Surely if anyone can bring residential glamour to fast-changing Stratford and cement its status as a desirable address, it is developer Harry Handelsman, the man behind the glorious and epic restoration of St Pancras Chambers.
Handelsman has a knack of gambling successfully on areas other developers will not touch and he has cherry-picked this emerging part of east London for his next high-profile project, an architectural showpiece rising above the Olympic stadium, the athletes’ village and Westfield shopping mall.
When presidents and politicians, royals, VIPs and the sporting elite set off from St Pancras on seven-minute Eurostar trains to next month’s Games opening ceremony, the first thing they will see when they emerge from Stratford International station is a sleek black box marketing suite.
This gallery-like space is itself a design statement — restrained and elegant amid the truly awesome urban landscape. It leads to Manhattan Loft Gardens, a shimmering, cantilevered 42-storey tower with 248 flats and open-air sky gardens carved from the building.
'Stratford is one of the most astonishing transformations that London and probably Europe has ever seen'
Handelsman says modestly that the tower is a “thing of beauty” and insists the homes will be the finest high-rise homes in London — double-height, volumetric spaces with classy contemporary interior design.
Relaxed and cosmopolitan, Handelsman cultivated his taste for property, art and design while working alongside loft-living hipsters in New York in the Eighties. He washed up in London during the early Nineties recession and set up Manhattan Loft Corporation, buying a disused printing factory in Clerkenwell (then a lost part of London) at a knock-down price and converting it into large loft shells.
His approach then — as now — was to promote the building even before starting work on it, selling the spaces as a lifestyle or cult possession rather than merely a place to live.
After Clerkenwell he moved on to Bankside, long before the arrival of Tate Modern, and his nose for a place on the up has taken him to Stratford, where £9 billion of Olympics-related investment is transforming the area.
“Stratford is all about the next 10 years, not the last 10 years. The area is maturing but the aspiration, promise and excitement of the pre-Games period will continue,” he explains.
Can he convince waiverers to move east? “If you believe in Stratford there is good reason to buy,” he replies. With its superb transport links, “legacy” amenities and distinctive inner-city character, Stratford has more going for it than nearby Canary Wharf, believes Handelsman, who points to Westfield’s upmarket shoppers as an example of the area’s changing demographic.
Others agree, including Deyan Sudjic, director of the Design Museum. He says Stratford “is one of the most astonishing transformations that London and probably Europe has ever seen.”
Stratford City, of which Manhattan Loft Gardens and Westfield are part, is set to become a new commercial centre for east London, connected by green infrastructure and boosted by Europe’s fastest-growing cluster of digital and technology companies.
The new tower, designed by renowned global architects SOM, appears to be head and shoulders above Stratford’s recent output by volume housebuilders and will rival the best of the 2012 Olympics structures such as Zaha Hadid’s aquatics centre.
The building’s simple form conceals complex geometric engineering that allows a façade of transparent and solid (glass and terracotta) panels. Sky gardens are a modern take on traditional London garden squares, while the triple-height, hotel-like reception lobby links with a piazza to provide an impressive sense of arrival. The building will also incorporate a rooftop restaurant and bar plus a spa.
Interlocking of single-storey and double-height apartments has yielded 13 property types — from studios to penthouses. Handelsman’s mission to avoid design compromises means all apartments have the same top-notch specification, a look that might be described as “Milan-modern”. The design aesthetic runs right through the building. I’d be delighted to live there myself,” he says.
Rather than paying extra for interior design upgrades, buyers can choose to forgo certain finishes and get a price refund instead. Prices start at £350,000, and homes are available to buy now, off-plan, with completion due in 2016. Visit manhattanloftgardens.co.uk or call 020 8534 3318 for more details.
Buyers and renters will have to make their own judgments about Stratford’s future. The regeneration agencies involved hope to attract a ready-made community of locals and outsiders — affluent middle-class homebuyers as well as low-budget first-timers; singles, couples and families, all living side by side in this new “Eden”.
Many more homes are on the way. Once the Games are over, East Village will be converted into 2,818 homes (half of which will be available for private rent), while a further 8,000 homes are earmarked for five new neighbourhoods around the 500-acre Olympic Park over the next decade. It will take a number of years for all these homes to be absorbed into the market.
If built-up Stratford centre is not to your liking and Canary Wharf is too expensive or sterile, Victoria Park is an established bordering neighbourhood, good for families and well placed to enjoy the legacy benefits.
Lea Valley may suit, too. Factories, mills and warehouses are being redeveloped and the waterfront opened up for recreational use. Though a few industrial eyesores remain, this is a remarkably green swathe of the capital, with parks and unexpected conservation areas.
Matchmakers Wharf, overlooking the River Lea, on the fringe of the Olympic Park, includes artists’ studios and has been designed with “care and flair”, according to a government planning inspector. Apartments are priced from £235,000. Call estate agent Cityzen on 020 7790 1818.