New canal frontage opens at Paddington

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A new canal frontage has been opened where there was previously none. Its adjacent to a historic site and this is reflected in the building the new wharf/canal walkway has been built for. It can be found right opposite the new entrance to Paddington tube station, and in an area that’s currently undergoing a huge amount of redevelopment.

Currently the canal walk area can be accessed via steps from Bishops Bridge itself or from North Wharf Road at the rear.

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How the site previously looked, this is in 2005!

The area is officially known as Canalside Walk, and the new building that is almost finished is the Brunel Building. It has an unusual lattice girder framework which enables much of the building’s strength to be on the outside too, thus giving an opportunity for some very spacious interiors with few columns to be found.

The plans for the new Brunel Building were approved in 2008. The previous buildings were in existence until 2015/16 when they were knocked down to make way for the new development.

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The new wharf from the northern end by Bishops Bridge with the new seating and sibling trees clearly evident.

Its the very first time I have been able to see the canal from this perspective (although people working or delivering stuff on that side had that privilege.) Its an interesting perspective because considerably more of the Brunel train shed at Paddington station can be seen. Previously it has been quite difficult to see any length of this, although the development of the opposite side had previously opened up the prospect a bit more.

Although the new wharf is finished its by no means the completion of the work. There is still work to do at the Brunel Building before the wharf area can be opened up completely and a good amount of fencing still stands.

At the moment the access is blocked off directly southwards due to the adjacent development still undergoing construction. However when that is finished there will be a walkway through to Paddington Basin.

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The section south of the Brunel Building. This is blocked off due to the adjacent ongoing construction. It can be seen from this picture work has not even begun on the new canal path which will complete the walkway through to Paddington Basin.

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As this picture shows, the name of the new development is to be known as the Brunel Building.

It seems the wharf has been unofficially opened as there is no news of its opening at all, not even on the building’s own dedicated website. The wharf area is not finished by all means but at least sufficient space is enabled to afford a walking route and the seating alongside the canal is completed.

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Map of the vicinity. This shows the completed area however its just the first bit off Bishops Bridge Road that can currently be used. The ‘taxi drop off’ is where there will eventually be level access from North Wharf Road. Source: Brunel Building.

There will be a lift (currently not finished) down from Bishops Bridge itself which means people from the other side (Sheldon Square/Little Venice) will have a level route to this side via the ramp or the lifts at the rear of Sheldon Square and thence the pedestrian crossing in Bishops Bridge.

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There is access from the rear at North Wharf Road. Its currently passable if one ventures from the new wharf round the back of the main reception lobby, but its not level yet due to roadworks etc.

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General view of Canalside Walk from the boats Darcie and May.

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At the time of writing the lift is still not finished.

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The lift and stairs down from Bishops Bridge Road under construction, February 2019.

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Early construction work at Brunel Wharf two years ago, August 2017.

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Similar view in February 2019 with the main structure practically complete.

Some more about the Brunel Building and other site aspects:

What will the empty units along the bottom of the Brunel building be for? A restaurant and bar apparently. This will be known as no.1 Canalside Walk.

The section at the southern end of the Brunel Building is the reception lobby and there’s some unusual artwork which can be seen inside this lobby – although I was not able to get a good picture. The illustration below however shows this.

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The ground floor entrance lobby/reception and the restaurant/bar area with artwork suspended from the ceiling. Source: Brunel Building

In contrast to more orthodox office blocks, the Brunel Building has scale, dynamism, generosity of space and light and a people-centred design that will – when it completes in 2019 – set new standards for the area and for London as a whole. This is a new sculptural London landmark on the prominent corner of North Wharf Road and Bishop’s Bridge Road.

It is said the central part of the ground floor area includes a set of 5 metre wide glass sliding windows which can be slid back to provide an enormous space for events, bringing together the outdoors and the indoors in one go. Although I could see these the section was fenced off, so it will be sometime before the public can really see the whole essence of the new development and what it means in total.

It is said the new building is environmentally friendly and it meets the BREEAM requirements for sustainable buildings and the LEED Gold target for environment, location/transport (including spaces for 260 bikes), energy rating, water efficiency, and so on.

Currently tenants for the Brunel building include: Premier League, Payment Sense, Splunk, Sony Pictures, Hellman and Friedman, and Alpha.

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The building’s occupants. Source: Brunel Building.

No doubt the Brunel Building will elevate the area’s prestige. There are already many reputable companies in the locality, including Marks and Spencer’s, Barclaycard, First Group, Addison Lee, AxiCom and others. More are expected as the developments around the area are by no means finished in any sense. Some of the bigger buildings are yet to go up, including at One Merchant Square (a near 500 foot tower thats been approved), Kingdom Street (not yet approved) and the controversial Cube, currently underway at the corner of Praed and London Streets.

Paddington is one of London’s most interesting and rewarding locales. Bordering Little Venice, the area around the canal basin just north of the station, is one of London’s most significant recent redevelopments with office and residential buildings, cafes and restaurants. It is an urban oasis on a grand scale. Close to Maida Vale one way and Hyde Park the other, this is a richly rewarding and rapidly changing part of London.

One of the advantages of the area is the fact Crossrail (aka the Elizabeth Line) will be open in the next year or two, there is easy access to Heathrow airport, the West End is readily accessible and the City is just a short trip away by direct public transport. Paddington station itself offers direct connections to the west and Wales and there’s good commuting opportunities. No doubt its why everyone has their eyes on the locality!

There is of course considerable concern over the visual impact some of these buildings are having over the locality – I have written on this before – and how the historic areas are being affected, including the total spoiling of the views southwards from London’s famous Little Venice. Subject for another new post perhaps.

It is clear the current fetishism for high buildings in the Paddington area shows this part of London is getting an unusually high proportion of tall buildings. Its interesting because previous schemes for the area were rejected completely and the council of the day wasn’t keen on any high rise buildings being in the area. Times have changed and the council only seems to happy to have the tallest buildings it can garner!

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View from the new wharf under Bishops Bridge to the other side. This was the site of the old Brunel cast iron bridge over the canal.

In terms of history the Brunel Building takes its name because it is adjacent to the old Bishops Bridge – which was found to be a historic Brunel structure – and one that used a very unusual interlocking system of iron segments. It was built in 1838 in readiness for the GWR’s temporary station at Bishops Bridge. Paddington station itself wasn’t built until 1853-54.

The discovery that it was a Brunel designed structure occurred just before demolition of the bridge was about to take place. That changed the plans considerably. The bridge then had to be taken apart carefully and every section recorded in order that it could be re-assembled.

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Brunel’s historic bridge detailed in the Daily Mirror March 2004

I realise 2019 is in fact 15 years since Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s canal bridge was carefully dismantled. There was every talk it would be rebuilt nearby within the space of a couple of years. It had been envisaged the bridge would be rebuilt in time for Brunel’s 200th anniversary in 2006! This never happened. The bridge is currently in store at Portsmouth. Perhaps its time for a post on this?

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