SHAPED BY WATER: ECOLOGICAL ADAPTATION - Rebuilding the Lost Crafts of Rotherhithe with Experimental Education Facility

Pau Hiu Wing
The Chinese University of Hong Kong, School of Architecture, Hong Kong
Hong Kong

Project idea

Global warming is evitable. Two of the major impacts are sea level rises and more frequent extreme weather events that leads to flooding in low-lying areas. The UK is a nation with many low lying districts, this includes its capital London, the financial hub with the highest population density across the country.

Within it is Rotherhithe, a low-lying residential area on the south bank of the Thames particularly vulnerable to flooding. Focusing specifically in this area, this thesis aims to response to climate change with regenerative design. It also hopes to educate local communities the impact of flooding and provide opportunity for youth through shipbuilding, a lost craft of the area. It will act as a bonding element to unite the local community through education, heritage and the crafts of shipbuilding. It works towards promoting a more sustainable community by engaging with natural ecologies. This project approaches the issue under three key directions; the threat of flooding, the existing conditions and challenges of the site and community, and the inter-relationships of natural ecologies and the built environment. By establishing an Experimental Education Facility, it acts as the testing ground to prepare the local for a future of living with water while embracing the need of community. This project can act as an example for other areas under flooding risk in the UK, and even across the world, that however small the step may be, it still represents a vision to counter climate change and sea level rise. The built environment is able to response to climate change while revitalizing and connecting to the community.

Project description

To deal with the issue of flooding, different strategies of resolving the landscape and buildings to make them flood adaptive have been looked into. I have also reviewed the existing flood defense in London. At the moment, there is a river wall system, the Thames embankment and a flood barrier, the Thames Barrier protecting London from flooding. However, they were built over 60 years ago and their conditions are degrading. They are not sufficient to provide future protection. Therefore, I propose to introduce a soft engineering system as future flood defense, which is a wetland park. The project proposed to turn developments one block away from the Thames into wetland park to deal with the issue of flooding with the power of natural landscape.
So what is wetland actually? It is a natural based strategy to prevent flooding. It meditates flood water and the community effectively without building any artificial elements. It also supports a rich ecosystem, including reptiles, birds, fish and other many species. The vast area of plants can help absorbing water and slow down water movement during floods. The ecological value and water absorption ability of wetland make it an ideal condition to counter flooding.

To further study how architecture help to regenerate the future community, I first looked at the historical development of Rotherhithe. It had long been associated with maritime activities due to its proximity to the City of London. Dated back to the 17th century, it has already acted as a dock. The development of docks largely expanded in the 19th and early 20th century when commercial trading flourished. Many ships were built at that time. However, the docks started to decline after they were seriously damaged after WWII. Later when the shipping industry adopted the container system of cargo transportation, they were unable to accommodate the large cargoes which leads to their closure in the 1970s. The area was left derelict until redevelopment in the 1980s to the modern housing and commercial facilities nowadays. Rotherhithe was a major shipbuilding and maritime hub in the past. Shipbuilding has been the root and identity of the area. It has defined the Rotherhithe peninsula for over 150 years. The community was strongly connected by the shipbuilding industry. However, this shipbuilding heritage had been gone with the dockland landscape now. I see the opportunity of introducing shipbuilding back to Rotherhithe as cultural continuity of their heritage, and also embraces the digital future as automation and computerisation have been dominating the manufacturing industry in this digital era. It is a perfect opportunity to develop an experimental education facility of shipbuilding for the youth to revitalize the community. This facility will have a student size of 100 and will be aligned with local university to provide further education.

Technical information

As in landscape strategy, it consists of 2 parts. One part is the part along the Thames that would be converted into a wetland park, and the other is the existing Rotherhithe landscape. For the building design, it is divided into 3 parts. First is the space of making, second is the exhibition space, and third is the education facility.

The first part is the space of making which is a digital fabrication workshop. It is the space for students to explore and learn the crafts of shipbuilding with the help of robots, computers and digital mechanisms. The second part is the exhibition space under the gasholder frame. It is open to the public and consists of a visitor centre, café and a walkway through the wetland. There is also a roof garden on top. The third part is the education facility. It consists of a multi-purpose hall and flexible classrooms with a library at the top.

The building is lifted up on stilt on a wetland landscape with the gasholder frame combined into a part of the project. The digital workshop is like a floating island in the wetland. The whole building is wrapped with brick like façade made with Terracotta which act as sunscreen and also response to the traditional brick houses in the neighbourhood.

Looking at the section across the design, at the tip is the digital fabrication workshop. It has a large space for students, robots and machines to move around. It is supported by a large storage area, technicians’ office and service rooms on the lower part and a computer station on top. In the middle is the old gasholder frame. It is preserved by giving it a new cultural value with an exhibition space and roof garden on top. It is surrounded by the visitor centre, café and a walkway through wetland. The wetland provides a protective landscape for many species to live in. It is specifically good for breeding eels which can be served as food for the café and local community. Jellied eels has been a traditional English dish since the 18th century. Serving this in the café also serves as a cultural continuity of food tradition. At the end of the section is the education facility, with 3 levels of classrooms and 3 levels of library on top.

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