This is the Strata Tower, less than proud winner of Building Design’s 2010 Carbuncle Cup, awarded to the ugliest new building in the country for its ‘odour of boy musk’, ‘grim stridency’ and for auditioning for a ‘James Bond title sequence in the Elephant and Castle’. (I must note that the nomination was from the Georgian Group, who surely had a hard time focussing their bile on only one contemporary building without pilasters, so congratulations to them for picking a contemporary building that for once actually is ugly.)
The Strata is a thoroughly unavoidable part of my working day and, as a flagship development for the ‘regeneration’ of the Elephant and Castle area, something of a metaphor (or more properly metonym) for what is to come. For non-London readers, the Elephant is a fairly poor, massively multi ethnic part of Southwark in Sarf Lunnon, with huge social housing estates like the Heygate – now largely decanted for re-development. For some very different accounts of the Elephant and of the Schiaparelli pink Stalinist Palace of a shopping centre see here, here and here (and I think this latter chap really doesn’t get the life of the Elephant now, filtered as it is through the loss of his youth).
The Strata consists of 408 apartments (studio, 1, 2 and 3 bed) of which 98 are ‘social housing’ – meaning available for shared ownership ‘lease’ via a housing association. The rest are market price, meaning, for instance, a rental of £355 per week for a 1 bed on the 34 floor. Oh yes, there are 43 storeys.
Which is where we come to the metaphor. A condition of the development was the ‘social housing’ proportion of 25% ‘by habitable room’. But this should not necessarily be seen as a mixed neighbourhood development in the sky. Social housing occupies the bottom 10 floors of the tower and a separate 4 floor adjunct. And, should the City people that Strata aims to entice, with its city views and short commute in Zone 1, be put off by sharing their tower with ‘social housing’ types – no problem. The first 10 floors have an entirely separate lift to that for the top 33 floors! The posh lift doesn’t stop till floor 11, while the plebs’ lift goes no higher than 10. Separate access means no uncomfortable mixing. All at the same postcode, but the vertical segregation re-invents, perfects and inverts the boulevard building’s vertical class banding of Haussmann’s Paris, but this time with class based lifts. At least the staircase remained a vaguely communal space in those intensely stratified spaces of 19th century Paris. So there we are, an upright metaphor for the model of redevelopment.
All but four of the private flats have apparently been sold, according to the Strata website. Rent away, City types – it is only a short trip through the two mile’s worth of subways to the tube stations. If you can stand the poor people, there is some excellent curried goat and Columbian coffee, nibbles and dancing available in and around the shopping centre, while it lasts.
Sorry for the lack of housing law – silly season – but as a sop, I have heard that the shared ownership leases in the Strata are on the basis of no rent component – so avoiding the Midland Heart issue and actually being leases rather than assured tenancies. There had to be some law in there somewhere.