Michael Delfs: This brief for the boardwalk was full of contradictions. The boardwalk has to be sensitive to the natural environment of the wetland, but also appropriate for the middle of a major urban centre. It has to encourage people to slow down and appreciate the water, but also be designed to carry thousands of people a day. It had to respect the history of the Surrey Docks, but also be a modern design.
Those contradictions could have been paralysing, but the design that emerged from Asif Khan for a red timber boardwalk gently curving and undulating across the water is completely unique. It’s unlike anything anyone has seen before, and yet somehow it’s completely appropriate to Canada Water.
Gary Alden: In terms of landscaping, we want to create a place where people will enjoy spending time, and where they can learn about the area’s rich history and biodiversity, at the heart of an emerging town centre redevelopment.
The curved form of the boardwalk reflects a natural environment to create a distinctive identity and provide a link to the heritage of the area, inspired by the long timber planks carried by the deal porters from when Rotherhithe wasan active shipyard.
Gary Alden: The Dock has two key edges designed as part of our proposals. The western edge is about the re-establishment of the wetland habitat and is designed primarily for enhancing the local biodiversity. The wetland will comprise of seven islands among three zones with different characteristics supporting a mosaic of habitats, with wetland native species including reedbeds, wet woodland, and sedge meadow. These will create enhanced opportunities for nesting and foraging birds, bats, invertebrates, and amphibians.
The southern edge of the Dock aims to create an animated and social place for people to enjoy and experience the expanse of water within the Docks and on its new steps.
Michael Delfs: We’re fortunate to have a significant body of water in the middle of Canada Water. Because it’s not tidal the water levels remain the same height, and is fresh, clean water unlike the River Thames or other old docks. Meaning there is an opportunity to bring people right down to the edge to experience it close-up.
The steps are designed to create different seating areas for lots of people. They are great for children and older people, great for groups who want to meet and hang out as well as for people who might want to be alone with a book.
Michael Delfs: Being near water and nature is demonstrated to have tremendous benefits for mental and physical wellbeing. Restoring the wetland and creating beautiful public spaces around the edge of the Dock will enable people to come closer to and engage with the water.
Gary Alden: The concept for crossing the water has not been about providing a boardwalk, but about an experience to connect people with nature.
Gary Alden: The sense of green, the verdant nature and being immersed within it, has been important throughout the design process. The Dock also reflects the colour of the sky so can draw in the blues, greys and sunsets. This is then enhanced by the vibrancy of the curved red boardwalk that takes inspiration from the red maple leaf in the Canadian flag and the existing red heritage structures of the bascule bridge by the pedestrian walkway to Greenland Dock.
Michael Delfs: The vibrant red of the boardwalk is an exclamation skipping across the Dock and welcoming people to Canada Water.
Michael Delfs: The design itself is beautiful in its simplicity. The most unique challenges have come from working in a 160-year-old dock that is home to an astounding number of birds, fish, and other animals. Every step of the way we have to be careful that we’re not harming the wildlife and that we’re providing alternative habitats even as we disrupt their existing ones, to ultimately make it better.
Gary Alden: Maintaining water levels has been an issue since the wetlands were first established due to a suspected leak in the dock lining.
Boreholes were drilled and an extraction rate has been agreed to maintain appropriate fresh water habitats. We are restoring pumped boreholes that allow us to maintain the dock at a level that supports the wetland.
To re-establish the wetland habitat, the water levels will be raised and maintained through reparations to the borehole and new rainwater collection methods from the significant large areas of public realm, filtered through the surrounding planting. Excess water will exit out to the River Thames, as the Dock becomes a major sustainable urban drainage system flushing fresh water through the surrounding network of bodies and improving the health of the wider ecosystem.
Michael Delfs: The Dock project goes beyond sustainability. Seven new islands within three distinctive habitats, with over a kilometre of shallow water edges, will help biodiversity thrive. The sustainable drainage strategy collects and filters rain from surrounding buildings and landscape to recharge the Dock with fresh, clean, oxygenated water.
That water supports habitats for thriving biodiversity within the Dock, and also filters into the Albion Channel and Surrey Water downstream, cleaning and refreshing those water bodies to restore the hydrological system throughout the Rotherhithe peninsula. It’s about giving back; creating a wetland, investing in public spaces, improving the environment for everyone.
The development will enhance Canada Dock as a Site of Importance for Nature Conservation (SINC)ss.
The boardwalk will be cyclist free, keeping this a harmonious space for pedestrians to enjoy the Dock area.
The development will create three new wetland habitat zones with seven islands.
This will create a kilometre of shallow water edge around the Dock to enjoy.
The red colour is inspired by the heritage of the area and the nearby bascule bridge.
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