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An ugly metaphor


Strata TowerThis 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.

Giles Peaker is a solicitor and partner in the Housing and Public Law team at Anthony Gold Solicitors in South London. You can find him on Linkedin and on Twitter. Known as NL round these parts.


  1. dave

    So, if not entitled to take the lift, are the shared owners entitled to staircase up as well as down?

    • NL

      Not sure if they have their own staircase as well, but if they do, that probably stops at the 10th floor too. There has to be a limit on upward mobility, naturally.

  2. Chris

    Hard to believe planners allowed that sort of separation to happen. But then the rent per week for a one bedroom flat is over the top from the point of view of a poor northerner.

  3. S

    You forgot the bit about how they daren’t switch on the wind turbines at the top of the tower for fear of annoying the pent house residents, thus rendering the only redeeming feature of the building redundant.

    The real scandal in elephant is the partial decanting of the big estates. They have been supposedly knocking them down for years and they have lain mostly empty for at least three.

    • NL

      Depends which estate, S. The Heygate has been decanting for years and has been pretty much empty for the last year or so. Remaining leaseholders have been served with CPOs.

      The Aylesbury is in more of a state of flux. Early days, with no general decant yet, but lots of noises about it and some specific buidlings apparently being emptied.

      The big regeneration/new housing development is apparently going ahead, after lots of uncertainty post crunch. Officially singed a few weeks ago.

  4. simply wondered

    the aylesbury has been siphoning off regeneration money to dodgy self-serving groups for many years now. spose it’s inevitable when there is a community regeneration push but it irked me to see much-needed cash going into pockets for no social return.

    dave – if nl is too pukka to acknowledge your staircasing pun, i as a shared owner myself, enjoyed it.

    • NL

      Pukka? It was a fine pun, so I let it stand in all its glory.

      • J

        I quite like the idea of something being “officially singed” – shurly shome mishtake?

        • NL

          An accurate typo. Someone will be.

  5. Douglas

    Hmmm … Time to re-read J G Ballard’s “High Rise”

  6. The Dustman

    Used to live on the Rockingham in E&C. Not as bad as the Camberwell New Rd scissor flats that I lived in later – anyone know the scissor flats? They snaked around in circles to enable all the living rooms to be on one side and all the bedrooms on the other side. Had about twenty next door neighbours depending what part of the flat you were in. Did Dante have a circle of hell for architects?

    • simply wondered

      Did Dante have a circle of hell for architects?

      circle? you are so conventional! the new pandemonium extension has been designed to be a shape that has no name, defies description and pains the soul when merely beheld from afar. fortunately his satanic majesty had many very able consultants on hand to produce a perfectly hellish design.

      • The Dustman

        All I know is you never knew where the leak was coming from!

  7. The Dustman

    ….bit like being in the government really…

  8. simply wondered

    ah yes – you have no idea how many re-designs we went through to ensure that a) there were plenty of leaks and b) you can never find them. all part of the service from diabolical design plc.

  9. E&Cresident

    just to say, works have started on the roundabouts, pedestrian crossings at street level and apparently the infamous subways are being filled in.

    The end of an era.

    • NL

      Indeed, the infamous cyclist crusher of a roundabout is about to become a mediterraean piazza.

      Or something.


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