Thames Estuary

The following text is taken from Kingston University’s Architecture + Landscape Summer 2017 exhibition catalogue:

P1020236Image: Rory Johnson

 

TUTORS: Pat Brown, Vladimir Guculak, Ruth Olden

CRITICS: Fenella Griffin, Richard Woolf, Helen Neve, Alax Seitl, Christoph Lueder, Judi Farren Bradley, Dimitris Grozopoulos, Pablo Feito Boirac, Leah Fusco

STUDENTS:

  • MLA Year 2: Ruth Chittock, Rory Johnson, Khadijah Khan, Camilla Piccolo, Haojie Qin, Stefan Tebbenhoff
  • PGDip Landscape Architecture: Sigita Paplauskaite
  • MA Landscape & Urbanism: Yiying He, Karamjot Kaur Kang, Arsia Mesbah, Utkarsha Patil, Karvy Bharat Yadav

 

The Thames estuary has been part-shaped by London’s human history of trade, navigation, industrialisation, militarisation and tourism. It evidences the relations that Londoners have extended to a regional water ecology and associated landscape – sometimes affirmative, and at other times troubling. But the estuary is no mere residual landscape: it is also an entity in its own right and must be understood on its own terms. This landscape has distinct spatialities, temporalities and agencies of its own, and it is rich with resources for reimagining the relationships that London has historically extended to it. Is this not the entrance to London?

Images: Stefan Tebbenhoff

Collectively we have worked towards understanding the elements of the estuarine landscape: its tidal waters, mud, darkness and light, marine ecologies, military ruins, estuarine communities, shipping and associated industries, dialects, abandonment and disturbed ecologies. This picture comes into focus following a sustained period of investigation of shoreline scavenging, stargazing, soil sampling, personal accounts from the field, archival research, public engagement and mapping.

Sigita modelImages: Sigita Paplauskaite

This collective archive of the region is the primary resource for thinking about possible futures of the estuary’s urban edges, marshlands, islands, ruins and postindustrial communities. Sites have been selected in the estuary, and site-responsive briefs have been written, motivated by the very real problematics of site and region. Research questions have been posed with an eye to environmental futures and cultural prospects, and these have been answered through fieldwork. The resulting design projects respond to a host of different challenges and opportunities: how to frame the relationship between the tide, the landscape, light and darkness; how to link postindustrial heritage and the Thames estuary’s distinctive marshland ecologies; how to reanimate post-industrial infrastructure with recreational programmes; how to introduce a bathing and wellness culture in the estuary, by re-appropriating former sites of waste? Many possibilities hold in this shifting landscape.

Images: Yiying He

With the waters of change lapping at the estuary’s post-industrial limits, the challenge of acknowledging the agency of London’s peripheral landscape is more urgent than ever. The landscape professional’s ability to capture complex material worlds by listening well through field work and design thinking is an essential role for our times. By putting these skills to work in the estuary, we find that this peripheral landscape is no mere putty in London’s hands. Mud, darkness and tidal waters persist here, estuarine communities dwell here. These are all agencies that present an important prompt to place-based thinking and new forms of environmental engagement. And they must be present, co-author even, in the task of future thinking.

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Images: Ruth Chittock

Images: Haojie Qin

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