50m underground, we visit the Loo Gardens, a new art installation celebrating the benefits to the environment the new "super sewer" will bring to London's Thames river.
As the crane lowers our metal cage down into the depths of the sheer concrete sewer, it feels abyssal. Yet, reaching the bottom of the tunnel, 50m below ground level, the sound of birdsong suddenly takes over. A resplendent garden blooms in front of us in this most inhospitable place.
The Loo Gardens is a brand new art installation in the depths of London’s new “super sewer”. The Thames Tideway Tunnel is a 25km sewer tunnel under construction and due for completion in 2025. Once completed, the super sewer — which stretches from east to west London parallel with the River Thames — will divert overflow rainwater and sewage from entering directly into the city’s famous river.
Instead of dumping sewage water into the Thames, the tunnel will take it to plants where it can be refined back into potable water again.
As a way of celebrating how the super sewer will make the Thames cleaner, Tideway have created the Loo Gardens installation with charity Thames21 to highlight the ecological benefit of the tunnel.
Designed alongside creative production house Joy Collective with a soundscape composed by Rob Lewis, the Loo Gardens is a surreal experience of a subterranean rainforest.
We were lucky enough to get a preview viewing of the gardens before a public ballot opens today where 20 people will win the chance to visit the unique installation.
Down into the depths
From the Tideway offices right by London’s renovated Battersea Power Station, we don high-vis jackets and enter into what looks like the cage they put people in to view great white sharks up close. Seemingly precariously linked by four chains to the end of a crane, my knees are trembling in anticipation of the imminent vertigo as we are lifted into the air.
Thankfully, the ride is surprisingly smooth. We are hooked up into the air and our metal box is swung out over the Thames before we begin our descent into the sewer system.
Dropping for what feels like forever, the light dims as we plunge 50m below. Finally, making contact with the bottom of the tunnel, we exit and can appreciate the work Tideway has done with Joy Collective and Rob Lewis.
At one end of the tunnel, a gentle mist surrounds an immaculate reconstruction of a mini-rainforest. Covering the entire circumference of the tunnel, firs and ivies twist as pretty trees take up centre stage. Lewis’ soundscape work is excellent and truly captures the natural atmosphere.
“The Thames is such an important ecosystem. It supports, not just the fish in the water, but plant life and birds and so on,” explains Lucy Webster, Tideway’s External Affairs Director.
The foliage has an impressive verisimilitude — it’s designed by the same company that provides the flowers for shows like ‘Bridgerton’ — and the choice of plants is not incidental. It’s all the kinds of greenery that is native to the Thames river bank and should come back in greater numbers once the tunnel is fully active.
Nestled among the authentic flowers and plants are also hand-crafted flowers, created from recycled rubbish found in the river.
“We want people to feel hopeful for the future and that this project is basically going to bring massive environmental and nature benefits to London,” adds Webster.
Walking around the Loo Gardens, the scale of the tunnel is incredibly impressive. Stretching into the distance, the huge bored hole continues far further than light can reach. Although our visit down into the tunnels is only brief, it’s a magical sight among an impressive engineering feat. The ballot to get a chance to see it is now open and it’s well worth applying for the chance.
Watch the video above to travel down into the sewer with us.