Tuesday, 9 February 2010

ft story on strata tower

Humanity and humility
Who would have thought that a penthouse flat valued at £2.5m would be for sale in the Elephant and Castle? The Elephant! Penthouse! That’s almost a dictionary definition of “oxymoron”.
This area of south London is, many argue, one of those urban catastrophes that emerged from the planning decisions of the 1960s. What was designed to be a utopia of housing and inner-city roadways long ago became an uncomfortable, unworkable mix of vast concrete estates, murky underpasses and roaring roundabouts.
Less than two miles from Westminster, it became a place to be hurried through, head down. But now, soaring out of the greyness, is Strata SE1, a 43-storey tower, immaculately picked out in black and white, the tallest residential building in London. “It is 147 ft high,” says Carl Davenport of estate agency Chesterton Humberts, “but it looks as if it is 240. You can see it from all over London. It is a symbol for a brighter future in the area.”
It is also symbolic because it is the most striking of many projects that have been outlined in an ambitious programme to transform the area. Strata SE1, which is due to open in April, has 408 flats: properties listed at rightmove.co.uk include a studio for £285,000, a one-bedroom unit for £369,000, a two-bedroom, two-bathroom flat for £495,000 and a £2.5m penthouse. The first 10 floors are given over to affordable housing and the top eight boast penthouses with views across London from the Wembley Stadium arch to Canary Wharf.
Better known among locals as “the razor” because its top is reminiscent of an electric shaver, the building was designed by the architecture firm Hamiltons in a combination of beauty and brawn that is both functional – its summit will feature three wind turbines that provide power to the entire building and, if necessary, can be linked to the local grid – and revolutionary. When the blades, nine metres across, are lifted into place later this month they will help create the first “wind farm” of its kind to be integrated into a building.
If “the razor” represents the cutting edge for the future, two nearby 1960s estates are reminders of a past that 21st-century planners cannot wait to demolish. Both the Heygate Estate, which housed 700 people in what looks like a medieval blockhouse, and the Aylesbury Estate, with its 2,700 homes stretching south for more than a mile parallel to the Walworth Road, became sink estates plagued by crime, drugs and prostitution. All but about 50 tenants have been moved out of the Heygate and the first demolition crews are due to move in during the next few months.
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- Financial Times, 6 February