MacEwen Award 2019

MacEwen Award 2019

Walthamstow Wetlands has been longlisted for the MacEwen Award which recognises architecture (with engineering and landscape) for 'the common good'. 

Walthamstow Wetlands is an operational water supply site, extending over 200 hectares at the heart of the London Lea Valley, comprising 10 reservoirs of varying size. Over the years the site has developed rich habitats supporting migrating and breeding wildfowl, and its international importance has been recognised. For many decades, access was restricted to anglers and birdwatchers through a permit system. After a series of construction projects to provide facilities for visitors, the site opened to free public access as a nature reserve in October 2017.

Coppermill Stream

View from Engine House

The projects involved extensive works of conservation and renewal, including the planting of 2 hectares of reed beds, hedgerows and gates to screen habitats, and the refurbishment and adaptation of two redundant Victorian infrastructure buildings to provide exhibition and learning spaces and elevated viewpoints.  Facilities for public access include car and bicycle parking, a café, toilets and a shop. The total construction cost was £6.5 million, spread over 10 different areas and elements. The design draws landscape and architecture into a coherent whole, developed in a process that was carefully moderated and scrutinized. The complementary ambitions  of the diverse client group combined to deliver a sum of benefits that none on their own could have: ecological enhancement, new paths and wider linkages, conservation and transformation of highly-valued local landmarks, new facilities and activities.


In this site of open water and elevated reservoirs, we grasped the opportunity to ‘re-wild’ the older central spine of the site, introducing reedbeds to the shallow Victorian reservoirs and sowing wildflower meadows on the riverside verges. The bridges over the rivers and streams are thresholds gently demarcating the reserve, suggesting that different rules of behaviour apply than in the ‘park’ outside. Steel pathways run through landscape and buildings, leading to elevated viewpoints where you can look out over the wide floodplain, elsewhere so hard to see or comprehend. We reinstated an approximation of the original chimney at the centre of the Engine House, with swift nesting boxes on the outside and bat roosts within. This brick swift tower marks the visitor centre within the reserve and the wider valley.


Client: London Borough of Waltham Forest. In association with Thames Water and London Wildlife Trust. Supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

The reservoirs were a gap in the mental map of local people, with many unaware of the vast expanse of reservoirs on their doorstep. The reserve now offers extensive walks, as well as foot- and cycle-connections to Walthamstow and Tottenham Marshes, and down the Lea to Hackney Marshes and the Olympic Park. It offers access to nature for residents of neighbouring areas, including several areas lacking in open space and habitat. The visitor centre offers a café and terrace, exhibits on industrial archaeology and wildlife, and a learning space, used for parent and toddler groups, classes and events. Elevated terraces at the Engine House and Coppermill give visitors views over the floodplain and the city beyond. With approximately 400,000 visitors in the first year, Walthamstow Wetlands has been enthusiastically received by the public. 

Engine House

Design Team: Kinnear Landscape Architects; Witherford Watson Mann Architects; Entuitive (Structure); P3R (Services); Cinns (Quantity Surveyor); Jackson Coles (Project Manager); Real Studios (Exhibition Design); Contractor: Rooff Ltd.