You know there is something special about a new residential development when it includes a bespoke bike shed designed by top eco-architect Sarah Wigglesworth.
This steel-clad structure is one of several eye-catching buildings that make up Bermondsey Square, a groovy new address in a part of London once known for dockers, dole queues and pearly kings and queens.
Bermondsey Square is much more than an apartment scheme. It is an exciting mix of buildings that includes a boutique hotel and members’ club, a 50-seat arthouse cinema, loft offices, art gallery and deli.
All buildings are arranged around a semi-enclosed public square that is a permanent new space for the famous Bermondsey antiques market.
Owner occupiers rather than buy-to-let investors were the target audience right from the start, says Giles Sequeira, project manager for developer Igloo, a regeneration specialist. The design of the 76 flats reflects this. They are bigger than normal (some one-bedroom apartments are more than 700 sq ft), while the interiors are way above average in quality, with designer radiators, sliding walls and oak floors.
'Shard of Glass, the 80-storey skyscraper being built alongside London Bridge station, will transform the area, say agents'
“People are choosing to live here because they can relate to all the different components of the scheme,” says Mia Kitaruth, of estate agent Stirling Ackroyd. “It’s not just a block of flats or a gated development; it’s a place to come home to, which sounds a bit cheesy but that’s what residents are saying. Since opening last month there’s been a real buzz about the place. On a sunny day the square is alive with people sitting on benches or at outside tables. It has a Continental quality to it.”
There has also been a spurt in buying activity - 10 reservations over the past fortnight, she adds. Most are “Urban Safarian” singles and couples who search out places of novelty and authenticity, according to the developer’s market researchers.
Also, City workers are buying pied-à-terre flats, and there are a few wealthy overseas students whose parents have stumped up the money. Prices range from £305,000 to £690,000. Some top-floor apartments have enormous roof terraces with 360-degree views. Call 020 7940 3888.
The main trio of buildings - designed by Munkenbeck and Marshall - are clad in aluminium, wood and brick, a diverting contemporary foil to the surroundings, a mixed bag of Victorian and Georgian architecture and Sixties housing estates.
In keeping with this old-and-new theme, archaeological remains from medieval Bermondsey Abbey are encased in a glass cube at the site. The spirit of the development is to establish a genuine community hub rather than a place for here-today-gone-tomorrow fashionistas.
'You have to admire the developer's commitment - normally they're in it for the money'
Part of the residents’ service charge goes towards a “community chest” to finance local arts and educational initiatives, while residents and commercial occupiers have a stake in a management forum. “You have to admire the developer’s commitment; normally they’re in it just for the money,” says Rob Wray, a local film-maker and managing director of Shortwave, which is running the arthouse cinema and café.
Residents get concessionary rates if they book in friends or relatives to the hotel, operated by Bespoke, the company behind Home House in Marylebone, which counts Madonna as a member. The square itself is an architectural statement, with designer “street furniture”. It even has a boules pitch as well as the funky Wigglesworth-designed bike shed and will be a venue for other markets, from food to fashion, plus a performance and exhibition space.
Bermondsey’s residential rise has gathered momentum in recent years and the area is attracting buyers from trendy parts of west and north London who have spotted its good value and locational advantage - within walking distance of the City and a short hop on the Jubilee line to Canary Wharf and the West End.
© Mark Hadden
Yet the area has not achieved its full potential and is definitely one to watch. Shard of Glass, the 80-storey skyscraper being built alongside London Bridge station, will fundamentally change the area, say local estate agents.
When complete in 2012, this “vertical village” will be the tallest building in Europe, with a luxury hotel, shops, offices and a small number of apartments at the summit which are certain to set a new price record for the area.
A new three million sq ft office district on the banks of the Thames by City Hall has already brought corporate affluence to the area. Accountants Ernst & Young and international law firm Norton Rose have relocated there and a Hilton hotel has opened. Like Canary Wharf bankers who buy warehouse flats in historic Wapping, these office workers are settling in Bermondsey.
Elsewhere, regeneration is eliminating eyesores. At the 50-acre Bermondsey Spa, where Southwark Council is spearheading a £500 million project, ugly tenements are being bulldozed and 2,000 new homes built around an upgraded Victorian park. At St James Square, one of the new developments, flats are priced from £205,000 to £490,000. Call INplace on 020 7231 1200.
Close to here, too, you can find splendid loft apartments in conversions such as the art deco Alaska building and the Jam Factory. Call estate agent Stirling Ackroyd on 020 7940 3888.
© Mark York
Down under to down river
Elizabeth Roberts, 36, settled in Clerkenwell when she arrived in London from her native Australia a year ago.
Now working for a City recruitment company, she had no intention of moving south of the river - until she discovered villagey Bermondsey Street after visiting nearby Borough Market.
“I took to it straight away. It’s got style and character, is lively, close to the river and very accessible. I walk to work in about 25 minutes.”
She bought a two-bedroom apartment at Bermondsey Square. “Previously I lived in older properties and was hesitant about buying new-build but I really liked the architecture of Bermondsey Square.
It’s elegant. I always follow my instincts and I’m sure I’ve made the right decision. It’s such a friendly, arty place and has a real sense of community.” Remaining two-bedroom apartments are priced from £410,000 to £565,000.