Canary Wharf’s Continuous Reinvention

Evolving, flourishing and very much open for business

Canary Wharf has come a long way since 1987.

The original vision was for a financial hub in London’s East End, where a breakaway complex of purpose-built office premises would support the expansion of the capital’s burgeoning financial services industry.

Some were sceptical. ‘A wasteland with poor infrastructure and transport links to the rest of London’: the Canary Wharf project on the Isle of Dogs was doomed from the outset; no one would foot the cost of relocating to the Docklands.

Planners were correct, though. Businesses needed spaces designed for their needs, and the rate at which industry was growing meant a rapid expansion of space was required. The Wharf has since transformed into a world-famous and iconic hub of activity in which the world’s most prestigious financial institutions have offices.

But just as in any walk of life, to succeed you must plan ahead.

The Wharf has planned, continuously evolving with the times and meeting the changing needs and desires of its growing and increasingly diverse population. The recent approval of a 23-storey tower to house a major new life sciences building at North Quay – an 823,000 square feet high-spec facility which is set to alter the face of London’s research industry – is just the latest step in its perpetual transformation.

More to see, more to do, more community and culture

For years now the Wharf has invested heavily in curating a world-class leisure experience by bringing the world’s best-known and highest quality brands to the estate.

Almost 950,000 square feet of retail space now includes over 350 retailers, cafés, bars, restaurants, services and amenities. Workers, residents and visitors can now not only enjoy some of the world’s best dining and drinking experiences – The Narrow, Dishoom, Hawksmoor and many others – but also swim in open water, go-kart, shoot, play tennis and enjoy many other leisure activities at Canary Wharf.

The number of those calling Canary Wharf their home has also continued to grow, with the 3,500 current residents set to double with its latest project: more than 3,600 new homes added to the estate through Wood Wharf as it continues to expand the residential element of its mixed-use district.

The £535million investment secured to develop Wood Wharf is a vote of confidence in the estate’s continued transition. It will finance a support network of schools, doctors’ surgeries and other public services, generating new communities in this part of the capital and further diversifying the space. Local retailers are thriving with the ever rising numbers of residents – Waitrose recently reported that its best performing asset is its supermarket in Canary Wharf. The turnover for this store is reportedly growing, and with more residents, workers and visitors, so too will those for the other 7 convenience stores on the estate.

Culture has truly uplifted the community at Canary Wharf, with public art from around the world and a packed calendar of performances and events throughout the seasons. A key part of the successful strategy to attract new visitors in the evenings and on weekends has been the creation of an active cultural and artistic scene on the estate.

Greener spaces, greater connectivity

Ahead of its time, Canary Wharf has made gardens and green spaces an essential component of the strategy to strengthen the aesthetic and feel of the estate.

More than just acknowledging the growing importance of sustainability and biodiversity, it is now leading the ‘rewilding’ movement with a new partnership with the Eden Project announced last year. This will create a 20-acre green spine running through the centre of the estate, as well as a network of green spaces, parks, waterside and performance areas, bridges and boardwalks.

20 acres of landscaped parks, gardens and squares, including 1,000 trees, 4,000 shrubs and 70,000 seasonal plants, are the result of a Green Masterplan which began long before rewilding was fashionable. Canary Wharf is greener than you think.

Securing a stop on the Elizabeth Line has been key. Now within an hour of Heathrow on the other side of London, the Wharf is one of the best connected parts of London. Greater connectivity doesn’t just raise the values of property in the area, it also brings more visitors, who can do more with their visit, making it a more attractive location.


No pain, no gain

The Wharf’s transition to mixed-use space has meant that lower quality office space values have dropped, and these may continue to fall as working practices continue to adjust. But falling prices makes conversions from out of date office stock to retail, residential and laboratory spaces more viable. This adjustment brings more investment, and these spaces bring more diversity and more visitors.

For all its success, drops in values put pressure for Canary Wharf to deliver on its ambition of futureproofing the estate and creating a district of London where people are keen to live, work and visit.

But the evidence and data says the strategy is working.

New types of tenants are setting up at the Wharf. Securing planning for what will be Europe’s largest and most technologically advanced life sciences building at North Quay last month is just the latest step in the pivot to introduce the R&D sector to the estate – 40,000 square feet of fully fitted, flexible, wet-labs geared towards early-stage life science companies were completed recently on Water Street.

54million people visited the Wharf in 2022 according to the latest TFL data, a record which shows footfall is more than just bouncing back from the pandemic. For this year, the numbers already reflect this uptick in visitors, with visitor numbers up 40% in the first half of this year in comparison to last.

But the proof that the transition is really working is in the numbers that show these visitors aren’t just return-to-workers. Weekend numbers show that Canary Wharf station is now regularly getting 50-70% of its midweek peak traffic on a Saturday.

Efforts to bring the world’s top restaurants, bars, cafés and amenities to the estate, and the creation of a fresh, aesthetic and easy to get to location in London’s East End, is bearing fruit, with hundreds of thousands of new visitors each weekend as the estate continues its continual transformation since it rose from the ruins of the East End’s abandoned docks back in 1987.