This walking tour around the northern end of the Isle of Dogs – delivered in partnership with Republic – takes in the area’s history as the industrial centre of a global trading empire with strong colonial ties to the empire, through its industrial decline, regeneration and recent construction boom.
The event starts at West India Quay and finishes at East India Docks which is home to Republic. Once a relatively isolated part of industrial London, the area is now a financial district with towering office skyscrapers, new homes, landmark retail centres and multiple transport links to the rest of the capital.
This tour will tell the story of the original West India Dock complex built by Robert Milligan – whose statue outside the Museum of London Docklands has recently been removed following Black Lives Matter protests around the world. Here, the dock complex and the Grade I-listed sugar warehouses offer a rare glimpse of the area’s colonial past as a vast landscape created to receive the products of empire and slavery.
Moving on to a dramatic viewpoint revealing one of the River Thames’ most enigmatic post-industrial landscapes, the tour will then discuss some of the early docklands developments in Surrey Quays, Rotherhithe and Wapping, and the later work of the London Docklands Development Corporation. The unique planning and ideas behind the early approaches to rethinking London’s formerly derelict docks will be compared to the later thinking behind the private sector-led Canary Wharf development and some of the more recent towers going up on the island.
Passing through the former West India Docks complex, still apparent as vast expanses of water alongside the new banking towers, the tour will consider Reuters Plaza and the transformation of the area from one of toil, industry and colonial extraction to one of big banks, finance, shopping, recreation and luxury living.
It will then pass through Crossrail Place’s roof garden before travelling on to East India Dock – originally created to receive tea, spices, indigo, silk of the East India Company which had been key to the creation of the British Empire – where a 1990s office complex has recently been reinvented as Republic, a multi-use campus with landscaped public realm and spaces for local charities.
Providing a safe and fun way for enthusiastic urbanists to explore the city in our pandemic era, this walking tour is part of a new series responding to the core themes of the Open House festival and wider Open City programme.
Led by an expert guide on London’s architectural and social history, participants will examine the success of the area in the context of the incoming Elizabeth Line, Covid and the shift to working from home as well as the impact of Brexit. Referring back to the area’s strong links to empire, colonialism and slavery – the tour will also ask what the area’s future might hold as well as what the former docklands’ relationship to its many surrounding communities might be.
Open City is a charity dedicated to making London and its architecture more open, accessible and equitable.
Open City engages all citizens, particularly from under-represented backgrounds, in architecture and city-making. Our programmes – from the Open House Festival and its international network, to our pioneering education projects – open up buildings, conversations and careers to those normally locked out of them.