If someone said, design me something pointless then cover it in hype, then The Tide in Greenwich would be the result.
The first stage in what is claimed to be a linear park wrapping around the peninsula, and almost universally derided as probably the worst example of public amenity built in the past few decades.
Based superficially on the elevated HighLines that have sprung up all over the place following the success of the much larger and better former derelict railway in New York, this is the Tesco Value version, wrapped in Harrods packaging.
On a busy Sunday lunchtime with people out jogging along the riverside, walking dogs along the riverside and walking themselves along the riverside, no one is diverting sideways to climb the stairs up to the Tide.
It’s an empty pier jutting over the promenade, and yet, said to be the main attraction of the new blocks of flats that are slowly obscuring the Dome from view.
If it were the High Line, on which it is loosely modeled, there would be planting to delight, but this is a windswept barren land, with a few trees and a paucity of grasses, chosen more for their low cost of maintenance than to be appealing.
Some chairs for the people who don’t come up here to sit on.
I often judge good architecture by the details. Not just does the skyscraper look good from a mile away, but the details when standing next to it. Is the end result polished and of a high quality. The Gherkin is good, the Shard is bad — and oh boy, the Tide is awful.
The edges lack the finesse that comes from an architect who looks at the small details. The steps are not entirely finished properly, and the painted flooring is showing the all-too-obvious effects of people scuffing over it. I really can’t imagine a Norman Foster building ever having a junction built with such a lack of attention to the finer details as they have here. It’s functional, but looks cheap.
At the end of the pier, the central section rises ever so slightly above the edges, resulting in another obvious problem, that people can trip over the edges, so now there’s a run of shabby barriers all around it.
All of which explains the many warning signs dotted around the place asking people to mind their step as they “enjoy” the architecture. It’s a structure designed by an architect to look good(ish), but not to be of use. It goes nowhere, and is in places so badly designed as to be essentially unsafe. A good urban planner would have looked at the early designs and ripped half of it to pieces, and in doing so, what might have emerged could have been a more useful space for the public.
In an attempt to hide these deficiencies, all around are headline name works of art, which fits the modern vanity for brand names over substance, and suits the nearby equally ghastly Icon shopping centre.
The overall effect is less a public utility or attraction than a box-ticking exercise by housing developers who now try to pretend that they’re selling lifestyle experiences rather than homes — mainly because the homes are shrinking as fast as their prices are rising, so you need to be out of them as much as possible to avoid feeling like you’re living in a prison cell.
What’s disappointing though is that this could have been good. Decent quality of finish to the end product, and a design that connected locations rather than floating pointlessly above an already perfectly usable pathway.
The space it fills could have been a large public park, at ground level, of considerable more utility than this folly of a pier. But maybe that would have been too welcoming, too popular, too noisy for the residents. So we have the pier, the Tide, an empty expanse of steel and cheaply fitted wood.
With the interest in urban walkways, with the popularity of the High Line, and the remarkable resurgence of the City of London pedways, that this is so utterly awful is actually quite annoying.