MArch Unit 21: Rivers of London – The Walbrook. Shaun Murray & Simon Withers

‘The River Walbrook is the most mysterious, elusive and comprehensively buried of London’s Lost Rivers. Its confluence with the Thames is the place where recorded London began’.


Lying between the low City hills of Ludgate and Cornhill, the Walbrook can be divined speculatively from topographical and nomenclatural clues.  Flowing from Holywell under Sun Street Lane, via aqueduct through the London Wall, past Bedlam Burying Ground, Angel Court, Whalebone Alley and Token House Yard, along Lothbury, stepping quickly down into Soane’s temple at Tivoli Corner thence upwards to exit from the crypt of Hawksmoor’s “square within a square”, “where St Mary Woolnoth kept the hours / With a dead sound on the final stroke of nine”. Now Poultry and Cloak Lane, skirting the fiscally insular but fabulously louche Hanseatic Steel Yard before sluicing into the Thames at the mouth of the Dowgate Inlet.


The Walbrook and the City will be the provocations for your investigations. These investigations will be conducted in three phases and at the three scales of the tool, the occupant and the vessel. Each phase becoming the foundation of the following phase. Phase One will be the Registration of the River Walbrook, Phase Two the Research and Development of your project and Phase Three the Resolution of your project as an Engineered Architecture. Each Phase will be conducted in a distinct timeframe. Phase One is weeks 1-6 (6 weeks) of Term 1 and will be fully supported by intensive drawing and modelling sessions. Phase Two is from week 7 in Term 1 to week 3 of Term 2 (9 weeks). Phase Three is from week 4 in term 2 to week 12 in Term 2 (9 weeks).


In Phase One you will undertake the registration of the Walbrook topographic catchment area by making close field observations carried out over time by utilising a variety of tools: sketching, scanning, surveying, photogrammetry, film, lux meters, microphones and GPS coordinates for instance in order to investigate the existing spatial, temporal, environmental and sonic contexts. This data will then be used by drawing and modelling to fully develop your own tool kit, a rig, that will become the foundation of your Phase Two and Phase Three projects.


The focus of this brief is to explore critically with drawings and models and at three scales the spatial, ecological, environmental and political opportunities that can be developed architecturally from your close studies of the River Walbrook and the City.


Downriver from Dowgate Inlet here at Greenwich are the great baroque architectures and landscapes of the Old Royal Naval College, Queen’s House and the Royal Park. As a laboratory for our explorations at Walbrook Unit 21 will be using the Painted Hall, King William Court and the Vista Land to test our rigs and our tool kit technologies such as scanning and photogrammetry. We will be working closely with the ORNC who will be our guides through the histories, politics and hidden interstitial spaces of Wren’s, Hawksmoor’s, Vanbrugh’s and Jones’ masterpieces.