Next Project

Liquid History

Part 2 Project 2009
Joel Jenkins
University of Kent, UK
Thames River Centre

Tide is the ‘Silent Client’ in this transformation of Chambers Wharf, a derelict former cold-store on the Thames in Bermondsey into a multi-use meander of buildings strewn along a newly constituted urban beach.

The design was governed by a desire to reconnect people with the ‘liquid history’ of the Thames - a bold new opening in the river wall invites the water in with the tidal flow orchestrating the use of space.

A series of experimental art-based processes were employed to inform the project’s design hierarchy.

These included a fleet of parcels set afloat on the river to gain a sense of tidal movement, ‘bottling’ the tide at various heights to observe the qualities of the water, and a giant ‘tide-line’, a chromatograph-like print on a 40 metre roll of paper.

Ink and water studies contributed to the patinated and oxidized aesthetic for the new buildings’ cladding. Angular edges to the buildings’ forms echo the marine-architecture of the hull of a ‘holed’ and submerged Thames barge moored to the pre-existing jetty, and only exposed at low tide.

Six new buildings comprise offices for London’s River User Group, a River Art Factory with exhibition hall, paper-making facilities, plus a café and rooftop park with stunning river vistas. A water activity centre with floating pontoon includes a rowing centre, swimming pool and restaurant.

Three resident artists’ accommodation pods complete the centre. These are isolated at high tide ensuring that the artists’ daily life cycle harmonises with the river’s tidal pattern. A ‘hidden gem’ involves a tide room with a glass ceiling enabling visitors to experience the tide coming and going above them.

Environmental initiatives include a substantial planting programme of indigenous inter-tidal plants such as the rare Golden Samphire.

The centre is a partnership with the river and its tide, combining tidal energy, inter-tidal landscaping and inter-linked activities with design and materials.

Joel Jenkins

We are recommending our nominee for the RIBA President’s Silver Medal 2009 for several reasons, but most simply because they deserves the acknowledgement for a body of work that is ultimately peerless in its commitment, dedication, imagination, resourcefulness, sentiency, process and resolution amongst their fellow students.

Notwithstanding the above, our nominee hasn’t basked in the aura of the anomalous ‘star student’; the proverbial ‘exception-not-the-rule’.

Not previously distinguished within their peer group, this student has been held to task and persevered in the face of robust criticism, always supported by vast and meticulously documented research, analysis, and process design investigations, to emerge perhaps not only as our most improved student, but also our best.

In the final year of their ‘Part 2’ course our nominee undertook two design modules and both reflect a consistent level of achievement. But it is their ‘Major Design Project’ that we wish to base our recommendation upon.

Initially becoming interested in the poetics of change in the river Thames this student undertook a series of self-directed art-practices and developed a highly sensitive comprehension of what constitutes ‘tide’.

The (tidal) territory explored became the site for a ‘Thames Centre’ which sought to present the visitor with an experience of the river which would phenomenologically evoke the sublime through celebrating the ephemerality of the tidal plane, leading to an architectural proposition that drew on a consideration, and composed combination, of surface, materiality, sound and space.

This is a very accomplished and referenced piece of design work and we commend it to the RIBA President’s Silver Medal 2009 jury.


• Page Hits: 10037         • Entry Date: 12 August 2009         • Last Update: 10 September 2009