Paddington is competing for a space on the London skyline with the tallest and only tower being allowed in Westminster council’s borough plan. Like the Gherkin and the Shard before it, the Cucumber is the latest skyscraper to have a nickname based on its shape.
One Merchant Square, to give the tower its proper name, is the showpiece of a cluster of four new buildings bringing 599 new homes and corporate offices — the final phase of regeneration at the west London waterfront complex.
The development will create an improved canal-side area, with a sculptural bridge across the water leading to a landscaped garden square, performance space and innovative “water maze”.
It is 12 years since regeneration kicked off at Paddington Basin. What was a closed-off industrial zone is now a convivial “urban quarter” of homes, shops and offices. Some say it lacks the charm and vitality of more established bordering neighbourhoods in Bayswater, Maida Vale and Little Venice.
But this new district has plenty of devotees because it is a well-priced location close to the West End and Hyde Park and with great transport links.
Paddington’s new Crossrail station, opening in 2017, is eagerly awaited despite the already popular Heathrow Express, because the new east-west route will provide quick journeys to Canary Wharf, meaning finance-sector executives will be able to live in west London and enjoy a quick and painless commute to Docklands.
Set amid high-quality public realm space, Merchant Square’s contemporary-design blocks are being built on land previously earmarked for a new medical campus, part of nearby St Mary’s Hospital, which was abandoned after spiralling costs. The tower will incorporate a deluxe hotel on the lower floors and be crowned by a glamorous sky bar, with 360-degree views.
One of the scheme’s design goals is to reinvent the classic London garden square, with softer architecture and green space. “We don’t want it to look like a part of corporate America,” says Richard Banks, director of developer European Land, with a reference, perhaps, to Canary Wharf.
At the moment, the new eateries and bars at the basin are used mainly by in-the-know residents and office workers. Marks & Spencer, Orange and Visa are among the 40 companies who have relocated there, joining small support businesses who operate from barges moored on the canal.
When complete in four years’ time, more than 30,000 people will live and work there. Buoyed by Crossrail, this new business hub should underpin property values for people buying now.
Apartments are available to buy off-plan ahead of completion in 2014. Lower-rise buildings alongside the tower reach 21 floors and include shared-ownership flats.
Interiors are stylish and thoughtfully designed, with space efficient open-plan layouts (for example, concealed storage areas rather than a conventional entrance hallway) and a high-quality specification that includes oak herringbone flooring, air-conditioning and underfloor heating, heated bathroom walls, dressing areas and winter-garden balconies.
Floor-to-ceiling windows are pre-wired for motorised blinds, while “backbone” cabling includes Lutron lighting, audio-visual and security features.
Prices start at £632,500 for one-bedroom apartments and £965,000 for two-bedroom apartments (999-year leases). Penthouses with huge “sunset” terraces will be released later.
Underground parking spaces cost £50,000 and there will be a 24-hour concierge, gym, cinema screening room and business rooms for hire. Call 020 7993 7393.
Tower apartments have inset balconies, designed to maintain the elegant architectural lines.
The tower lies towards the rear of the site where it borders busy Harrow Road and Westway flyover. Banks says the building will mark the entry point into central London and he is keen to position the entire development as a West End rather than a west London address.
Yet Paddington is on the periphery of central London; symbolically, on the cusp of the congestion charge zone, though within comfortable walking distance of Marylebone and Marble Arch.
Certainly once-undesirable Paddington has turned the corner in terms of residential status. Bustling Praed Street, the main commercial drag, is improving, while seedy hotels near the train station are disappearing.
Many travellers passing through the station are unaware of the hidden canal basin. But new towpaths and showpiece footbridges across the canal have improved access, though the pedestrian environment is challenging.
Re-sales at the 468-home West End Quay, the rejuvenated basin’s earliest residential element completed in 2004, sell for about £900 per sq ft, lower than much of prime central London, according to estate agent Hamptons International. Apartments cost from about £460,000.