docks are used for water sports, while quayside restaurants and bars have opened near the ExCeL exhibition centre. Emirates Air Line, a new cable car linking the area with Greenwich, is another draw. What was a rough, inward-looking district is now a popular address for City professionals.

Planners are promoting higher-quality urban design that relates to Docklands’ mercantile past. Current developments include Barratt’s Waterside Park, right by the Thames Barrier. Prices from £206,000. Call 0845 871 9994.
 
 

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