Not that many years ago, and already largely forgotten, there was a plan for a huge aquarium, Biota!, to be built next to the Millennium Mills in Docklands.
Designed by Terry Farrell & Partners architects the new building was given outline planning permission in 2005 by Newham Council, and was due to be operated by London Zoo as the world’s first aquarium entirely based on the principles of conservation.
The building would have been arranged around a central atrium and the ground floor housing the aquarium with exhibit areas on the upper floors. The exhibit areas would represent diverse world habitats – the British Isles, the Amazon, the Indo-Pacific, and the Atlantic Ocean. The fifth exhibit area, ‘Conservation Works’, was to focus on protecting aquatic habitats, the underlying message of the conservation centre.
The dominant feature of the building from the outside was to be the translucent walls, based on the same materials and design behind the Eden Project.
At £80 million for the building, it was going to be the centrepiece of a wider regeneration of the land around the Millenium Mills, to be known as Silvertown Quays, which would have included the Silvertown Venture Xtreme, a sports and surf centre, and an urban beach. The sports centre alone was expected to attract 100,000 surfers and body-boarders a year, along with five times as many spectators.
Although the aquarium was due to be completed in 2007, the project had already slipped a bit when the 2007/8 global financial crash took place and faced with a recession it was delayed again.
This caused wider problems as the planning application for the aquarium required it to be built before the rest of the site could be developed, so the delays were holding up a planned £1.5 billion redevelopment. Eventually, in September 2009 the landowner, the London Development Agency pulled the plug on the project.
Today the site is still empty. Attempts to revamp the Millenium Mills got underway in 2015, but have also since ground to a halt.