The Reforestation of the Thames Estuary and the John Evelyn Institute of Arboreal Science

A future timber and plantation industry stretches from the Thames Estuary throughout London, and beyond. The reforestation of the Thames Estuary sees the transformation of a city and its environment, in a future where timber is to become the City’s main building resource. Forests and plantations established around the Thames Estuary provide the source for the world’s only truly renewable building material. The river Thames once again becomes a working river, transporting timber throughout the city.

The John Evelyn Institute of Arboreal Science at Deptford is the hub of this new industry. It is a centre for the development and promotion of the use of timber in the construction of London’s future architecture. Its primary aim is to reintroduce wood as a prominent material in construction. Through research, exploration and experimentation the Institute attempts to raise the visibility of wood for architects, designers, engineers, the rest of the construction industry and public alike. Alongside programmes of education and learning, the landscape of the Institute houses the infrastructure required for the timber industry. A sawmill with integrated woodchip facility, CHP biomass plant, fertiliser production plant (producing fertiliser from biomass ash), greenhouses and seedbanks form part of an ecological cycle, which encompasses a reciprocal dialogue between the environment, city, community and architecture.

The architecture of the Institute sits on the banks of the Thames, and forms a landscape connecting Deptford with the river. The architecture does not conform to the urban timeframe, as its neighbouring developments do. Rather, its form and occupation is dependent on the cycles of nature. The architecture is created slowly – its first years are devoid of great activity, as plantations mature. The undercroft of the landscape is used for education and administration – to plan the future of the Institute and the industries involved. The landscape above becomes an extension of the river bank, returning the privatised spaces of the Thames to the public realm. Gaps and cuts into the landscape offer glimpses into the monumental storage halls and workshops below, which eagerly anticipate the first log harvest. 2041 sees the arrival of the first harvest of fast-growing aspen and poplar. The landscape and river burst in a flurry of theatrical activity, reminiscent of centuries past. As the plantations grow and spread, new architectures, infrastructures and environments arise throughout London and the banks of the Thames, and beyond.

tom noonan architect