Reflections on Riverwalk

“Scharoun became important when I had to deal with volume, in an open field, in relation to a curve. Scharoun was a big influence, as was Frank Lloyd Wright’s Guggenheim Museum. Not that much had been done with curves in Modernism.”

Richard Serra, In conversation with Hal Foster, The Art-Architecture Complex

The building’s curves respond to the powerful presence and sinuous form of the river. With a tall building, the relationship of the curves to the sweep of the river becomes even more accentuated at height and distance.

You then have the problem of the curves not turning into mere “landscape”. How to make them into architecture and bring them down to the more intimate realm of local experience.

You have to understand the difference between concave and convex. Concave embraces and captures the space, convex moves out into it.

You can only appreciate this as you walk around the building. It is a building designed to move around and to get up close to.

The curvatures interlock and blend so that they move as you move. Soffits are, if anything, more important than the elevations. They tell you what’s going on and visually ‘hold your hand’ as your eye travels over the surfaces.

And the fact that there are two building elements means that they work together with/against each other. The space in between compresses and expands as it moves from the land to the space of the river.

In the nature of a block of residential flats, this is all happening on the elevational ‘crust’, that three-dimensional zone between inside and outside. It is wall architecture. The public views at street level are taken up to the residents on their balconies with curving and shifting cross-views up, down and along. This three-dimensional crust is a mediator between the bulk of the occupied form and the extended space beyond. That was the problem, how to do architecture in an open field with only subtle contextual linkages.

There is a certain restlessness in the form. It pushes and pulls and seems to shift. In a sense, there is no elevation. The “elevation” moves and changes as you walk – there is no fixed position where everything stabilises, although of course it does make responses to its context – pushes back for an entrance or moves out to appropriate a corner of the site.

This is not a gratuitous spatiality. At its root is context and trying to understand how we deal with high buildings in large spaces.

Written by Alan Stanton

Stanton Williams’ design for Riverwalk, a unique residential development on the River Thames at the heart of London, is now complete.