Chances are you’ll have seen Strata, even if you weren’t looking for it. The 147m-tall tower looms over south London, drawing in the eye from most of the city’s vantage points. With a distinctive profile that has sharply divided architecture fans and local residents alike, and a sloping crown topped by a trio of wind turbines, Strata is perhaps the capital’s most conspicuous example of sustainable architecture.
Strata is central London’s tallest residential block, shaving the Barbican towers by a handful of metres, and is the first part of the long-planned, hugely ambitious, £1.5 billion regeneration at Elephant & Castle. As the vanguard for gentrification in the area, Strata wears its social conscience well: 25% of its 408 apartments* are earmarked for sustainable housing, and 20 of those will be taken by residents from the Heygate Estate.
Yet the building’s ideal resident is an altogether wealthier breed of pioneering urbanaut in this windswept corner of SE1*. Floors 10 through 42 house the building’s market-rate units, ranging from studios to three-bed flats. The affordable flats share the same floorplan as their loftier neighbours, but they throng in the lower reaches of the block, and will be served by one dedicated lift, while two more lifts whisk residents in the full-price flats up to their impressive views, effectively segregating the two groups. It will be up to the building management to decide whether the 39th floor sky lounge would be open to all residents.
Pleasant as the apartments are, this might not be considered a place for people who actually like living in London. It offers the veneer of London living, with the city splayed, to use TS Eliot’s phrase, “like a patient etherised upon a table” through floor-to-ceiling windows. With the excellent soundproofing, and the lack of balconies, the view of the city is like a particularly detailed wall hanging, allowing residents to imagine they live in The Smoke’s inner burgs without having to deal with the compromises such conditions may entail.
At the top of the building sit the three wind turbines, 9m each in diameter, which make Strata look slightly like a long-forgotten Philishave, and inspired the “Razor” sobriquet. The developer, Brookfield, is justifiably proud of the engineering ingenuity involved: the first turbines in the world to be integrated within the building envelope, they sit within a steel frame atop the tower, on a dampener to ensure minimal noise pollution for residents. The tower’s concave back is designed to funnel air upwards, utilising the Venturi effect to create a vortex that will power the unidirectional turbines.
But will it work? Nobody knows. At best, the turbines could generate between 15kw and 19kw each, contributing to around 8% of Strata’s energy requirements. Project director Justin Black described it as “one big experiment”, the success of which won’t be known until two years after completion.
Consider that the turbines cost £1.35m (included within the total project budget of £113.5m)*: it seems a lot of money for what could be minimal reward. Perhaps this is the price we pay for these nascent dabblings in sustainability.
* The following corrections have been made to this piece:
– The original stated that 20% of 410 apartments were designated as affordable
– The original claimed that Strata was in SE17
– The original stated that the turbine cost was in addition to the £113.5m overall cost