Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat
 One Canada Square + Canary Wharf Technical Tour
Conference Technical Tour
June 13, 2013
Daniel Safarik, CTBUH Editor

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LONDON - A tour of Canary Wharf is an object lesson in the kind of place-making that can stem from the exploitation of an increasing rarity and developer’s delight: a 100-acre (40-ha) blank space in a major metropolitan area. Before the City’s cluster of towers emerged at the beginning of the last decade, Canary Wharf was where large businesses – Citigroup, HSBC, JP Morgan, Reuters – went to secure the largest possible floor plates in the region, up to 80,000 SF. When they arrived, they found a unique build-to-suit developer / contractor / manager in Canary Wharf Group PLC. In the late 1980s, the earliest pioneers did not find much else, although a critical link in the Docklands Light Railway (DLR) had wisely been extended into the abandoned wharves and jetties on the Thames’ North Bank.
Canary Wharf as seen from the River Thames
The cluster of towers that now houses more than 15 million square feet of office space, 700,000 SF of retail, and 100,000 workers did not spring up all at once, but gradually grew outward from the center point.
This point is where the perfunctory DLR station was adjoined by Cesar Pelli’s One Canada Square, a 50-story Class A office building with a pyramidal crown. At the time, Britain’s financial services were deregulating in the “Big Bang,” and this was London’s bid to capture global financial institutions before they looked elsewhere. Less a “stake” in the ground than a beefy axis mundi, the 1.5 million-SF One Canada Square epitomized the confidence its developers were intending to project.

It was a big risk that paid off immensely. The building remains the tallest in the development, and new buildings step down away from it in succession, providing a sense of order and composition that its City compatriots have a much harder time achieving, as they swerve out of the way of heritage view corridors on their irregular plots.
One Canada Square is the center of Canary Wharf
Canary Wharf Group’s aim-to-please, one-stop-shop approach, combined with its laser focus on optimizing transit connections, largely accounts for the development’s success, said Tony Jordan, vice president of development for Canary Wharf Group.

“When we first started, there were about 800,000 working people within one hour’s commute of Canary Wharf,” Jordan said. “With the improvements that have taken place in public transportation over the last 25 years, that figure is now 2.5 million.”

The developers have a history of tweaking planned urban infrastructure to their own purposes, yet have provided many public benefits in the process. They built a canopy over the DLR platforms that reads like a postmodern version of the many Victorian trainsheds of Central London, which encourages travelers to dwell a bit longer in the attached subterranean mall, Cabot Place.
DLR platforms Canary Wharf Jubilee Line Underground station
When London Underground built the Canary Wharf Jubilee Line station in 1999, Canary Wharf Group worked with architect Foster + Partners to add an additional three entrances to accommodate an expected 33,000 people per hour at peak times.

And when Crossrail, the east-west express train service set to commence in 2018, reaches Canary Wharf, access for an additional 36,000 people per hour will be through an elaborate multi-level station submerged in a canal and the soil beneath. Cunningly, every transfer passenger between these modes will also be a Canary Wharf visitor – and potential shopper. The developers invested money and design input into the Crossrail station, so as to limit the impact of construction works on occupiers, but also to force-channel transferees through acres of underground retail.

“There was talk at one time of driving a very deep tunnel from Crossrail to the Jubilee line platform. We did not encourage that idea,” Jordan said. “We’d much prefer passengers to come through our retail.”
Typical office floor in One Canada Square
Everything onsite is optimized to provide the highest level of service, comfort and neighborhood amenities for the population who come here each day, Jordan said. The redundant utilities substations and cabling, stable of 32 lifts capable of speeds of 4 m/s, and core design in excess of fire code that characterize One Canada Square have set a high bar. Canary Wharf Group has seen fit to replicate or better these features in each new building on the estate, said Paul Mutti, director of building services at One Canada Square.
The inside of the pyramid on the roof of One Canada Square provides space for mechanical equipment
“In terms of the design standards for engineering services, we typically put twice the plant that you’d get in a typical building in London,” Mutti said.  “We are trying to avoid single points of failure inside as well as outside. Our service allowances in terms of cooling and power are generally better than standard.”
Delegates enjoy the view from the roof of One Canada Square
After touring an empty office floor, rooftop mechanical plant, mid-rise electrical substation, and the Building Management System control room, visitors to One Canada Square were taken on a brisk walk around the estate’s shopping malls and public squares. Geraldine Ryan, Corporate Liaison Manager for Canary Wharf Group, noted the public art, jazz clubs, and 30 acres of parkland for those who would mistake the place for a mere office park or shopping center.

The investment in the public realm has proven convincing. Between 20,000 and 30,000 people now live within a 10-minute walk of One Canada Square, she said. More mixed-use development is planned on the eastern fringes of the complex at Wood Wharf, where at least six more buildings are envisioned. In the meantime, Wood Wharf is a pop-up park. A room-sized 3-D model showed many future buildings in clear Perspex; unfortunately photography was not allowed.

While the City now epitomizes the tensions between “Height and Heritage,” Canary Wharf is now a place that has its own heritage to contend with. It’s beginning to take on the auspices of a city in its own right, though one psychologically still more at a remove from the City than the two-mile, 15-minute train ride from the Bank of England would imply.

Jubilee Park
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