Editor: Visitors to our studio in Wapping are drawn irresistibly to the large wharf doors, giving a panoramic view across the River Thames. Their gaze is inevitably drawn eastwards, towards the crystalline powerhouse of Canary Wharf shimmering in the distance.


The news that HSBC is leaving its Foster-designed tower made me reflect on this juxtaposition. Eight Canada Square is a mere 21 years old. Designed as a bespoke building for a single occupier, it rises to 45 storeys with a floor area of 1.8m sq ft. A hermetically sealed, highly serviced, finely honed glass box.

Compare this with our own studio in Metropolitan Wharf (pictured), formerly four Victorian tea warehouses. Now more than 160 years old, the building was amalgamated into a single building accommodating a gym, restaurant and food lab on the lower floors. Above are studios in different configurations and sizes for a rich mix of businesses. Apartments take up the upper floors. It is naturally ventilated with high ceilings and a robust structure suitable for reconfiguration. It is adaptable, flexible, robust and resilient.

We live in an uncertain world. Covid-19 accelerated changes to living, working and shopping. The Ukraine war has hit food supplies; energy costs and interest rates are rising. Climate change and shifting global politics only add to this uncertainty. And then there’s the emergence of artificial intelligence.

All of this means we need to consider the resilience of our built environment. What will the exit strategy be when the office/retail/housing market no longer exists or changes beyond recognition?

We should be thinking long term with adaptation, flexibility and resilience in mind. Buildings should be incremental and granular, capable of expanding, contracting, subdividing, amalgamating and separating. We should embrace change and design structures that still have a purpose in 200 years, not scrapped after 20.

In 2008, we learned an important lesson: that global banking giants weren’t too big to fail. In the face of climate change, isn’t it time to stop designing buildings that are too big to fail?

Hari Phillips, director, Bell Phillips