Climate change experts predict a temperature rise of up to four degrees in the next millennium. This increase will result in a drastic reorganisation of our planet as sea levels rise and more extreme weather events such as hurricanes and tsunamis disturb our cities. Ninety percent of the world’s largest cities are located next to water, and so to address increasing population density and differing environmental conditions, perhaps we need to start looking at using existing urban water as a place of opportunity to build on with new types of dynamic landscape which are able to respond flexibly with changing tidal levels.
The site chosen for the project is the Thames River in the City of London. Historically, this river was a great place of social exchange and recreation. But by the 1950s, it had become unfit for human occupation. Bombing of the Bazalgette sewers coupled with a large population, meant that sewage was leaking straight into the river causing widespread outbreaks of cholera. This moment drastically changed people’s relationship with the river and despite the fact that the water quality has since improved, there has been a reluctance to embrace it as the engaging landscape it once was.
The project aims to change this mindset by reestablishing the river as an active place of invention and connection between both sides of London. The proposal incorporates programs such as swimming, the agricultural farming of algae, restaurants and boulevards into a floating park typology which embraces water and encourages access to make it once again a sociable, livable part of the city. Within these programs, the landscape integrates a cycle in which algae, wastewater and atmospheric CO2 is converted to energy, food products and clean water. As such, this means that the dirty water of the Thames River becomes an asset to produce energy, rather than a commodity to be expensively processed.
Notions such as fluidity, buoyancy and constant change in relation to the seven meter tidal height difference of the river are the central driving principles behind the design. Using buoyant concrete elements supported by a series of underwater pistons, parts of the landscape are able to float up or down in neutral buoyant positions with the river height or artificially close certain air valves to fix them at alternative heights to accommodate different programs or more optimal outdoor comfort conditions such as shielding the users from wind or too much sunlight radiation.
During high and low tide, the landscape assumes naturally buoyant positions. At these times, certain air valves may be opened to enable air to circulate through a series of thin steel pipes and create the sound of a water organ.
During Mid tide, the landscape fixes its position at differing heights according to program and environmental requirements by closing the air valves within the pistons. The air pressure within the piston body supports the weight but because air is no longer circulating freely through the pipes in the structure, the landscape ceases its musical properties. The differing height levels transform the swimming area into a series of waterfalls instead of a level, continuous swimming area.