RMIT architecture expertise helping to shape urban recovery of London’s Royal Docks

RMIT architecture expertise helping to shape urban recovery of London’s Royal Docks

For RMIT’s Tom Holbrook, London’s Royal Docks are a testbed for an ecological urbanism that accelerates an equitable recovery from COVID-19 and addresses the climate emergency.

London’s Royal Docks are the world’s largest area of impounded water. 

Constructed at the end of the nineteenth century to accommodate ships too large for the upper river reaches and wharves, the last commercial ship sailed in 1981.

Tom Holbrook, Director of 5th Studio in the UK and Mayor’s Design Advocate for the Greater London Authority, said that this giant piece of infrastructure – conceived at the singularity and scale of an international airport – was thus left obsolete: dreaming of becoming part of the city.

Royal London Docks

Holbrook, who is an RMIT Professor of Architecture and Industry Fellow, is working on a series of public realm interventions that set the scene for the move of London City Hall to the Royal Docks.

"Our work for the Greater London Authority and Newham on the Royal Docks coincided with the pandemic, itself a dress rehearsal for the challenges to come from the climate emergency," he said.

"Spanning from the strategic through to operations on the ground, a series of projects have allowed us to consider the overlapping multi-scalar challenges of infrastructure, urbanism, landscape and architecture."

Holbrook said that London’s post-COVID-19 recovery is a time for reflection in terms of what has been learnt from the upheaval in our lives with respect to work, and the rediscovery of our intertwined and co-dependant relationship with nature.

"Residents around the docks have been one of the communities worst affected by the pandemic, with high rates of infection and the largest proportion of workers on furlough in the capital," he said.

"The move of London City Hall to the area brings a political focus to what is already a project with momentum.

"In contrast to the Neoliberal experimentation of the London Docklands Development Corporation upriver, the Royal Docks offer the city the arena as an ‘expo’ site to explore both equitable urban recovery from COVID-19 and the development of an ecological urbanism to address the bigger crisis to come," he said.

"In its scope and scale, the Royal Docks can become a testbed for a resilient London that truly grasps the necessary ambition and innovation of our age."

This article is republished from Architecture Today – read the original article with photography by Timothy Soar.

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