Will London Be The First City With Commuter Swim Lanes?

Two young British architects want to install a clean swimlane in one of London’s abandoned industrial canals.

Love it or hate it, New York City’s High Line has inspired a renaissance in urban design. Dozens of cities across the globe are trying to re-create the so-called High Line Effect–hell, even New York wants another.


This fall, the mayor of London and the city’s Landscape Museum hosted a conference and competition aimed at helping the metropolis develop its own High Line–inspired project. London, like New York, has no shortage of unused industrial artifacts, and the organizers are hoping that the competition will create buzz and public excitement over the idea. The winner of the open competition will be announced on October 8, but the shortlisted proposals are already online.

“Entries have included ideas for gritty flyovers to become trellised with wildflowers, streets to become orchards and buried rivers to be opened,” explained the museum’s director in an op-ed on the conference. But [Y/N] Studio, the designers behind one of the shortlisted proposals, believes that the city is looking in the wrong place for regeneration. “London doesn’t need more green space,” the architects argue. “38% of the capital is already green or open space.”

Instead, [Y/N] Studio proposes creating a new commuter network that would turn the 8.6-mile-long Regent’s_Canal]Regent’s Canal into a swimming lane, allowing Londoners to swim to work. In the winter, the designers imagine ice-skating. Much like +Pool, the LidoLine would contain canal water filtered through a multilayer membrane, removing bacteria and toxins. “The LidoLine would form a new network for London,” the designers write. “Rather than blindly multiplying underused, functionless “green space.” Corporate sponsors could still hold plenty of events along the canal, thanks to a series of floating docks and an amphitheater.

The canal was built nearly two centuries ago and, like the Erie Canal, was designed to transport industrial goods to factories around the blossoming city. Alex Smith and David Lomax, the founders of [Y/N], explain that they see their idea as returning the canal to its former glory.

“The city’s canals have lost their original purpose,” the duo explain. “The LidoLine flips Regent’s Canal back to its original purpose: connecting raw materials (workers) to the place of production (work).” In essence, they’re conflating the creative economy with the Industrial Revolution–where human capital has seemingly replaced shipments of iron ore.

[H/t Design Boom]


About the author

Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan is Co.Design's deputy editor.