Building a shared vision for New Union Wharf

Project date: 2008

The Glass-House was commissioned by East Thames Housing Association to deliver a series of design workshops for residents of New Union Wharf, a housing estate being considered for redevelopment.

New Union Wharf is a housing estate located on the Isle of Dogs, East London, owned and managed by East Thames Housing Association. In 2008, East Thames approached The Glass-House to help them build capacity with a Resident Design Group to explore options for the redevelopment of the estate. Built in the late 1960s, New Union Wharf was a very distinctive red brick complex located along the Thames path and was home to several hundred residents, many of whom had lived there since it was first built. East Thames was keen to engage residents in working with the design team to consider various options for redevelopment.

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Working with our appointed Enablers, East, an architecture, landscape and urban design practice, The Glass-House delivered a series of workshops which involved 14 residents of New Union Wharf working alongside seven members of East Thames staff. The workshops offered capacity building around identifying local stakeholders, a study visit to other housing developments, a walkabout and critical assessment of the existing estate, design training, and a visioning workshop using model-making.


The Glass-House workshops on housing design helped participants explore, unravel, define and then communicate spatial and architectural concepts. This was to equip both residents and staff with a shared language to support more effective communication and more constructive collaboration with the design team responsible for developing possible development scenarios for New Union Wharf.

The process culminated in a presentation of the work done, including the visions for the future of New Union Wharf that were developed by residents and staff, to senior staff at East Thames Housing and to the appointed design team.

The decision for staff and residents to work together through these workshops was essential, as it gave the combined working group a shared vocabulary, helped build awareness and sensitivity, and laid the groundwork for future collaboration as the project progressed.

This shared process helped unlock, identify and explore the issues of most concern to the residents of New Union Wharf, and of the East Thames staff looking after the site and leading the redevelopment process. It was also an essential step in moving from a starting point perceived primarily as a situation of threat by residents, to exploring and unlocking opportunity through potential redevelopment.

Observing the layout and features of New Union Wharf and the sites we visited and asking residents about the reality of living in the estate, revealed a great deal about maintenance, service costs and design opportunities to avoid these costs in the future.

Creating a space for the residents and staff to share their initial exploration of the site’s potential with the design team appointed to develop options for the site, was an essential part of the journey. This gave the design team the opportunity to gain a better understanding of the aspirations and concerns of existing residents and staff, and to be inspired by ideas that emerged from the visions and models presented. The models became useful prompts for the residents to express what they felt was important for the future of the site and demonstrated that design offers many solutions to any opportunity or challenge.

The New Union Wharf estate regeneration which started in 2013 will see 189 homes on the original estate replaced with 399 modern homes. Homes will be available to purchase through Shared Ownership and private sale and the first new homes will be delivered by 2018:

“Residents on the estate have been heavily involved in the decision to go ahead with regeneration and continue to work closely with East Thames and contractor, Hill Partnerships to ensure that, once finished, the new estate meets the needs and expectations of the existing residents and the local community.”  –  East Thames

Read more about the New Union Wharf redevelopment
Read more about East Thames