Small island?

What we now know as London Docklands has developed since the 1980s.  World War II bombing had laid waste to the docklands of East London. Massive containerised shipping rendered the small docks of London obsolete – 83,000 jobs along with them.

Forty years on we have Canary Wharf, London City Airport, Docklands Light Railway, ExCel Exhibition Centre, London Arena and the housing and retail spaces around them. But maybe the best was yet to come. 

London City Island is a little jewel of a place. It’s only the size of about 9 football pitches. But it’s an island and islands don’t have to be big to be special. 

We were asked to carry through in street signage the vision of Glen Howells Architects. Our role was about two things: calm movement through the space – possibly because it’s traffic free it does have an unusually calm feel – and honouring the visual identity. It’s worth saying more about that as it’s fascinating.

The main elements of the identity are: red and the slightly heraldic looking diamonds of the London City Island LDN-E14 logo. There’s a river and therefore location inspired backstory to both. 

The red is picked up from a lightship moored nearby. Lightships were red beacon boats used to guide shipping – like a lighthouse on water. The footbridge crossing to City Island is painted the same shade of red. We carried it through on all of the signage. 

There is also, amazingly, a land-based lighthouse on the island – it doesn’t warn of rocks – not many of those in the Thames. It was built to train lighthouse keepers and conduct experiments in the development of lighthouses. The diamond cross hatching in the City Island logo is a representation of the panes of glass around the lantern. 

The lighthouse is now home to The Longplayer Trust. It’s an art project playing a piece of music that started on 31st December 1999 and will play continuously until 31st December 2999. There’s a listening room in the lighthouse itself, or you can listen to the live stream here.

That gem of creativity fits absolutely at the heart of London City Island. It’s now the new home of English National Ballet and the London Film School.  It’s an amazingly vibrant place of art and culture to live and work in.