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The Underline — Underneath Canary Wharf’s DLR tracks

the underline canary wharf footbridge linking south quay with the financial centre

The Underline

Proposals for a linear park

Once characterised as being cut-off and difficult to access, the Isle of Dogs public transport network has been transformed over the years. In fact, the Zone 2 location is now one of the most accessible parts of London with multiple forms of public transport:

After multiple extensions, the DLR forms the backbone of the transport network. The southern fork of the route snakes from Bank in the City of London all the way through the Isle of Dogs as far south as Lewisham.

This has improved connectivity, but left a void of often under-utilised or derelict space beneath the elevated tracks. The Underline is a proposal to revitalise this space, and is a small idea that could have a big impact on the future of the Isle of Dogs development.

the new york highline concept could bring greenery to canary wharf
the underline new york
New York’s Highline

The Underline idea

First proposed at the end of 2015, the Underline is an idea from landscape architects Spacehub Design.

The group have worked on multiple projects within Canary Wharf and the Isle of Dogs, designing landscaping for individual developments such as Dollar Bay, and Millharbour Village, as well as an extensive global portfolio.

Experts in maximising spaces and bringing new greenery to urban areas, the Underline is a proposal to transform the underside of the elevated DLR tracks into a linear park.

This would provide extra green space but also enable residents a sheltered walkway to transit between Canary Wharf to the Isle of Dogs.

The idea was conceived on a rainy site visit when we noticed locals were using the viaduct as a sheltered route to work, even though its alignment took them through a cluttered car park. That was when we saw the potential of creating a park under the viaduct.


Where would the Underline go?

Initially starting via individual developments, Spacehub’s idea is to create a 1 km long stretch of park running between Herons Quays DLR station on the Canary Wharf private estate, to Crossharbour DLR.

This takes advantage of the cover provided by the raised viaduct portion of the DLR, which transits into ground level and subterranean tracks further south of Crossharbour.

In addition, it would create a new footbridge link across Middle Dock and South Dock.

the underline canary wharf route map showing the 1km initial span

The Underline would transit areas of the highest density development on the Isle of Dogs, covering major developments and several thousand residents:

After successful implementation, this area could gradually be extended further North with the raised DLR tracks running through the Canary Wharf estate to Poplar. This has previously been identified as a key north south route that needs improving, and is set to be addressed with the upcoming North Quay development.

Underline benefits

  • Providing a sheltered walkway reduces reliance on the DLR in bad weather
  • Cost-effective new addition to the Isle of Dogs, without additional major construction
  • Maximising an existing but previously under-utilised space
  • Adding greenery and improving biodiversity of the local area
  • An attraction that will potentially bring new tourists to the area, helping to cement Canary Wharf’s diversification away from offices into a destination.
  • Helping to link multiple new developments together, and create a more cohesive feel to the often sporadic construction projects

Previous examples

While a novel idea for E14 and the Isle of Dogs, similar ideas for maximising green space and creating linear parks within urban developments have proved successful.

Trains — The Highline

Arguably the most famous example is the New York’s Highline.

new york’s highline views
New York’s Highline at night

The high-rise railway tracks — once scheduled for demolition — were thought of as an ugly eyesore. Several years and multiple extensions later, the Highline is a 1.45-mile-long elevated park and art exhibit and one of New York’s most visited tourist attractions.

Cars — Seoul Street

Another megastructure due for demolition, Seoul’s overpass was converted in 2017 into a high-rise park and functional road crossing. Over 24,000 trees and plants have been placed in cylindrical containers.

At around 1 km long, it is the same length as the proposed Underline and its success has spawned a series of plans for additional satellite gardens and future extensions.

Pedestrians — The Tide

With a lack of disused railways and abandoned overpasses in North Greenwich, architects Diller Scofidio + Renfro — co-designers of the original New York Highline — created the high-rise walkway from scratch.

the tide north greenwich
Artwork on The Tide by Liz West

As part of a huge redevelopment scheme in North Greenwich, the Tide is currently 1 km long, with approved plans for an eventual 5 km raised park around the peninsula.

Creating the Underline

While in 2021 — six years after the initial proposals from Spacehub — the Underline remains as a concept, there are signs that the project might take off. However, this is likely to be bite-sized pieces, rather than as one major construction project.

It looks like the Underline will begin with individual developments that border the elevated portions of the DLR tracks, each improving their section in turn:

  • Spacehub worked with Rockwell Properties on their plans for the new Quay House development. In this, the Underline concept was a key part of the proposal turning unused car parking spaces into a sheltered parkour and small linear park combination.
  • There are several plans in the pipeline for developments in the South Quay Masterplan area that boarder the DLR tracks — with each looking to maximise public space.
  • Further east along the tracks large-scale development South Quay Plaza is creating 2.6 acres of landscaped public realm. Another small portion of the DLR tracks falls within the site boundary, with this area underneath becoming more accessible and leading out onto the landscaped gardens.

In addition, there is a renewed focus on the Isle of Dogs for cohesive planning applications via the recently approved Isle of Dogs Neighbourhood Plan.

The underline ticks several of the Neighbourhood Plan’s boxes:

  • Sustainable development
  • Works for the current residents
  • Improving infrastructure and accessibility

The upcoming construction of Quay House — with it’s approved plans looking to renovate the first patch of disused carpark that currently occupies the space of the Underline — will hopefully focus attention back to this idea.

One day, the Isle of Dogs might see its very own twist on New York’s Highline!

underline proposal for quay house