​Angerstien’s Wharf is Europe’s largest sea-dredged aggregates terminal: recycling, grading, and shipping gravels and sand used in the construction and road building industries. It has a quasi-monumental character, with huge quantities of material constantly shifting amid a complex system of conveyors and structures. This innately transient landscape is a rare and wonderful thing to behold.

The industries operating on the wharf form part of a supply chain that mobilises and re-distributes marine sands and gravels across the British townscape. This facility now satisfies one quarter of the national market, and has provided material used in many of the most iconic major infrastructure projects of recent years, including the Olympic Park, Heathrow Terminal 5, Cross-Rail, the Channel Tunnel and the Thames Barrier.

A decade ago, Nobel Prize-winning scientist Paul Crutzen first defined the “Anthropocene”. Crutzen suggested we were living in a new geological epoch in which humans had altered the planet sufficiently so that landscape processes are being reshaped by human interactions. Aggregates are an important component of this change – since 1955, around 500 million tonnes has been dredged from the sea surrounding the UK.

Angerstein’s Wharf provides a discrete window into Crutzen’s geological era; most of the sands and gravels we see on site today were deposited by fast flowing rivers about 20,000 years ago towards the end of the Pleistocene. This was the planet’s last glacial period, when sea levels were 100 metres lower then than they are today, and Britain was connected to Europe. A natural trajectory that lasted millennia is now being sublimated by the urbanization of planet earth; the industrial process replacing the geological.

In her essay Mapping Named Erratics Jane Hutton describes the way in which humans grapple with time and spatial scales otherwise beyond comprehension. She proposes that erratics – foreign boulders deposited by retreating ice sheets – can provide a link to the chasm between human and geological scales.

The Curated Celebration of Angerstien’s Aggregate Wharf aims to support a similar experience - affording us a window into a process where sand and stone moves from sea to land, is mixed, graded, and redistributed, perhaps – unknowingly – to ground it originated from. In doing so it will create a new typology of urban space and allows the public to interact with a crucial, but largely unloved, industry in a novel way.

The proposal will purposefully celebrate the flow of materials. Pedestrian spaces will be opened and closed by the movement of aggregate and routes through the site will evolve in line with the industrial cycles. Simultaneously, visitors will learn about these cycles, with processes demonstrated from start to finish, and curated levels of engagement and interaction permitted at certain points.

The proposal uses material properties and industrial processes characteristic to the site’s very function to define the public spaces within it. Interventions, varying in scale and subtlety, provide views and experiences to the pedestrian visitor. Aggregate, industrial and public flows move all at once through this site, interrupting and in turn shaped by the other. Visitors will be provided with a snapshot of these materials on their long trajectory, a landscape process that started millennia before homo sapiens, but that is now being shaped and defined by us on a previously unimaginable scale.

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IFLA Europe
VESTRE Hunter Industries

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