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18/01/2011
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London Cable Car

Newham

Project for a new cable car linking Royal Docks to Greenwich Peninsula. Designed by Wilkinson Eyre.

Summary

CABE welcomes this new transport link between the Royal Docks and the Greenwich Peninsula. The proposal makes a good case for connecting the three major public attractions, which are currently divided by the river: the O2 Arena, the Excel Exhibition Centre and the new Siemens Sustainability Centre. The selection of a cable car over a bridge or a tunnel seems to be a realistic decision, given the time constraints and impact on the surrounding area. However, we would suggest that this trip across the Thames is likely to become a major visitor attraction in its own right and could be an important catalyst to regeneration within the emerging docklands centre and Peninsula. The towers which support the cables are well considered and could make an iconic contribution to this stretch of the river Thames. The stations on either bank are less inspiring. Finally, the approach to the broader urban context around the landing points will also require further consideration in terms of providing a wider landscape proposal and well designed spaces for people to wait and gather. This is particularly important for the northern station in Newham.

Towers

The proposed towers that straddle the Thames between Newham and Greenwich are an exciting addition to the river. We applaud the elegance, inventiveness and originality of these large elements. It is encouraging that this potentially iconic form has emerged from consideration of wind loading and the efficient use of material. This is an illustration of the committed sustainable approach that permeates this proposal. Careful consideration of accent lighting will add to the drama of the project; we are encouraged to see a number of studies that illustrate potential lighting solutions. The elegance of the towers depends on maintaining a strong, clearly defined form; care should be taken to minimise the visual impact of escape stairs or other secondary service elements that might detract from the primary form.

Stations

The two stations on either bank are proposed as pavilions in a landscape. There is an intention to minimise the footprint of these pavilions, display the machinery within and heighten the experience of travel. However, these modest structures are not as inspiring as the towers and do not match the ambition of the larger structures. Since the trip may become very popular, the pavilions should be capable of comfortably accommodating large numbers of visitors in their passage into and through the station. The way in which the pavilions add to the drama of the ride has not been fully explored. For passenger comfort, the provision of visitor WC facilities should be included within these pavilions.

Urban context

Given the many constraints imposed by this site, we acknowledge the difficulty of locating both the overall route of the cable car and the specific locations of each station. Given this, the south station seems well located, on the axis of the new Greenwich master plan, with intuitively linked way finding, directly to the DLR station. Conversely, the route from the Royal Docks DLR to the new north station is circuitous and potentially difficult to find as the proposed location does not have a direct visual connection to the DLR. At present there is an uneasy relationship of the north pavilion both with the Sustainability centre and with the dock itself. The form and massing of the north station ought to form a coherent composition with the new Siemens’ Sustainability Centre.

The stations are likely to have a more profound impact on the surrounding urban space than is currently allowed for. Since this river crossing may become a major visitor attraction, it must not only support its local community making regular trips across the river, but also cope with large surges of travellers generated from O2 concerts or Excel event, for example. More consideration should be given to passenger marshalling and control, both within and around the stations. These landing points are likely to become places to meet and linger, as much as places to simply pass through. Therefore, the location and treatment of surrounding areas should be able to accommodate large numbers of visitors. There may be a greater demand for cafes restaurants and other facilities surrounding these stations than is currently predicted. It is essential that future adjacent developments within Newham and Greenwich positively respond to these stations both as important points of departure and generous places of arrival and assembly.

Sustainability

There appears to be a comprehensive strategy for sustainable use of resources within this proposal. The overall scheme encourages travel by foot and bicycle. The design of the towers makes efficient use of materials. The pavilions deploy many methods of minimising their sustainable impact; including PVs on the roof, a heat recovery motor, cooling through structure and pits, rainwater harvesting and a brown roof. We urge the local authority to ensure that these measures get delivered.