New London Architecture

Soapbox: The Royal Docks

Thursday 01 October 2020

Alice Britton

Founding Director
Squint / Opera

Growing up in London as a child The Royal Docks was one of the most beguiling areas in the city. A trip on the early Docklands Light Railway, an almost sci-fi driverless mini train that nimbly flew people over this vast area of mainly derelict warehouses and basins of water was the perfect day out. The highlight was soaring past the Tate and Lyle sugar factory - unmistakable with its smell of caramelized sugar and giant Golden Syrup tin adorning it. A real life Willy Wonka factory complete with top secrecy - no one is allowed inside and the recipe is a well guarded secret. That recipe hasn’t changed since Victorian times and the factory has never stopped production, even when the area was bombed in World War II, instead it opened its doors to shelter local communities during the Blitz. This factory may not have changed much across the decades but everything around it has. Once the largest enclosed docks in the world, one of London's most industrious and enterprising places, this area is in the process of radical transformation. 
Over ten years ago Squint/Opera were challenged with the task of communicating the story of this complex and vast area - all its layers of history, the industries, communities and events that had shaped it, and the opportunities for the future. We were asked to make a stand for the London Development Agency that communicated the features of thefeatures of the £22 billion ‘Arc of Opportunity’ at the Royal Docks. We needed to create a way of encapsulating the scale of the project and the multitude of complex details within one exhibit. It was designed to travel to different international events to clearly demonstrate and communicate to stakeholders the vast potential of the area. With this in mind we built a bespoke interactive table, integrating a physical perspex model with animated digital content. It displayed precision detail at full resolution across four HD screens, bringing to life the history and opportunity of the site. A custom built iPad app allowed dynamic and personalised navigation of the content.
In 2012, Squint/Opera went onto work alongside Event Communications to develop ambitious interactive exhibits at the newly opened high-profile exhibition centre, The Crystal: A Sustainable Cities Initiative by Siemensin the Royal Docks. The Crystal was founded as an independent global hub for debate around crucial issues of sustainable urbanism and was home to Our Urban Future, the world’s largest exhibition at the time dedicated to the future of cities. Our interactives ranged from fun simulation games targeting specific engineering challenges to generative installations which are more ambient in their interpretation of city data. We created an interactive representation of the new building, designed by Wilkinson Eyre, on a cutting edge 3D navigational platform. This new type of touchscreen experience helped visitors understand what makes the Crystal so ambitiously – and successfully sustainable, through feature led hot-spots.

Siemens' Crystal
With both of these projects, Squint/Opera worked alongside our partners to engage audiences with an area that is both steeped in history and fast evolving with new and exciting projects. Since then, we have worked with many developers and designers across the Royal Docks, such as Albert Docks and Silvertown, in helping them visualise and communicate how their schemes fit into the evolving story of this area, bringing community and stakeholders along with them. For us, the ability to imbue narrative and communicate layers of meaning into the ongoing transformation of a place is to add a richness and integrity to its future.

About the author

Alice is a Co-Founder and Director at Squint/Opera, acreative studio and consultancy based in London and New York. Alice plays a key role in articulating the studio’s creative vision and worksat the intersection of creativity and technology.
As Director, she guides Squint’s team of designers, animators and artists to create immersive content for international places, spaces and attractions.Alice is continually exploring how digital media will inform the future of the design and spaces, informed both by herdegree in Architecture and myriad of experience across creative, digital projects.

Alice Britton

Founding Director
Squint / Opera

Royal Docks



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