Walthamstow Wetlands

Witherford Watson Mann Architects, London, 2017

 

Subscribe now to instantly view this image

Subscribe to the Architects’ Journal (AJ) for instant access to the AJ Buildings Library, an online database of nearly 2,000 exemplar buildings in photographs, plans, elevations and details.

Already a subscriber? Sign in

The Wetlands site is formed by 10 reservoirs, many dating back to the 19th century 

Jason Orton     Download Original

  • The Wetlands site is formed by 10 reservoirs, many dating back to the 19th century    
  • Public access to this vast area is the result of a deal between the London Wildlife Trust, Thames Water and Waltham Forest Council    
  • View to Coppermill Tower    
  • The site embodies a balance between industrial heritage, water infrastructure and ecology    
  • The concept for access is to create a ‘green core’ of naturalised landscape at the heart of the reservoir complex    
  • The Coppermill Tower was built originally as a chimney for a beam engine    
  • Engine House spiral escape stair and kitchen extension    
  • Coppermill stair    
  • View across the wetlands    
  • The Boiler Room     
  • Location plan    
  • Site plan    
  • Engine house plans    
  • Coppermill Tower plans    
  • Engine house sections    
  • Coppermill Tower section AA    
  • Section BB    
  • Section CC    
  • Early design sketch    

‘Rewilded’ landscaping and restored industrial buildings feature in this project to open up Walthamstow Reservoirs to free public access.

Public access to this vast area is the result of a deal between the London Wildlife Trust, Thames Water and Waltham Forest Council, the latter two funding it along with the Heritage Lottery Fund. It is part of the reimagining of the whole Upper Lea Valley as a public amenity, kicked off by the Olympics and necessitated by east London’s rapid population growth. 

The Wetlands site is formed by 10 reservoirs, many dating back to the 19th century, divided by narrow causeways and ranging in type from excavated Victorian ones, their edges lined by trees and scrub, to above-ground ones from the 1950s, contained by dyke-like bunds lined in concrete and neatly topped by cut turf. 

The infrastructure of water management on the site has always been based in the southern half of the Wetlands site, with the River Lea skirting to the west and the Coppermill stream cutting through. Thames Water still manages the reservoirs and has a major works here with filtration beds, the one large portion of the site still off-limits to the public. 

There are also two Victorian buildings: the close-coupled brick boxes of the Engine House and the Coppermill Tower, with its open arcaded top. Both were designed in the vaguely Italianate style deemed appropriate to dignify industrial buildings in the mid-19th century. They had been long disused, but have now been renovated and repurposed by Witherford Watson Mann to provide the facilities needed to open up the Wetlands to the public. The practice worked closely with Lynn Kinnear to balance the needs of public access, with what it describes as ‘light-touch’ conservation of both buildings and landscape.

In this landscape-led project, a major element of Kinnear’s work has been the ‘rewilding’ of the central spine that runs between the two buildings and connects to existing pedestrian and cycle routes. Planting has focused on replacing invasive species such as brambles and nettles with those that mitigate any impact that public access might have on bird numbers. This includes new reed beds established around the older reservoirs – a haven for breeding birds, for which the Wetlands have become an important habitat.

The landscape architect’s approach to the landscape was to carefully stitch new interventions into the existing infrastructure, balancing increased visitor numbers with sensitive habitat while carefully mending and enhancing the ecology of the site. The concept for access is to create a ‘green core’ of naturalised landscape at the heart of the reservoir complex, which is remote from areas of ecological sensitivity. Entrances connect this green core into existing communities, many of which currently have poor access to nature. 

A generous shared pedestrian/cycle path runs through the site, linking entrances and connecting to existing strategic pedestrian and cycle routes in the Lea Valley. The green core absorbs large visitor numbers, enabling the outer more ecologically sensitive areas to be protected from the impact of people.

Data

  • Begun: Jan 2016
  • Completed: Dec 2017
  • Floor area: 738m2
  • Sectors: Landscape design, Public realm
  • Total cost: £4.1M
  • Procurement: Standard with quantities
  • Address: Lea Bridge Road, London, E10 7QL, United Kingdom

Professional Team

AJBL Sponsor

SAS International

SAS International is a British manufacturer of interior products

Find out more