Canning Town is a largely residential area built to house the workers at the royal docks. Until at late as the 1930’s it was a slum area. The docks have gone, and it is now a largely local authority area of housing – often small houses and some small scale – and not very bonny – blocks. It is also part of one of the largest re-build areas in London with new buildings going up on a massive scale and my collection of photos has in part tried to capture this new development.
One of my photos is no more than a street sign for Butchers Road. This was where Ronan Point was situated. Ronan Point was a tower block of some 22 floors and in 1964 a gas explosion on the 18th floor caused most of the floors below to collapse. Two people were killed and several injured. The block was built using the Larsen Neilsen method of construction in which each floor was held up by the ones below. The building was repaired and the walls strengthened but in 1986 it was finally completely demolished. This was not before time as calculation later showed that it would almost certainly have blown down in the Great Storm of 1987. The poor design of the building led to major changes in Building Regulations here in the UK and in most advanced Western countries. It is still quoted and studied as an example of how “not to” by architecture and civil engineering students.
For a long time the example of Ronan Point slowed the development of high rise buildings in the UK – though as can be seen from my photographs this has long since been set aside – though, of course using todays standards and Building Regulations.
The massive redevelopment of the dockland areas has much to commend it – the docks had become disused and the area was consequently blighted but there are some shortcomings which are not easy to put right. The main one that is noticeable is the paucity of green space. It is not, of course easy to generate green space – you can’t just clear an area and make it a park – well only at very great cost such as happened at the Olympic Park. Secondly there is a lack of discernable town centres with all the things – shops, restaurants, coffee bars etc. that people look for in a town centre. But, if you consider Canary Wharf – which is still being developed – it started out as nothing more than a few isolated office blocks. Now it has many residential buildings, shops, restaurants and so on and has started to become a pleasant – if a bit over-swanky – place to live and work. These things take time.