Brick is back on London's skyline: the launch of Keybridge, Britain's tallest brick residential tower in Vauxhall

Brick is back. Steel and glass take second place as new designer bricks make their impact on London's skyline - and the capital's tallest brick apartment block is launched.
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The humble brick is making a dramatic comeback. World-renowned architects Herzog & de Meuron rejected the cult combination of glass and steel when designing a spectacular contemporary extension to Tate Modern at Bankside, which is due to open next year. Instead, it chose brick, the same material used to clad the former power station when it was built in the Fifties.

And August sees the launch of the UK’s tallest residential brick tower, part of 441-home Keybridge in Vauxhall, one of a growing number of solid and robust schemes returning to the original architectural material of choice for London builders.

The suburbs, the true home of the mass house builder, never abandoned brick, and cities have always been built from the earth below them — a cheap and sensible route.

London is no exception. The fabric of our capital is brick — fired blocks derived from soft clay substrata that created elegant Georgian garden squares, sturdy Victorian terraces, dockside warehouses, mansion blocks and hugely contrasting landmarks such as regal St James’s Palace and Brutalist power stations such as Bankside and Battersea.


Fashionable material
In recent decades, builders turned their backs on brick for materials of modernity — steel and glass. But brick, with its intrinsic qualities of texture and subtle colour variation, as well as high energy efficiency, are again finding favour with architects who are using it in inventive and sometimes radical ways.

Keybridge, being built on the site of a former BT telephone exchange, comprises four buildings including the 37-storey tower plus an acre of open space, a public square and gardens. It is the second joint venture by Mount Anvil and FABRICA by A2Dominion

Taking cues from an impressive brick-arched railway viaduct cutting through the area, architects Allies and Morrison set out to differentiate the development from the cluster of shiny skyscrapers rising at nearby Nine Elms.

The main tower is clad in orange bricks manufactured in Belgium, while the lower-rise, red stock brick buildings are a reference to local Edwardian mansion blocks and a listed church.

Interiors have matching industrial-style design — loft-like, with exposed brick, metal detailing and raw materials such as end-cut grain timber flooring. 

Some of the apartments have winter gardens with stunning views, and there will be a gym, swimming pool, 24-hour concierge and underground parking plus shops, offices and a primary school. “It’s a distinct alternative to Nine Elms, more in keeping with  the urban grain of the district and  adding something to the existing  neighbourhood,” says Jon Hall, sales and marketing director of developer Mount Anvil. Prices start at £487,500. Call 020 7205 4152.

A rising star
Vauxhall is certainly on the up. The railway line that dissects the area used to act as a boundary wall, blocking the riverfront, but derelict railway arches are returning to life as shops and restaurants, with  green pedestrian routes to the Thames. Damien Hirst’s Newport Street Gallery is set to open in October, while Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens — a venue dating back  four centuries — has put in place a  summer programme of outdoor  cinema screenings, and a temporary ice rink will open for the festive period. Embassy Works, next to redesigned Vauxhall Park, was a laundry factory with clients that included The Savoy and The Ritz. 

The complex of brick warehouses is now being converted into 39 apartments with exposed beams and bare walls. Prices from £535,000. Call Jackson-Stops & Staff on 020 7664 6649.
From £760,000: two-bedroom flats at London Square Putney have cascading, interlocking buildings clad in warm, textured handmade bricks. Call 0333 666 2838

Mortar life than steel
The Tate Modern extension uses  the same “palette” of bricks as the  original iconic building, but in a new, dramatic, angular form, with slits and a perforated brick screen that filters light to the building. This, say designers, will allow the structure to gently glow at night.

Developer London Square has adopted traditional garden square architecture using brick to make a statement. The company’s latest project, London Square Putney, has cascading, interlocking buildings clad in warm, textured handmade bricks — 113 dual-aspect flats, including penthouses with huge terraces. 

Three brick motifs are used — two shades of grey and a dark red hue — to highlight the different elevations  and the commercial and residential elements.

Interiors feature bamboo veneer doors, underfloor heating and winter gardens with access from both bedroom and lounge. There are communal gardens, underground parking and 24-hour concierge. Two-bedroom apartments cost from £760,000. Call 0333 666 2838.

Moments from Victoria Street’s new glass slab office buildings and government ministries in SW1 lies a quiet conservation area of handsome red-brick Edwardian mansion blocks, the equal of anything in Kensington or Chelsea and a reminder that this area was once a top address.

Eight Artillery Row consists of 24 apartments that seek to rebuild  the residential cachet of that era. Designed by top architectural practice Make, the elegant corner building is clad in warm, handmade bricks and decorative Art Nouveau-style bronze panels, with a curved bull-nosed vertical edge that incorporates a recessed rounded clock forming a 2.2-metre diameter window for one of the apartments. At the top of the block is a double-height “pill-box” penthouse with a cantilevered dining area, or belvedere, that projects into the sky and links to the wraparound terrace.

The result is value-added engineering and architecture using bespoke materials for a polished exterior and interior. Priced at £1,835,000. Call JLL on 020 7993 7395.
From £1 million: a new scheme of 20 luxury flats at Aldwych Chambers in WC2. Call 020 7420 3033

Aldwych Chambers, between Strand and the Thames, sits in a cul-de-sac with an arched entrance to the Inner Temple enclave of barristers’ chambers and gardens. 

Developers of this new scheme of 20 luxury flats have had to comply with conservation rules for its new period-style façade, so it dovetails  perfectly with its ancient neighbours. Prices from £1 million. Call CBRE on 020 7420 3033.

Tap into townhouses
At River Street Mews in Islington, on the historic site of London’s first organised supply of clean water, six new townhouses will be built. 

Tucked away on a gated back plot bordering the former headquarters of the Metropolitan Water Board, the architecture, by area specialists Tasou Associates, is a contemporary take on a Georgian terrace and slots smoothly into the prized conservation area. 

The houses have been designed with light and volume — understated,  contemporary, open-plan interiors with outside space. Call estate agents Thomson Currie on 020 7226 0000.

Colour Blocks
One Tower Bridge, which offers 345 riverside flats, draws on the splendid brick architecture of Shad Thames, the fashionable warehouse neighbourhood next door. Prices from £1,475,000. Call Berkeley Homes on 020 7871 0011.

Canary Wharf is synonymous with soaring glass-and-steel architecture, but its history is a low-rise area of brick wharves and warehouses. London City Island, a new 1,706-home community, celebrates a brick renaissance with bold, brightly coloured, glaze-brick apartment blocks punctuated by landscaped gardens and an outside swimming pool. Prices from £300,000. Call 020 7118 0400.

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