Canary Wharf redevelopment


Duration:3 years


Country: London, UK

What did this project achieve?

Create a whole new shiny business district in the run-down east London docks area

Canary Wharf – part of London Docklands, on the eastern edge of the city – is the financial centre of London. It's built on the site of what was once the capital's port.

The port of London was built by engineer William Jessop in the early 19th century. Jessop's original West India docks were joined in 1868 by Millwall docks. The area became a centre for shipbuilding and associated industries.

The late-20th century shift to bigger container ships saw the business of the port moving downstream to the deeper waters of the Thames Estuary at Tilbury. West India and Millwall had less work as a result and started to decline. They finally closed in 1981.

At the same time environment secretary Michael Heseltine set up the Docklands Development Corporation to regenerate the area. Declaring the Isle of Dogs an enterprise zone, Heseltine offered incentives and tax breaks to attract businesses and developers.

Initial take up was slow but Canadian developers Olympia & York moved in to build One Canada Square. Opening in 1990, the 244m steel and glass tower was the UK's tallest building for 20 years. It became a visual icon for Canary Wharf.

The first tenants moved to Canary Wharf in 1991. By 2005, most high street banks had moved their head offices to the area. Many national newspapers also moved in.

Around 105,000 people now work in Canary Wharf. This number is predicted to double in the next 10 years.

Difference the redevelopment has made

The Canary Wharf redevelopment shifted much of London's financial district to the east of the capital, as banks – including HSBC and Citigroup - moved their offices.

Building shopping centres, restaurants and apartments at Canary Wharf as well as offices helped create a community for people to live in as well as work.

The development has created jobs and contributed to the local economy.

How the work was done

The Canary Wharf redevelopment has sometimes been slow with setbacks for companies backing the area's regeneration.

Original developers Olympia & York went bankrupt in 1992 – less than a year after One Canada Square was completed.

Olympia & York's former owners made a comeback as part of a consortium – the Canary Wharf Group - that bought the development in 1995.

The 1999 underground Jubilee line extension connected the district to the rest of London by tube and boosted the area.

The Elizabeth line – also known as Crossrail – will be another important transport connection for the area. The line is set to open in 2018.

Developers are planning to extend Canary Wharf eastwards. New buildings will provide 4.9m sqft of offices, shops and homes.


I had 29 meetings with business leaders in London to see if such a project made senseā€¦ I detected that the great majority were very unhappy with their premises but their attitude was that they had no choice.

Paul Reichmann

owner of Canary Wharf developers Olympia & York

Fascinating facts

The Isle of Dogs isn't an island. It's a teardrop-shaped piece of land on the river Thames. It's thought King Edward 3 kept greyhounds here – leading to the area's name.

Canary Wharf tube station is big enough for One Canada Square to lie down in it. The mega-station has 20 escalators.

The average salary of people who work in Canary Wharf is £100,000 a year – more than 3 times the national average.

People who made it happen

  • The idea for the development came from American bankers Michael von Clemm and G Ware Travelstead.
  • Canary Wharf was originally developed and built by property company Olympia & York.

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