canary wharf public realm

South Quay Plaza

Contrasting the urban intensification of Canary Wharf, South Quay Plaza public realm introduces 3 acres of much needed public greenspace associated with three new residential buildings


South Quay Plaza public realm is carefully designed to manage the perception of scale at ground level and provide a variety of spaces for active and passive use. Large tree planting and extensive soft landscape provide a park atmosphere for residents and workers, a green oasis in the wider Isle of Dogs.

Landscape Design

canary wharf public realm

What were the key challenges when addressing the client’s design brief?

The South Quay Plaza site itself went through significant changes in recent history, resulting in a fragmented piece of public realm with a large vacant plot closed off to the public since the 1996 Docklands bombing and an underused section of the DLR undercroft. Acting as both a visual and physical barrier to movement, while terminating poorly the views on the axis of Millharbour the site called for a radical and far-reaching design approach.

Contrasting the urban intensification of Canary Wharf and the surrounding Marsh Wall and Isle of Dogs, the South Quay Plaza masterplan introduces 3 acres of much needed public greenspace associated with three new residential buildings on a site of 4.5 acres, rescuing a vacant plot that has been closed to the public since for over 20 years and renovating public realm associated with existing buildings beyond the development’s ‘red line’.

canary wharf public realm

What do you see as the greatest success of this project?

We have been involved in the project since 2015, taking the landscape design from planning to completion.  The masterplan was designed to create much needed public greenspace at the base of three new tall residential buildings.  The design strategies of slender building footprints and locating all vehicular servicing in the basement combine to release over two thirds of the site as public realm. The design opens walking and cycling connections and provides high levels of walkability to the wider area responding to diagonal desire lines connecting the water’s edge to South Quay Station and Marsh Wall. The majority of the park sits atop a two-storey basement that houses servicing and parking

The project has been a success in the following ways:

  • Transforming the area into a biodiverse parkland comprised of a series of tranquil waterside gardens
  • Introducing over 320 mature trees to a site with none before development
  • Creating a landmark public space for the wider community to enjoy
  • Establishing key pedestrian routes connecting Canary Wharf to the Isle of Dogs
  • Car and service vehicle free public realm
  • Invisible integration of servicing and ventilation to the basement
  • Over 500% Biodiversity net gain
  • 2500 m2 of children’s play space for ages 0-15

In contrast to the densely developed surroundings, the new high-quality public realm offers residents and the wider community valuable amenity and a range of recreation opportunities in the form of play, eating, strolling, or resting, encouraging and facilitating a thriving and vibrant public life at the base of the buildings.

Positive environmental elements of the design

Creating climate resilience and increasing biodiversity are key drivers for the design of the public realm. Contrasting the impressive height of the buildings, the public realm consists of a series of tranquil gardens, framed by large trees, that create a green envelope from the buildings and provide visual interest, high levels of amenity and play for children. A total of 320 mature new trees will be planted across the development including 14m tall, mature Dawn Redwoods that help to manage the micro climate by emulating a closed canopy woodland promoting shade for cooling and reducing wind effects, whilst creating an attractive and useable parkland from day one.

Bold swathes of colourful wildlife attracting perennials create a naturalistic landscape that changes with the seasons and maximises amenity value for residents and workers. The planting contributes significantly to local nature recovery with the new greenspaces delivering a biodiversity net gain of over 500% in area-based habitats due to the ecologically poor value of baseline consisting of buildings and paving.

The park is constructed on a two-storey basement housing parking, servicing, plant and an energy centre. Complex landscape engineering and earth sculpting seamlessly integrates all ventilation requirements for the basement. 400mm linear metres of seating benches conceal the ventilation and act as retaining edges for soil build-ups required to sustain the tree planting.

How did we approach the design strategy for the public realm?

The landscape strategy includes the previously vacant site to the south of South Quay Square and the public realm underneat the DLR. The site is strategically located at the intersection of two key routes; Millharbour and Marsh Wall. There were a number of barriers that affect orientation and movement through the site including an existing site hoarding covering the majority of the site, change in levels as a result of the the steps leading to the previous DLR Station and building extract vents. The existing public realm beneath the Docklands Light Railway offers limited amenity, and suffers from poor overlooking. Significant views on the axis of Mill harbour, a primary route for the area, terminate poorly on the site hoarding.

The slender new building footprints result in over two thirds of the site offered as public realm, opening up walking and cycling connections to the wider area and allowing high levels of walkability in the immediate neighbourhood and beyond. The orientation of two of the new buildings at 45 degrees to the dockside responds to key diagonal desire lines connecting the water’s edge to the South Quay Station and Marsh Wall while creating high quality waterfront greenspace.

A holistic approach to the site-wide landscape treatment of South Quay Plaza public realm was of critical importance to activate and animate the network of open spaces created within and around the site. To respond to the varying site conditions, we’ve designed a transition from an urban plaza on Marsh Wall to a softer landscape character in the enlarged pocket park. Smaller pockets of green space set within a highly attractive public realm will allow for flexible use of space, while providing important greening and biodiversity to the DLR undercroft.


Designing places for people

During the design stages, we met local residents and recorded aural histories which informed public art for the site. A poem written by a local artist specifically for the site is inscribed on the natural stone surfaces introducing a public art trail throughout the site.

A play trail using large cut Cornish granite boulders meanders through the gardens, reminiscent of the old marsh wall, that once formed the perimeter of the Isle of Dogs. In contrast to the densely developed surroundings, the new high-quality public realm offers residents a range of recreation opportunities in the form of play, eating, strolling or resting, encouraging and facilitating a thriving and vibrant public life at the base of the buildings.

A moveable park with surface mounted planters was built in this area ahead of the main development to create ephemeral greenspace for the community to use while the permanent park was being built.

The first three phases of the development were completed between 2018 and 2021 with the fourth well underway, transforming the South Dock to a destination for the wider community that lives and works in the area. Designed to the highest quality, the new public realm has already become popular with local residents, playing a key role in revitalising the public realm of the greater South Quay area, and creating an important piece of green infrastructure for the Isle of Dogs.

How does our approach to long-term management and maintenance contribute to preserving the original vision of the public realm?

The vision from the very start of the project was that the SQP public realm would be maintained to a very high standard all year around to achieve maximum satisfaction of residents and visitors alike for years to come. Therefore, a robust and detailed management and maintenance plan was drawn up to ensure successful maintenance meets the aspirations of all stakeholders. Following the completion of the first phases, a specialist maintenance contractor was appointed to look after the gardens and they have been working closely with HTA, the client, the estate managing agent and residents to achieve the best quality public realm.

We have been involved in the long-term management and maintenance of the landscape by attending meetings with residents, listening to their feedback and responding by adjusting the design and the planting scheme without compromising the original vision for the landscape. HTA have been also undertaking regular site visits to monitor the condition of the works carried out by the contractor, highlighting any issues, and providing recommendations for adjustments to the maintenance regime.

The built phases of the project are extremely popular with residents, workers and dogwalkers of the area. While this is positive outcome demonstrating the success of the design, heavy footfall means that an even more regular and robust maintenance regime is being implemented.