Mino Chen  

Ever since the Thatcher government’s Big Bang phase, Canary Wharf has experienced a huge transformation. What was once an enclosed dock, has now become a world famous financial centre. With the condition of the contemporary city being ambiguous, the definition of an institution has also become ambiguous. Is the Canary Wharf Group an institution? With the demands of society changing, the Canary Wharf Group is shifting their direction towards a new residential island development – Wood Wharf. However, is big architecture, like in Canary Wharf, still feasible in a residential place? Will Wood Wharf want to be another enclave, the reciprocal counterpart to Canary Wharf or can a new more diverse and integrated condition be created?

Margaret Thatcher and the Big Bang 

“She was a superb prime minister, the best peacetime leader of the 20th century… Thatcher saved Britain from economic and cultural catastrophe.” – Allister Heath, the editor of City AM.

Baroness Margaret Thatcher (1925-2013) was the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1979 to 1990. One of the key moments of Baroness Thatcher’s career was the Big Bang in October 1986 when her controversial deregulation of the UK’s stock exchange and financial services sector took place. This in turn changed banking forever. Wide-sweeping reforms were introduced in an attempt to re-establish London as a financial centre and make it more competitive in an increasingly global market. The Big Bang became one of the Thatcher government’s most recognized and famous reform programmes.

The City that exists today was forever changed by her policy. It allowed a new breed of workers into the City, and the development of Canary Wharf brought a second physical financial centre to London. The effects of the Big Bang were dramatic; the economy grew and flourished, ensuring Britain’s position as a global financial capital.

Canary Wharf and the Canary Wharf Group 

West India Dock was built to counteract theft, smuggling and congestion in the Thames. It was the first enclosed dock in London, constructed specifically for handling cargo. The dock was considered as something of a fortress. The success of the West India Dock saw a raft of other docks built, including the London Dock in Wapping, the East India Dock at Blackwall, St Katharine Dock, Surrey Docks, Millwall Dock and finally The Royal Docks. During World War II, the West India Dock was heavily bombed, crippling the infrastructure. There was a brief resurgence of the docks during the 1950s; however by 1980, due to containerization, these docks were empty and abandoned. Goods were previously brought into the UK by small ships and then unloaded by hand. But from the 70s onwards, most goods were carried in shipping containers. The establishment of air cargo as a primary mode of transport further exacerbated the decline of the docks. Today the West India Dock is the site of Canary Wharf.

The transformation into the beacon of modern day capitalism was the built manifestation of Thatcher’s Big Bang.

The Canary Wharf Group can be seen as the legacy of Thatcher’s government. Mr Reichmann was quoted as being told by Thatcher: “you are the only developer in the world that could do Canary Wharf.”

Mr Reichmann left an enduring mark on the capital. With its landmark tower (One Canada Square) topped by a blinking pyramid, Canary Wharf relocated the centre of gravity of London’s financial core. Reichmann was arguably one of the first to understand that the east was where London’s future lay. He was determined to make Canary Wharf work. By 1991, Olympia & York had built 4.5million sq ft of offices at Canary Wharf but also spent close to £2bn on infrastructure. When a severe recession struck, the world’s biggest developer was bankrupted. Reichmann eventually reclaimed control of Canary Wharf after acquiring the site with former backers of Olympia & York. A new company, Canary Wharf Group (CWG), was created in 1997.

Is the Canary Wharf Group an institution?

What is an institution? The dictionary defines an instution as: an institution is an established organization; a place where an organization takes care of people for a usually long period of time; a custom, practice, or law that is accepted and used by many people.

What is an organization? A social unit of people that is structured and managed to meet a need or to pursue collective goals. All organizations have a management structure that determines relationships between the different activities and the members, and subdivides and assigns roles, responsibilities, and authority to carry out different tasks.

What is a financial organization? An institution (public or private) that collects funds (from the public or other institutions) and invests them in financial assets.

Every Society has basic needs. These needs have to be satisfied for a better day- to-day life. Social institutions are like social moulds, which are established for carrying out basic functions and to help to establish a collective image of behaviour. These institutions come in to existence for satisfying the needs of an individual. Even though every institution carries out a specific function, it is not entirely independent. Every institution has to use various resources for its fulfillment. The different institutions of society are co-dependent on each other to supplement the delivery of goods and services to society. When one institution changes drastically, all the other institutions are in turn affected.

The Big Bang deregulation of financial services in London had radically changed the way merchant banks operated. Instead of small and traditional office based buildings, the demand for a large floor, open plan space which could be used as a trading floor was the primary need. The main purpose of the Canary Wharf Group is to satisfy this demand for these new forms of financial institutions that satisfy the results of the Big Bang – a new financial ideology. The CWG transformed the onece derelict 97 acre dockland site into one of the world’s most sought after office and retail space. – Canary Wharf.

Therefore, the definition of Canary Wharf Group is of a financial organization, which is an established social unit of people that is structured and manages the financial office properties in Canary Wharf, whilst, collecting funds from other financial institutions in Canary Wharf. provides for 3,100 residential units, 240,000 sqm of commercial office, 31,000sqm of shops, cafes and restaurants, 3.6 hectares of interconnected public spaces. Phase I is to include 884 residential units in 3 buildings designed by Herzog & de Meuron and Stanton Williams totalling 100,379 sqm; and 2 office buildings totaling over 20,000 sqm designed by Allies and Morrison.

Home, a destination for people, both physically and spiritually. This is especially relevant in the case of Canary Wharf. The workers there live a fast paced life, facing the pressures of work. Therefore, leisure, entertainment and rest, play an important role. Will the big architecture of Canary Wharf be suitable?  

Wood Wharf

There is no doubt that Canary Wharf is a successful example of a business district. However, the demands of other business sectors are now changing. CWG is planning to address this change in the direction with their next phase of development – Wood Wharf.

The Wood Wharf development is the idea of a creating a high capacity development with new homes, offices and other commercial uses within the Canary Wharf Town Centre and Isle of Dogs Opportunity Area, in accordance with the strategic objectives for this highly accessible location. The Masterplan for the demands of a residential island ? According to the Canary Wharf Ward Profile, 41.6%,are single and 49% are privately renting – currently the people in Canary Wharf are independent and live a tetherless life. Will Wood Wharf be a place to form a community, a place where people will have the desire to stay longer?

In contrast, Canary Wharf Group seems to be planning to develop Wood Wharf as a new face of Canary Wharf. How can a new diversity of living be created that challenges the monoculture of the existing model?

Will Wood Wharf be residential enclave, the reciprocal counterpart to to compliment its financial counterpart, or can a new more diverse and integrated condition be created?


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