Symbiotic Thames

Rethinking the urban riparian condition and meaning through architecture towards a more symbiotic relationship between the urban river and the city

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Water is the elixir of life for London, the river Thames is the heart powering its growth. Although it has created the existence of London, it has mainly been the city that influenced the river in route, form and function aligning with their needs. There always has been a changing tension between city and river, a battle between the forces of nature and the power of the anthropogenic. The combined impact of rapid urbanization and climate change has resulted in numerous shortcomings in the control-focused approach to urban river engineering and planning. Repeated flooding, environmental deterioration, biodiversity loss, declining livability, and increased environmental stress are all indicators of the diminished harmony between rivers and cities. These unintended side effects are a product of neglect, denial, and arrogance of not recognizing the river and its ecology. Therefore, there is an urgent need to rethink the Thames waterfront towards a justification for its existence and help regenerate both the river and the urban collective towards a coexisting future.

This thesis explores the changing meaning of water and the riverfront in London today, accompanied by an overview and understanding of the various waterfront conditions along the Thames. Based upon that knowledge a strategy was made to (re-) connect humans and rivers through the use of architecture as a riparian mediator. The combination of the “third generation city” theory by Marco Casagrande and the “oligopticon” theory by Bruno Latour provided a powerful framework for developing an architectural typology that focuses on connecting humans and the non-human, while simultaneously regenerating the ecosystem. As the architecture had to be further defined the strategy continued upon the idea of negotiating boundaries. Not only between humans and non-humans, as already established, but also between form and fluidity, between architecture and landscape, and between program and regeneration for humans and non-humans. This not only strengthens the concept of architecture as a mediator but also takes on the role of being an interdependent system. Therewith it becomes a much-needed and long-lasting protagonist in the re-establishment of the relationship between the water and the city. That has resulted in the architectural design of the five river rooms along the Thames.