In 1865, Sir Joseph Bazalgette’s London sewage system was opened. 150 years later the sewers are at the limits of their capacity. In 2012, 57 combined sewer overflows discharged 39 million tonnes of sewage into the River Thames. Over the next 10 years Thames Water is planning major improvements to the London sewer system. These improvements will help protect the Thames from increasing pollution for at least the next 100 years.
The improvements in water quality open the possibility for once again swimming in the tidal Thames. These proposals look to re-establish this intimate and playful link between Londoners and the historic lifeblood of the city. Londoner’s have an opportunity to reclaim ownership of their largest outdoor public space.
The proposals are focused on two of the Super Sewer construction sites: Blackfriars Bridge Foreshore and King Edward Memorial Park Foreshore in Shadwell. These sites were chosen for their different contextual conditions. As well as creating a community resource, these aquatic landscapes would also further improve the ecology of our river. Imagine swimming in the tidal river, surrounded by reeds that frame tantalising views of the city around you. The pools are not just for swimmers, but provide refuge and habitat for fish, birds and a wide range of flora.
The Thames Baths Project is collaboration between architects Studio Octopi, engineers Civic Engineers and Jonathan Cook Landscape Architects. The Thames Baths collaboration has been all about developing a scheme that is visionary but ultimately achievable.
‘London As It Could Be Now’ was an open call ideas project, developed by The Architecture Foundation with Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners and the Royal Academy of Arts. Studio Octopi were selected as one of five teams to work up new visions for the Thames. The teams were encouraged to explore ideas that increased interaction with the waterway and raised awareness of this important artery running through the Capital.
The proposals were presented and exhibited to an expert panel and public audience at the Royal Academy in September 2013.
Intertidal Flora by Jonathan Cook Landscape Architects
The pools are not just for swimmers, but provide refuge and habitat for fish, birds and a wide range of flora. Here in the heart of London is the upstream limit of saline plants on the Thames. From the algal slime at the base of the structure to the gabion surface planting, the stages mimic salt marshes and freshwater wetlands. As the supporting structure weathers it is colonised by algae, ferns and saline plants such as sea beet and sea aster. The extensive planting of reeds around the pools frame views to city landmarks all edged with low sedums, and surface beds of yellow flag iris. The 25m pool features salt marsh species such as rushes and water plantains, while the wharf edge planting is a mix of perennials and ferns. All planted areas will soon be accompanied by naturally colonising plants, some native, others typical of London’s introduced alien flora.
Structural Principles by Civic Engineers
The fixed pools are supported on a randomly ordered grillage of small sectioned steel channels founded in the river bed and extending to a height just below the high water mark. Embedded within this are non-structural timber members to encourage the colonisation by flora. The fixed pools are split across two levels and sit on a concrete slab suspended on the steel frame. The second adjoining floating structure is free to rise and fall with the tide. This is restrained with a series of fixed posts. These allow the concrete deck with cast-in air pockets to rise and fall. Surrounding the pools are planted rock gabion cages that counterbalance the concrete deck, keeping it below the surface.
Thames Baths Project | London UK | Studio Octopi
Image Credits | Studio Octopi and Picture Plane
Text Credits | Studio Octopi
Collaboration | Studio Octopi, Jonathan Cook Landscape Architects, Civic Engineers