Built in the 1820s, St. Katharine Docks once flourished as a center for lucrative trading between London and the East. The area sustained considerable damage during World War II, and then it suffered from a postwar upsurge in container traffic for which these docks were totally unsuited. When finally closed in 1968, the buildings generally were in a sorry state of repair. In 1969 the Greater London Council decided to invite proposals for the redevelopment of St. Katharine Docks. Those who submitted plans had to take into account the fact that 10 of the site's 27 acres were water. The winning design has transformed the area into a popular business, residential and leisure environment incorporating the London World Trade Center.
It would have been very difficult to establish a satisfactory carrying capacity or any settlement characteristics for the dock wall. Hence, it was decided that no loading from the new building would go onto the wall; instead it was decided that substantial cantilever beams would be used at either the first-floor or dock level. Initial proposals suggested the first floor would be the most economic answer but the problems of masking such mammoth members as would be needed (approximately 2 by 6 feet) led to the final solution of putting the cantilever beams at dock level, waterproofing and concealing the other ends behind the stone and brick face of the dock.
The extent of the vault removal was limited in order to maintain its buttressing or tieback effect on the wall. Large-diameter underreamed bore piles, necessary to carry the high loads, were sunk to depths of 60 to 80 feet in the central curve of these vaults, as close as they could be brought to the back of the dock wall without disturbing the clay backing. The need to maintain minimum floor-to-floor heights restricted the structural zone available for the floor framing and made steelwork unsuitable. Concrete provided the logical and economical answer.