Triangular skyscrapers nicknamed “Toblerone Towers” are the latest architectural confection to be unwrapped at Elephant and Castle, the fast-changing Zone 1 district where up to 10,000 new homes are being built.
Approved by Southwark planners despite having no on-site affordable housing, the project comes as several key developments are combining to transform this once-blighted area of former council blocks and souless architecture into an open, energetic new neighbourhood — an uncompromisingly “urban” place.
Though rough in parts and car-clogged, it has a youthful vibe, is cosmopolitan and nonconformist.
With house prices cheaper than other Zone 1 areas it is an opportunity for sound investment and will be a popular move for young buyers.
Standing next to the area’s Bakerloo line station, the three-sided towers replace a low-rise office block and will have 421 flats, restaurants, shops and a 350-seat auditorium plus a rooftop park, open to the public.
More than a dozen tall buildings are under way, with regeneration rippling out from the core area around the ugly shopping mall, which is soon to be bulldozed and replaced with a new town centre that will include a University of the Arts campus, 1,000 rental flats, a cinema, music venue and new Northern line Tube station.
And what may at first seem an intimidating skyscraper zone lacking engagement at street level is winning architectural plaudits.
Trafalgar Place, a recently completed scheme of 235 flats, has been shortlisted for the prestigious RIBA Stirling Prize, to be awarded next October. It is the sole residential building to have made the six-strong shortlist.
Judges praised the thoughtful site plan that weaves the development into the local area, and also its central garden, part of a community-driven initiative called Edible Elephant that encourages locals to grow their own fruit and veg.
Orchards in town
Elephant and Castle is also getting a new market square and a two-acre park with orchards, ornamental trees and communal allotments.
A £20 million leisure centre has opened, while a new high street with 50 shops, bars and eateries will cut through the area. Railway arches are being refurbished for workspaces and cultural uses.
The physical change is attracting the Facebook generation of buyers and renters who are looking at the area with fresh eyes, according to Andrew Palmer of property firm Cushman & Wakefield.
He points to swish new schemes such as Two Fifty One, a 41-storey tower with high-speed fibre-optics plus a “home-working lounge” with wifi, a café-style space at the base of the building alongside a private cinema, gym and other amenities.
Due for completion next year, residents will arrive at a fancy foyer with 24-hour concierge and use a pre-programmed swipe card that directs the lift to their floor. Prices from £655,000. Call 020 3296 2222.
Near the action
Many apartments have glazed winter gardens and fabulous views that prove how close Elephant and Castle is to the central London action — barely a mile from the Palace of Westminster and the Bank of England.
With roads from seven bridges converging at Elephant and Castle, the area was notorious for traffic chaos even during the era of the horse and carriage.
By 1900 it was one of the busiest tram intersections in London and known as the “Piccadilly of the South”, with packed music halls and a residential population three times that of today.
Blitzed during the Second World War, what remained was replaced by ugly tower blocks, a large enclosed shopping mall — the first in Europe — and a pedestrian-unfriendly road system. The latest revamp has swept away scary subways and introduced safe cycleways and new public spaces.
Property values have more than doubled since Metro Central, a Sixties ministry building designed by brutalist architect Ernö Goldfinger, was split into flats a decade ago.
But prices have now settled, with the best new-build flats in the £800 to £1,000 per square foot bracket, still quite a bit cheaper than other Zone 1 areas.
Family homes in the mix
About 30 per cent of the new properties are deemed “affordable”, with a mix of social rent and shared-ownership homes.
There is also a big element of private rental flats, many operated by the company that turned the 2012 Olympics Athletes’ Village in Stratford into a popular rental estate.
Delancey is bypassing estate agents to let homes direct to tenants, offering transparent pricing and three-year contracts. Call 020 3714 8083.
The bulk of new housing is for owner-occupation and includes family houses as well as flats. Southwark council’s aim is to achieve architectural variety, with high-quality buildings in a series of “character areas” with lots of greenery, rather than a grey, monolithic housing estate.
Elephant Park, a new micro neighbourhood, has medium-height apartment blocks interspersed with lavishly landscaped areas and intimate courtyards. Every home will have a secure cycle space, while green cycle paths will cut through the development to improve connectivity.
There will also be a “cycle clinic” for quick repairs. Prices from £540,000. Call Lend Lease on 020 3675 9955.
A gleaming new university campus will replace the outdated London College of Printing and bring in a crowd of funky students, helping to enliven Elephant & Castle in much the same way as Central Saint Martins has animated King’s Cross.
Already, this is showing itself in pop-ups such as The Artworks Elephant, where creatives work from old shipping containers.
But there are no signs yet of a Shoreditch-style makeover along shabby Walworth Road, where G Baldwin & Co, London’s oldest herbalist store, family-run for two centuries, stands out among the pound stores and bookies’ shops.
Elephant and Castle’s hard urban edge is softened by a few pretty pockets of period housing, and the wider Walworth district is a good hunting ground for cheaper homes of good quality.
Management consultant Bora Pasuljevic, 37, is one of the newcomers, attracted by the area’s new green architecture and its proximity to the City, where he works.
He bought a two-bedroom apartment and plans to stay in the area.
“I’m from Sweden, and eco-friendly design is in our blood,” he says. “The communal roof garden at the top of our building is amazing. Everyone who comes to visit loves it.”
Laura Conway, 36, moved to Elephant and Castle five years ago because she liked the area’s edgy individuality. She works for a theatre production company in Covent Garden and walks to work in 25 minutes.
“People who don’t know the Elephant think it is just shabby and dangerous. There are localised pockets of crime, but where in London isn’t there?” she says.
“My worry is that it may become too trendy and too expensive. If you reinvent places too thoroughly they lose all sense of being real.
“To me, a city is high-rise and low-rise, old and new, rich and poor, cars and people, markets and streets, all side by side.”