How Greenwich Peninsula became London's newest creative hub

Since the industrial wasteland was abandoned post-war, redevelopment has washed over the peninsula with varying degrees of success. Now, urban planners promise a peninsula that’s at the cutting edge of urban landscape design.

The Design District officially opened in September 2021.

Photograph by Taran Wilkhu
By Nora Wallaya
Published 21 Mar 2022, 18:00 GMT

You could crudely say that Greenwich Peninsula’s first outing as a centre for entertainment began in the 18th century. For just one penny, visitors to this finger of land on the River Thames could gawk at the gibbeted corpses of notorious pirates at Blackwall Point, slapped with tar and hung in cages. A spectacle for many, a scourge on local neighbourhoods, and a gruesome warning to any ship crews traversing the capital.

Fast-forward a few hundred years and the peninsula is firmly embedded on London's entertainment map, most notably for The O2 arena that studs its northern bank. This iconic (and controversial) performance venue opened as the Millennium Dome on New Year’s Eve 1999, in celebration of the turn of the third millennium and the frenzied world that was ushering it in.

Now the spotlight’s on the peninsula once again, as its hotly anticipated new Design District has finally opened. London’s first purpose-built home for creatives, it’s a cool, contemporary smorgasbord of 16 buildings — works of art in themselves — designed by eight individual architects whose aim is to provide affordable co-working and studio spaces for the capital’s working creatives, while inviting the public in to enjoy the spaces as well.

Canteen is an impressive vision of curved glass, yellow-painted beams and botanicals.

Canteen is an impressive vision of curved glass, yellow-painted beams and botanicals.

Photograph by Taran Wilkhu

Canteen is the bubble-wrap-like construction at the district’s heart. A food hall, it’s an impressive vision of curved glass, yellow-painted beams and botanicals — in fact, inside, there’s a full-size tree whose canopy tickles the edges of the mezzanine-level dining space. Its aesthetic brings to mind the psychedelic wormhole of the 15th Serpentine Pavilion at the Serpentine Galleries, Hyde Park — and it’s no coincidence. The Spanish architectural powerhouse SelgasCano designed them both. Home to six rotating food pop-ups, Canteen currently hosts Guasa, serving Venezuelan arepas; Raastawala, firing up Kolkatan street food; Eat Lah, creating flavour-packed Malaysian rice bowls; and Ehla, packing pittas with Mediterranean favourites.

The peninsula’s industrial past is embedded in the district, too. Intoxicated by its history, architect Meredith Bowles refracted the stories of the peninsula through the prism of his two distinctive buildings — C2 and D2. The former is a ziggurat-like construction that resembles the formidable gasometers of the now-demolished East Greenwich Gas Works (which, at the time of its build was the largest of its kind in Europe), and the latter, an emerald-green cube whose two-tone cladding mimics the shimmering colours of burning gas.

The emerald-green cladding of D2 mimics the shimmering colours of burning gas.

The emerald-green cladding of D2 mimics the shimmering colours of burning gas.

Photograph by Taran Wilkhu

The project is a part of the ambitious plan that’s in store for the peninsula — hailed as one of Europe’s largest redevelopment projects. With an £8.4billion investment, the 25-year-plan is staggering in its scope and vision, promising 48 acres of green space and seven new neighbourhoods that'll become a home to 34,000 new residents.

Offering a glimpse into its futuristic goal is The Tide — billed as London’s first elevated riverside park. Designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro (of New York’s The High Line fame), The Tide is dotted with sculptures and native trees — but also, ‘audio wellness portals’. The app-integrated, Wifi-powered access points are open to walkers who stop by to listen to neuro-sonic soundscapes and guided meditation classes. Runners, cyclists, yogis and dogwalkers ramble this 1km runway now, but the end goal is that it stretches to a 5km web, connecting each newly-redeveloped section of the peninsula. In May 2022, the decorated Spanish-Argentine visual artist Felipe Pantone gives the facades of The Tide a new look in his signature technicolour.

Three more sights on Greenwich Peninsula

Bureau: The members' workspace also has a bar and restaurant that's open to the public for coffee and cocktails — but also, for supper clubs, hosted by the restaurant's Head Chef, Ceri.

The Jetty: Seven polytunnels make up this green-fingered retreat on the eastern bank of the peninsula. Inside, horticultural workshops take place as well as a regular roster of live music events, supper clubs, creative workshops and talks. 

C1 basketball court: C1 is the inside-out construction designed by David Saxby. The facilities here include a print bureau and photography studio, but the real attraction is the open-air rooftop basketball court, which benefits from panoramic views of Canary Wharf.

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