Monday, May 10, 2010

Turning grey elephants into bright castles

LONDON/SNAPSHOTS OF CHANGE. When you exit the Elephant & Castle tube station south of river Thames in London you have a choice of interesting views.
If you like grey, there are some of the ugliest buildings anywhere right here. Right outside the exit you’ll see a hideous shopping centre. Across the street is a huge, Communist style apartment building. Both are going to be demolished, the apartment building soon and the shopping centre later.
As you turn around you’ll see the future in the shape of a skyscraper that looks like something out of a sci-fi movie. Further down the street there are some new buildings, shockingly colourful compared to the initial greyness.
Elephant & Castle is one of many London neighbourhoods that will never win an urban beauty contest.
But Elephant & Castle is also the name used for a widespread regeneration scheme set in motion by the Southwark council in 2004 aimed at making this area the urban hub of inner south London.
The project shot to fame a year ago when former U.S. President Bill Clinton announced that Elephant & Castle would be one of 17 development projects worldwide in a new Climate Positive Development Program supported by his foundation. The project was hailed as a global example for sustainable growth by the former president.
Unlike most other redevelopment projects, the Elephant & Castle scheme is scattered over a rather large area and comes in all shapes and forms. It will create a new urban centre with pedestrian streets, boulevards, squares and green spaces as well thousands of new homes.
The plans calls for completion of the project by 2014, but as far as I understand there will be delays due to the troubled economy.
I began my walking tour of the area at the Heygate Estate, a now empty apartment building of gigantic proportions that soon will be torn down to give way for new housing. This social housing project will be replaced by a mix of social and private-sector housing.
On Wansey Street, a short walk from Heygate Estate, stands a colourful new residential building in sharp contrast the old, grey giants next to it. Other new residential developments along the raised railroad tracks have added new life to the area.
But wherever you turn, you end up looking at the 148-metre skyscraper that will symbolize the climate-friendly initiatives of the Elephant & Castle regeneration program. “The Razor”, or the Strata tower (left) as the building is officially known, is crowned by three giant holes where 9-metre wind turbines will provide energy for the building’s 400-plus apartments.
The wind turbines will contribute eight percent of the building’s energy needs and could be seen as a symbolic feature on an energy-efficient construction where energy costs are expected to be 40 percent lower than Britain’s typical housing average.
The Strata is also in line with the British government’s new regulations that demand that all new buildings be zero-carbon by 2019.
By then, Elephant & Castle could stand as an example of how an old, failed urban landscape can be turned into a model for modern, smart city living.

This is the third in a series of glimpses at the ongoing regeneration of London.

The Strata towers over Elephant & Castle as a symbol of sustainable ambitions.

The economy has slowed down construction at Elephant & Castle.

Grey giants like the Heygate Estate will be demolished and...

...replaced by colourful houses like these on Wansey Street.


  1. I live in one of these grey concrete giants that you mention. It's not due to be demolished though. It's well designed and well built, although could be better looked after by Southwark Council.

    But this is my point. How are all these bright and cheerful building's going to weather? What will the orange kingspan (?) facade look like after a decade of English drizzle? We need to be careful to build something sustainable, in a visual sense. Otherwise they will all look like the shopping centre in ten years.

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