The architecture firm behind New York’s High Line tells Icon about the new park for Londoners in Greenwich Peninsula
London’s newest park, a linear design by Diller Scofidio + Renfro, the architects behind New York’s High Line, in collaboration with Neiheiser Argyros, will open in July 2019 along the Thames on Greenwich Peninsula. Named The Tide, the landscaped space will include elevated walkways and sunken gardens, providing a walking and running route alongside the river, with public art dotted throughout. The project will eventually stretch 5km, providing public gardens and paths to connect areas on the peninsula with each other and the river. Diller Scofidio + Renfro told Icon the ambition was ‘to create a unifying public realm – a network that will stitch together diverse ecosystems, emerging neighbourhoods, and distinct cultural institutions, connecting north to south, east to west, centre to periphery, and city to river.’
The first phase of the project, commissioned by owner Knight Dragon, will open on 5 July, with a kilometre of elevated gardens and walkways on a series of islands, with cafes and seating scattered along the route. There will also be a new artwork by Allen Jones commissioned for The Tide, an eight-metre high piece called Head in the Wind, plus works by Damien Hirst and Morag Myerscough. This initial phase will link the eastern part of the Thames with the peninsula’s neighbourhoods, with the further stages of the masterplan, which will open its design phase in September, intended to create larger cultural spaces and extend up to the waterfront opposite Canary Wharf.
Along the park’s length, there will be new restaurant and cafe openings as well as what The Tide calls London’s longest outdoor dining table, designed by Studio Morison, who said they designed it as somewhere ‘residents and visitors look at the fantastic view, workers will eat their lunch there and people will cook and meet and socialize together over the long summer evenings.’
Diller Scofidio + Renfro’s partner-in-charge, Ben Gilmartin, told Icon about the work on the project, its comparison to the High Line and how London is shaping the firm’s current work.
ICON: The Tide will inevitably be compared to the High Line in New York – what are the main differences for you, particularly in how you reacted to the different cityscapes?
Ben Gilmartin: Both projects are linear public parks, but with different origins. The High Line was an adaptive reuse of an obsolete, industrial rail infrastructure into an elevated park for an existing neighbourhood in New York. The Tide is a purpose-built structure designed in parallel with the emerging development of Greenwich Peninsula. With The Tide, we were able to connect the Peninsula’s neighbourhoods with a unifying public realm not only from an elevated level, but also at-grade. The layered landscape permits large groups of people to move fluidly below, and simultaneously offers opportunities for more intimate and individualized experience above – social, recreational, and contemplative. That approach has a strong resonance with our design for Zaryadye Park in Moscow, where terraced landscapes incorporate cultural programs within the fabric of a new public realm. The Tide’s sculptural structural supports, even incorporates, some of The Shed’s DNA, whose bespoke, expressive elements were also fabricated by Cimolai.
ICON: How did the functions and context shape your design?
BG: Across the masterplan and in the first phase, we needed to create a sense of place among the new residential developments of the Peninsula and foster strong public connections to the waterfront for the first time. This required reorganizing the ground plane among existing and new buildings to create a broadly coherent new public space fabric of paving, planting, lighting, furniture and art – working in collaboration with the landscape practie GROSS MAX. The elevated landscape Island and link structures created more agile networks of movement and quieter spaces of overlook above.
ICON: How did the London context shape your design – was there anything specifically challenging?
BG: We’re so fortunate to be working on a variety of sites in London that each shape their design. The site for the Centre of Music is distinct within the context of the Barbican and its four decade history. Our works, here in Greenwich Peninsula and for the V&A in Queen Elizabeth Park, are situated in much more tabula rasa contexts.
I was interested in the almost tense relationship between Greenwich Peninsula and the Thames. The river bends around it so tightly on all sides, and yet historically the public has been disconnected from the riverfront. We wanted to relieve that tension by creating strong links from the arrival points at the heart of the Peninsula out to the waterfront. We also wanted to reinvigorate the Thames path with cultural nodes to get people to linger and stay.
The need to move large groups of people across roadways, vehicular arteries, and ground level areas created the motivation for an elevated pedestrian landscape network supported by ground plane circulation. The island and bridge structures can nimbly touch down where there are station tunnel limitations below, or thread their way between ventilation towers, exit stairs, and mechanical plants. These diversions offer some of the most interesting moments along the path, where you can feel embedded in the infrastructure.
The design of The Tide Lines – the graphic striped pattern of the path – was also influenced by the black and white stone pattern of the Greenwich Naval Academy. Our pattern’s consistent east-west stripe orientation is orthogonal with the Greenwich Meridian, effectively measuring the peninsula as one traverses it. The expansion and contraction of the pattern locally evokes different paces of movement – running, cycling, walking, at rest. This black and white pattern, we felt, was pop in its sensibility, linking to the heritage of place, but somehow resonated with broader references of the public realm at large from Burle Marx’s Copacabana promenade to the work of street artist Daniel Buren, among many others.
ICON: How do you hope The Tide will develop and evolve over time?
BG: Our ambition has always been to create a unifying public realm – a network that will stitch together diverse ecosystems, emerging neighbourhoods, and distinct cultural institutions, connecting north to south, east to west, centre to periphery, and city to river. The first phase, in construction now and opening to the public in July, makes the connection to the Thames waterfront east, and this represents about one fifth of the total masterplan of The Tide. We’re looking forward to some of the future phases that could add even more dimension to this layered public space – portions that pass through buildings, connect to significant cultural venues, create long landscapes spanning motorways, and activate the waterfront across from Canary Wharf. With so many potential future connections across the Peninsula, there will be a consistency in the attitude of the public realm, while still leaving room for new expressions for the network of landscape, structure and cultural space.