Changing forms

by ANNIE GOTTERSON on Sep 6, 2010 in Architecture
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London’s tallest residential tower, the new Strata SE1 cuts an impressive and revolutionary figure in the cityscape

As an increasing number of countries write sustainable practices into their building codes and standards, solar panels, grass roofs, geo-thermal pumps, wind-turbines and the like will become standard issue for all new structures. This not only benefits the environment, but will hopefully serve as a catalyst for a new era of design, marked by buildings that are genuinely innovative in form and function, and could, in no way, belong to any other time.

The Strata SE1 tower in London is being hailed as the first of its kind for this very reason. With a brief to create a ‘significant’ residential tower comprising 400 apartments over 43 storeys, each unique in terms of layout, tenure and use, the Strata SE1 was also intended to be significant in terms of design and aesthetic.

With a small site that had previously been earmarked for a high-rise by the local council, it seemed that going ‘very tall’ partially answered the requirements of the brief – stature alone makes the tower somewhat of a landmark and allows for 400 high-end apartments. In conjunction with this, current UK building legislation states that a portion of the building’s energy requirements must be produced on site.

Crowned with three large wind turbines that generate about eight per cent of the tower’s consumed energy, the building makes no sacrifices in terms of achieving a modern and intriguing design in order to include them. Rather, the design seems to have evolved around the turbines, enhancing both their aesthetic appeal and function – a seamless integration of what many may see as the antithesis of sleek, sophisticated design.

According to architect Ian Bogle, who along with Robin Partington designed the Strata tower, the wind turbines were considered as an essential part of the design concept and were decided on about two months into the project.

‘Within the UK you need to provide a percentage of the energy consumption on site. There are a number of ways you can do that, but we chose to go for the wind turbine solution because of the height primarily, and because of the extremely small footprint of the site, Bogles explains.

‘A lot of the other technologies wouldn’t have worked, particularly the ground source technologies. We did a feasibility study and the wind turbines were the most viable solutions in this context. Once we’d settled on that, we thought it was time to do something a bit different and have them integrated into the building, rather than just sort of stuck on to the side,’ says Bogle.

In fact, Strata’s facade was designed to enhance and elevate wind flow to improve the function of the turbines. Encased in ‘ventri-like’ structures, wind is thus directed through the turbines at a much faster rate. Explaining how this works, Bogle says: ‘Next time you’re in your car, stick your hand out the window, make a hole and feel how the air gets channelled through. You’ll see what we mean.’

An essential element of the client’s brief for the project, to create an important building with 400 unique apartments, was answered by the building’s form and façade. Saying they were aiming for a very significant vertical expression, Bogle explains: ‘The reason the stratification of the façade happens is that within each of the different apartment types, the window locations are in different positions, moving up and down and across the building.’

When looking at the façade, three main features are visible – the solid, white cladding element, fixed floor-to-ceiling glazing panels and ventilated panels that open from the inside. This not only gave the architects greater flexibility in construction as each apartment had to be individual anyway, it also created the vibrant and distinct aesthetic of the Strata tower – which was dubbed ‘The Razor’ by the press due to its appearance.

There’s no doubt that energy-producing and energy-saving technologies will become dominant features of new buildings around the world. How they are integrated into building design however, is largely the responsibility of architects, who, it could be argued, now have both reason and opportunity to drastically alter the look, feel and function of the built environment.