London's canals have "lost their original purpose," claims [Y/N] Studio. It's not wrong. Though London is often dismissed in the industrial history of Britain, it is dismissed wrongly. The capital was a haven for smaller-scale, artisan and skilled industries such as silk-weaving, cutlery and watchmaking; but also heftier trades like brewing and sugar-refining in the East. As with industrializing Britain as a whole, London's canals were the arteries that provided essential resources such as coal and timber to the city's factories and workshops. No more. [Y/N]'s novel idea is to revive the glory days of the Regent's Canal by joining modern-day "raw materials (workers) to the place of production (work)" by having Londoners swim to work using a dedicated swimming lane, dubbed the LidoLine, in the canal itself.
Describing office workers as "raw materials" might be deliberately provocative, though for its bare-facedness it's perhaps less objectionable than that insidious, now omnipresent term, "human resources," but the metaphor doesn't really stand up to scrutiny: the clocks and watches of the industrial revolution didn't make themselves any more than web apps do today. People now, as then, are the creators. Yet [Y/N]'s description of the idea is likely to be the main source of consternation among the naysayers. The entire notion of swimming to work is deliciously impractical.
Upon its completion in 1820, Regent's Canal joined the Grand Union Canal's Paddington arm with the Thames and the Limehouse Basin, or Regent's Canal Dock, away east. The Dock was used to bring coal, rice, salt and Baltic timber (among other things) into the city, distributed primarily by the canal. The 13.8-km (8.6-mile) canal includes three tunnels, including the 886-meter (2906-ft) Islington Tunnel, the longest of three tunnels along its length.
Today London's canals are used more for leisure purposes such as leisure boating, though the towpaths already see commuter use from cyclists and pedestrians. But [Y/N]'s LidoLine, quoted at 15 km (9.3 miles), is intended to bring the full length of the canal—the wet bit of it, no less—into more serious use.
Commuters (or swimmers? Swimmuters?) concerned about ingesting all manner of unmentionables needn't worry. [Y/N] is proposing a "breathable, multi-layered membrane" to filter them out. The LidoLine can almost be thought of as a clean lane, also keeping "swimmuters" safely away from boats using the canal. [Y/N] further envisages a gauze that could be deployed in winter months to reduce the LidoLine's depth in order to freeze over. The purpose? The LidoLine becomes a skating route through the city. Lockers and changing areas would be provided at various points en route. There's more to the idea than mere pretty pictures.
But what of that tricky Islington Tunnel? Apparently not a problem, according to [Y/N]'s Alex Smith. "It could be filled with disco lights and take on a whole life of its own," he told The Guardian's Olly Wainwright.
LidoLine was [Y/N]'s submission to a Landscape Institute competition intended to find London's answer to New York's High Line. Despite coming second, it seems unlikely to come to pass. More's the pity.
This isn't the first imaginative reuse of the Regent's Canal. In 1979 the Central Electricity Generating Board laid 400-kV electrical cables under the towpaths with cooling pipes that draw water from the canal.