UCL Urban Laboratory


Canary Wharf: a workshop for the future city

How might Canary Wharf be used to assess the strengths and weaknesses of London as a hub of different forms of urban speculative activity?

Canary Wharf

Lead researchers: Aris Komporozos-Athanasiou (UCL Social Sciences), Andrew Harris (UCL Geography) and Dan Hancox (author and journalist)

Canary Wharf is a key location for observing the way London has transformed over the last thirty years. Initiated by a Canadian firm in the late 1980s and now owned by a company with major stakes from the Qatari State and China Investment Corporation, Canary Wharf symbolises the central role for global financial capital and architectural ideas in reshaping London. An area of former docks converted into a commercial zone, and now employing more bankers than the City of London, it contains numerous international banking headquarters, tech-firms, shopping malls, as well as several high-rise residential buildings under construction. Yet, directly in the shadow of Canary Wharf’s glass and steel towers lie some of the most deprived residential areas in the UK.

Despite its increasing centrality to contemporary London, Canary Wharf has received limited academic interest since the property crash of the early 1990s. This project seeks to develop new perspectives on the distinctive role and place of Canary Wharf in London, and how the area might be used to assess the strengths and weaknesses of London as a diverse and dynamic hub of different forms of urban and speculative activity.

Research questions and themes

  • How has Canary Wharf been a ‘workshop’ or ‘platform’ for the future of London and other cities historically and at present?
  • What forms of identity and community have been generated in Canary Wharf since the 1980s and how have these been constructed and narrated (i.e. through culture, architecture, real estate and financial engineering)?
  • What is the role of Docklands’ historical legacies in shaping contemporary Canary Wharf?
  • What can be learned from Canary Wharf's relationship with its immediate local surroundings in Tower Hamlets/Isle of Dogs, and how has that changed over time?
  • How resilient/sustainable is Canary Wharf’s development model vis-à-vis changing global financial and political landscapes?
  • How are narratives, visions and experiences of Canary Wharf shaped through the navigation of the following key tensions: uniqueness versus banality; isolation versus connectivity; security versus uncertainty; visibility versus opaqueness; global versus local; cosmopolitan versus national?

Funded by UCL Grand Challenges, under the Dynamics of Globalisation theme.