Editors Pick

Why you need to have a happy workforce

6th October 2023

Singing Canary: how the Wharf has been transformed

Christopher Jackson


London is full of fine views; the view from Primrose Hill looking back over the river; the view from the South Bank, where church spires still vie with skyscrapers. But to get the really good views – the ones which can inspire you to the next thing – perhaps you need to go to the skyscrapers themselves. I am standing in one of the top floors of Wardian in a beautiful apartment with triple aspect views.

It is an image of the enormity of London. As Peter Ackroyd has pointed out, London isn’t always a beautiful city – but it is a grand one, meaning it can be large enough to accommodate opposites. It can be ugly and beautiful; consoling and abrasive; rapid and calm; strange and familiar. It can astonish you just when you thought you were coming to understand it. From up here, you can see the unexpected twists and turns of the river (and I thought I was indecisive) from one side; the marshlands which lead toward the Thames Barrier on the other; and, finally, the hills of Kent rolling down towards the Channel.

It’s a view you might want to wake up to everyday. Fortunately, that’s possible. Wardian is the work of Ecoworld Ballymore, and it’s a reminder of the possibility of excellent design and imagination to create inspiring living spaces. Eloise Solari, head of sales at Wardian, tells me: “The vision behind Wardian is to create a tranquil haven in the heart of the city – this ethos appeals to buyers of all demographics and walks of life. From students and recent graduates making the first move away from home, to finance professionals and corporates based in Canary Wharf, and business travellers seeking a pied-à-terre, Wardian offers everyone a serene escape from the hustle-and-bustle of life in the capital, and somewhere really special to call home.”

Canary Wharf itself has its undeniable appeal. In a way, it represented the Manhattanisation of this part of London, and for me, having always loved New York, that’s no bad thing. Emerging out of the Jubilee Line to One Canada Square, I am struck, as so often, by its cleanliness, and by a feeling of safety. “Canary Wharf is actually one of the safest neighbourhoods in London in terms of crime rate,” Solari says. “Wardian residents and locals have often commented on how safe they feel walking around the area, especially at night – and safety is certainly an important factor we all consider when buying a new home.” When I speak to one of the residents, a UHNW who moved here from Dubai, he explains why he loves the area: “I can wear my Rolex here!”

Of course, to say a place is safe is not to say it’s lifeless – and a distinctive community has grown up around Wardian too. That’s true both within the building and without. Walking the premises, I see a state-of-the-art gym inside Wardian which I imagine must be a good place to network, and a cinema – also within the building – which I’m also told is the beginning of many a friendship. As is widely known, many of the major banks have their offices here – the skyline is a sort of ‘Who’s Who’ of the financial industry, with Citi, HSBC and Lloyd’s all prominent.

It’s also an ideal location for a young student to live. “Wardian is exceptionally well-connected, with a plethora of leading education establishments within easy reach, including 75 Ofsted-rated outstanding institutions within three miles,” explains Solari. “London has 119 major universities and higher education establishments, with King’s College London Guy’s Campus just a nine-minute tube trip away, London School of Commerce accessible in ten minutes, University of Greenwich in 11 minutes, South Bank and Queen Mary both in 17 minutes, UCL in 23 minutes and LSE in 24 minutes.”

That makes it especially handy for young people, and Wardian also has bookable meetings rooms for those in need of some quiet time for study. But once you’ve done your work, there’s plenty to do here too. Solari continues: “Canary Wharf’s connectivity makes it easy to get to whichever educational establishment you choose, as well as having its own identity as a vibrant, exciting neighbourhood for the perfect student lifestyle.”

I’ve always loved the approach to Canary Wharf on the DLR line, and now you can also enjoy the approach on the fabulously state-of-the-art Elizabeth Line too. Arriving from the north-west approach, the bother and complexity of the city seems to recede a little. That complicated old London with its marvellous network of streets according to a Roman plan becomes something altogether different: a vision of the future told in height, squared off green spaces, and desirable malls. As you leave the old part of the city, the spire of the old Hawksmoor church, St Anne’s Limehouse seems to wave the past goodbye, and welcome you to your future.

But that’s not your only option in terms of getting around. Solari gives a good description of the sheer range of transport options: “We’re seeing many buyers from West and South West London as a result, attracted by easy access to the Jubilee Line (six minutes to London Bridge), as well as the DLR (25 minutes to City Airport), and the arrival of the Elizabeth Line has opened more doors, with Liverpool Street accessible in ten minutes, Paddington in 20 minutes and Heathrow in an hour. And you can even eliminate traffic and busy trains by getting the Uber by Thames Clipper, with regular boats departing from Canary Wharf Pier and offering a serene river cruise experience.”

Curious to know more about that, I take the Uber by Thames Clipper boat from Canary Wharf back towards the City. I remember meeting once a Baker & McKenzie partner, who lived in Canary Wharf but worked in Blackfriars, and who was plainly delighted by his early morning commute, seeming to glow with good cheer at the fundamental choice he had made: to live in Canary Wharf and to work upriver.

As the boat pulls out I recall him with a degree of envy. I note the sun large in the sky, and its glorious sparkle on the water. I photograph it and make a mental note to sketch it later.

The surprise is how swiftly the boat rounds the first corner towards Wapping, and then, how quickly you can be in so many premium locations: London Bridge, Blackfriars, Westminster and beyond. The resident of Wardian could enjoy a night out at the theatre bookended by boat rides.

This makes me curious about Uber by Thames Clipper, the company which runs the boats. I speak to Sean Collins, the CEO and co-founder of the company, who recalls its founding to me: “The basis of establishing  Uber by Thames Clipper in 1999 was predominantly to provide a link between the north and the south of the river, spanning the west end to Canary Wharf with the redevelopment of Docklands, south and east London districts, due to the limited public transport infrastructure in place at the time.”

Interestingly, the amount of footfall related to commuting turns out to be less than I might have expected. Collins explains: “The business operates seven days a week, therefore leisure and tourism form a greater proportion of our operating period versus commuting. Post-pandemic commuting represents around 30 per cent of our overall footfall.”

To whizz round the bends of the Thames from Canary Wharf to central London is also to connect with an important part of London’s history. “The river played a significant part in establishing London and through the centuries it hasn’t been uncommon for the river to peak and dip its uses as evolution of other transport modes and accessibility has developed,” explains Collins. So what is the current trendline in relation to that? “I believe that London is currently going through another significant change in that evolution and that the river will play more of a part in the future for both passenger and light freight logistics.”

Of course, this has all been an astonishingly quick success story, and part of the pleasure of living at Wardian is to be harnessed to an energy of rapid creativity and success. I speak with Baron Levene of Portsoken, who among many other important roles – in government (as an advisor to Michael Heseltine, and to Prime Minister John Major) and business (as chairman of Lloyd’s of London) – was chief executive of Canary Wharf Ltd.: “I very much had a front row seat on the development of Canary Wharf,” he tells me. “It was a very important development. When I went there, there were about 5,000 people working there, when I left there were about 10,000 people there; today there are 120,000.”

That’s a rapid expansion indeed. So why are people moving there in such droves? Levene explains: “People like living there as it’s a good area. It’s only ten minutes on the DLR into the City. The retail side of Canary Wharf was just put in as a convenience and has now become a huge part of the value of the development, whereby the rents in some areas are more expensive for shops than for office space.”

So how did Levene transform the area? “I went round to see the people who ran the businesses there, whether they were in an office or retail environment. I said to them: ‘What’s wrong with this place? Why does everyone hate it?’ They said: ‘It’s because you can’t get here. The transport links don’t work. Docklands Light Railway doesn’t work; the Limehouse link tunnel isn’t open, and there’s nowhere for people to go and do their shopping, and it’s unreliable’.”

But when Levene looked into the matter, he found that actually things were rather better than people were saying. “I went back to look at it,” he continues. “By then, we’d managed to fix the DLR; the Jubilee line was getting on course; and the shops were starting to fill up. I went back to the people who’d been complaining about the transport links, and I said: ‘When did you last go on a train?’”

Often, of course, they hadn’t. It’s an image of how rapidly a city can change – and of how things in London are often better than we might imagine.

What then became important was to communicate the real situation for people who were going there – or thinking of going there. Levene recalls: “So I phoned up the chairmen of large companies and they’d say: “Where is Canary Wharf?” Eventually, I persuaded them. When they arrived, the same thing happened with each person: they’d turn up about half an hour early. I’d say: ‘You’re nice and early’. And they’d reply: “My secretary told me it would take an hour and a half, and actually it took 25 minutes.”

This in turn led to another realisation: “We realised one of the keys to getting people in there was to get to the secretaries. We then took out advertising space on the side of the tube tunnels, saying: ‘How long will it take for you to get from here to Canary Wharf? How many clothing shops are there? How many restaurants? If you know the answer, fill out this card and if you get it right we’ll give you a voucher’. That was a terrific success.”

Things were beginning to come good. Then Levene had another idea: “We realised that if people wanted to get down there, it would be by taxi. So we had a huge party for all the taxi drivers. And now, whenever people wanted to go there, the taxi drivers would say: “Oh, Canary Wharf is amazing!”

It was an astonishing turnaround. Collins recalls the period well – it was an inspiration to him. “Canary Wharf played a significant part as a proof of concept of a derelict brown field site when it came to building Uber by Thames Clipper. Canary Wharf not only provides direct custom to and from the Wharf, but as a result of the residential property demand and the need for people to live within a relatively close proximity of Canary Wharf, there is an indirect benefit as well. I would therefore estimate that Canary Wharf represents around 15 per cent of our custom.”

That’s a significant number when you think of all the other landmarks at which the boats stop. So how does Collins think Canary Wharf is changing as a destination, and a place of work? “From a workplace perspective, I feel that Canary Wharf has pretty much topped out now, but it is still significantly growing from a residential perspective,” Collins explains. “We therefore continue to see increased footfall and, in fact, a growing demand for leisure at the weekends.”

All this only increases the desirability of Wardian as a residential option. As I tour round, I note with envy the marvellous playground, which I imagine would have been absolutely indispensable for young families during lockdown.

Solari explains: “Wardian is home to many families, and our provision of amenities caters for children, students, and professionals – the podium garden offers a safe and secure play area for little ones, and Wardian is pet-friendly too. The jewel in the crown is The Observatory, the 53rd flood sky lounge – residents can use this to work, socialise, entertain and relax, with panoramic views of London as their backdrop. Collectively known as ‘The Wardian Club’, the amenities are exclusive to residents and their guests.”

Having been here I can testify to the desirability of The Observatory; it must be one of the finest rooms in London, with panoramic and inspiring views of the city, a place as suited to creativity as it is to relaxation. Many will also loe building’s green aesthetic, which is beautifully realised both in the lobby areas, and in the rooms. I note with delight that somebody has managed to source second-hand books with green spines for the show apartments. Solari tells me: “The inspiration behind Wardian is biophilia, and a distinct ethos of bringing the ‘outside-in’ to incorporate nature into living spaces. From the name Wardian, which takes inspiration from Dr Nathaniel Bagshaw who first transported exotic flora across the globe in an innovative ‘Wardian case’, the scheme has been designed to create a tranquil, restorative space where you can escape the urban density of London. Over 100 species of plants, flowers and trees are on display in the various communal spaces, as well as large plant enclosures in the Lobby and Observatory; Wardian responds to the increasingly-recognised mental and physical benefits of incorporating greenery into our homes.”

Above all, Wardian is a place which is both a home to many, and an architectural masterpiece: from the cathedral-like airiness of the lobbies, to the balconies with their panoramic views, and the attention to design detail throughout, by Amos  & Amos, there is an essentially horticultural beauty wherever you turn. Finally, there can be few more desirable pools than the one on the ground floor, where I have to restrain myself from taking a dip myself.

And Canary Wharf itself is an astonishing success story, which opens up onto an important chapter in our recent history. But it is also clearly part of our future too – and the ideal place in which to create the next chapter of your own story.


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