London property update: the British capital continues to offer world-class residential properties, designed by equally world-class firms
London remains very much in the sights of luxury property developers, despite lingering worries over Brexit and other economic woes. This is partly due to the fact that the majority of buyers in Central London come from overseas – if anything, Brexit's pressure on sterling has made buying in the UK capital an even more attractive proposition. Pretty much all of London is on the developers' radars – as one area goes from 'up and coming' to 'highly desirable', another is being lined up for regeneration and gentrification.
Especially hot at the moment is Battersea, south of the Thames. Formerly known for its architecturally distinctive power station with its four white chimneys set at each corner and the spaghetti of railway lines that form busy Clapham Junction, big-name developers have honed in on the area.
The majority of buyers in Central London come from overseas – if anything, Brexit's pressure on sterling has made buying in the UK capital an even more attractive proposition
Not least of them is Avanton and its York Place luxury development Coda. Designed by architecture practice Patel Taylor, it is a mixed-use development that has on its ground floor the new headquarters of the Royal Academy of Dance (RAD), which will move from its current location at nearby Battersea Square. The academy's future use of the building (hence the name Coda – the final movement of a ballet) has informed its design and the normal height restrictions for this section of the south bank of the Thames have been waived.
"When we started working on this scheme we looked at the options of how this development could sustain density and height," says Omer Weinberger, managing partner at Avanton. "When the RAD became part of the project – and it's a significant contribution – the height became less of an issue because the middle block became a marker; from a distance, it shows where the RAD is located."
Coda is this middle block and contains 130 upscale apartments, flanked by two 'mansion blocks' which between them house 169 units. Its stepped profile is unusual in that the 'steps' face to the south, so that the terraces make the most of the sunlight. Flats on the north side, meanwhile, have wonderful views of the Thames and the landmarks of Central London. And while this part of the capital has not been especially convenient for those commuting to the City and Docklands, that's about to change. Adjacent to the building, a new pedestrian bridge is planned to connect the two sides of the river, while residents will also be able to catch a boat to Embankment, on the north bank. But there's no doubt that the presence of the dance school will be a major draw – in fact, some of its alumni have already purchased units. The school itself will house eight studios (available to residents when students are not using them), cafes, libraries, a canteen and a publicly accessible square. Openness and accessibility are words that crop up time and time again when talking to the architects, who have made every effort to preserve most of the mature trees around the development and widen pedestrian areas, as well as creating a private terrace garden on the first floor.
"This used to be a very unfriendly area because there used to be a barrier," says Andrea Cesati, associate at Patel Taylor. "The idea was to retain these trees and create a new public realm in the inside at the street level where people could choose to walk inside the development and spend time in a more sheltered environment. We don't want people to feel excluded by this development, we want them to see what's happening, see the students, not to be put off by something that might appear formal or intimidating."
Besides the openness, another key architectural feature is the wrap, or folding plates in white aluminium and bronze powder-coat finish, that frame alternate floors in contrasting dark and light, reflective and matte. "The concept is the building falls away," says Cesati. Glazing comes full-height, every apartment gets a bay window and balcony parapets are in glass or metal. The look is distinctly modern, yet blends easily with the traditional industrial buildings of the area, helped by the twin adjacent mansion blocks that form a zone of transition.
Further down the river and a stone's throw from the Houses of Parliament is The Corniche, designed by Foster + Partners for St James, part of the Berkeley Group developers. It falls within the Nine Elms redevelopment area that extends, on the south bank from Lambeth Bridge to Chelsea Bridge. Three towers comprise The Corniche, two of which are residential blocks that face the river; it has 253 apartments and residents' bar, gym, pool and spa. Besides its outstanding location and views, of particular note there are the two duplex penthouses, one of which, at 512sqm (5,520sqf), is still available. At its heart is a bespoke helical staircase, and the unit includes four en-suite bathrooms, office space and two kitchens, all with curved floor-to ceiling windows. The private 176sqm (1,900sqf ) roof terrace with an outdoor kitchen has 360-degree views, with interiors by TG-Studio.
Speaking of the inside-out approach that has informed the design of The Corniche, Grant Brooker, head of studio for Foster + Partners, explains: "We want the design and layout of the interior spaces to have a direct correlation to the proportions and slender volumes of each building. We envisaged generous living spaces that extend into the deep bays, giving the scheme its distinctive character. The balconies are not typical boxlike enclosures and the curved gardens in the sky allow wide, 'cinemascope' perspectives of the river and the Houses of Parliament.
"We've incorporated principles like biophilia – bringing nature, natural light and ventilation into buildings – [that] can have a measurable positive effect on the occupants' well-being," he adds.
It's not only Central London that's undergoing major redevelopment, of course. At Greenwich, to the east, a new linear cultural park is taking shape. Called The Tide, it is part of the Greenwich Peninsula 60-hectare development area by Hong Kong-based Knight Dragon, on a 270-degree bend of the Thames. The Tide has been designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro (of New York's High Line fame) and landscape architects GROSS.MAX. Five kilometres in length, the first kilometre opens this month and in places is raised nine metres above landscaped gardens. The Tide will feature works by Damien Hirst and Allen Jones. Central to Greenwich Peninsula is Knight Dragon's five-tower Upper Riverside (pictured above and below), by Skidmore Owings & Merrill (SOM), responsible for such global landmarks as the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. Says Kent Jackson, design partner at SOM, "The proposal creates a distinctive marker along the Thames, bringing vitality to the neglected waterfront and complementing both the architecture and activity of the iconic O2 Arena at the junction of the transportation gateways to the Peninsula. The towers are high-quality, high-density, sustainable residential buildings, resting on top of an elevated ground level of retail, which will activate the public spaces and the riverfront promenade. The ends of the building masses facing the river are angled in order to promote views towards the Thames, to ensure that every unit has a view." Residents have access to the Upper Riverside Club spread across the five buildings; its Renew well-being facility has been designed by Tom Dixon and includes a pool, gym, sauna and roof terraces.
"Design is the hallmark of Upper Riverside," says Richard Margree, chief executive of Knight Dragon. "Each of the five buildings has been curated by a different interior designer, including State of Craft (no. 1), Tom Dixon (no. 2) and Sophie Ashby (no. 3), with more exciting collaborations to still be announced. Each design studio offers a different interpretation of modern living; contrasting between sleek and sophistication to earthy and urban aesthetics, all inspired by its waterside setting."