The eastern fringe of the City, from Aldgate round to Shoreditch, is an area in transition. Alive with web and creative companies at remarkable ease with their pinstriped neighbours in the money-making Square Mile, the area is seeing a development boom that is only just getting into its stride.
'This is the new Shoreditch - prosperous, creative and commercial'
This is a boom not going unnoticed by the nearby banking community, which is fuelling the location’s regeneration with an influx of cash - and for good reason: the area takes in fashionable Spitalfields and fast-gentrifying Whitechapel and is now seen as a more polished place than it was a decade ago during the dotcom expansion, when the first wave of creatives arrived.
“It used to be nothing to write home about, tatty, with backstreet workshops and importers working from shipping containers, but it is smartening itself up and is now a much better place to live,” says Nick Davies of estate agent Stirling Ackroyd. Hundreds of new homes are for sale, including fancy high-rise apartments and attractively priced lofts in converted commercial buildings.
The banking crisis has accelerated change in and around Aldgate, where back offices and admin centres were closed - which gave developers an opportunity to snap them up and turn them into homes, bringing street life to a formerly anonymous district that was dead after office hours.
© Barry Phillips
Until 2008, seven-acre Goodman’s Fields on Alie Street was a gated business park occupied by Royal Bank of Scotland. Berkeley Group, the new owner, is opening up the site as a new “urban quarter” - a mix of homes, shops, restaurants and a public park and plaza. Part of the site includes a handsome Edwardian building on Leman Street which is being split into 59 tasteful flats.
The building’s architectural heritage remains intact, with high ceilings, arched windows and an imposing central staircase in the hotel-like entrance reception. Interiors are by Target Living. Prices from £520,000. Call 020 3217 1000.
Moments away is Altitude, a 27-storey tower, with the first phase of 235 flats launched off-plan. Completion is due in 2014. Prices from £432,000. Call Barratt on 0844 811 4334.
By contrast, Aldgate Lofts is a niche scheme of nine apartments tucked away on Plumbers Row. The developer has enhanced a plain-looking commercial building in an unpromising street by grafting on factory-like features - industrial-looking windows, oak plank floors and exposed brick walls - to serve up larger-than-average open-plan spaces with a design edge. Prices are tempting too, starting at £485,000 for a two-bedroom 856 sq ft flat. Call Hamptons on 020 7758 8431.
'By central London standards, the E1, EC1 and EC2 postcodes are low, with values ranging between £500 and £800 a square foot'
“We’re selling from the inside out rather than the outside in, to people who want a cool home in a cheaper location,” says Jason Tracey, director of developer Nano Fund. The area appeals to young graphic designers, fashion industry people and walk-to-work City employees who want to throw off the shackles of a suit.
Whitechapel is the cheapest district in travel Zone 1. To entice buyers into an area surrounded by some rough council estates, developers have to offer value for money. By central London standards, the E1, EC1 and EC2 postcodes are low, with values ranging between £500 and £800 a square foot. When Docklands was born in the Eighties, the money men leapfrogged from the City to Canary Wharf, leaving this old East End district to fend for itself.
Artists and ethnic businesses kept a flame burning and now several high-quality office developments are in the pipeline on Whitechapel’s western boundary with Aldgate, which planners want to reinvent as a commercial precinct called Eastside.
At the Whitechapel end of Commercial Road, a busy thoroughfare that leads to Limehouse, a Bengali Muslim community dominates with rag trade premises and restaurants. There are signs of change, with flats above shops being brought back into use, while Brick Lane’s curry restaurants are steadily giving way to designer boutiques and galleries.
Some 7,000 artists live and work in the wider East End, according to Whitechapel Art Gallery. Alongside them is a burgeoning cluster of digital and internet companies. Old Street roundabout in Shoreditch is the hub of this “tech city”, which the Government is promoting with a £400 million investment fund to help start-ups.
Google is the latest arrival to this part of town, having moved its European base to Shoreditch and opened a “launchpad” space for technology entrepreneurs. Amazon, Twitter, Facebook, ebay and Cisko Systems also have a presence and the aim is to consolidate links with the technology and innovation centre at the Olympic Park.
Box Park, at Bishopsgate Goodsyard, is described as the world’s first “pop-up mall” - a line of 60 recycled shipping containers, now retail units, forming a new “independent” street market. Eventually, the site will be redeveloped into 2,000 new homes, shops and offices, but that is at least five years down the line. Like revitalised Spitalfields market, with its swish corporate offices and retail parade, the site is likely to become a place where bankers co-exist with bohemian designers.
This is the new Shoreditch - prosperous, creative and commercial. Creative and technical companies are feeding off each other, says Stirling Ackroyd’s Nick Davies. “It’s a true hotspot, a very energetic place where people want to live and work. There’s strong demand for retail space from fresh young brands who then expand into Covent Garden and Soho.”
Cool factory lofts are a Shoreditch trademark, but there can be quite big price differences between addresses within a two-minute walk of each other. The heartland around Hoxton Square and the so-called Shoreditch Triangle commands the biggest prices. The best lofts with much-prized outside space cost from £800,000 and rise to about £2 million.
Looming over Old Street roundabout is a new development called Bezier, which has smartened up a somewhat scruffy patch. Named after the Frenchman who pioneered the use of “smooth curves” in engineering, it is a suitably rounded piece of architecture with two circular glazed towers providing 127 high-quality flats.
The last phase of “Premier Collection” apartments and penthouses has been launched. Prices from £750,000. Extras include a private roof terrace, spa and concierge services. Call 020 7490 1603.
Avante-garde is a 25-storey residential tower near Broadgate office complex, due for completion next year. Call Hurford Salvi Carr on 020 7250 1012.
Central Square on the Shoreditch/Clerkenwell border is a smart new scheme of 170 apartments. From £350,000 for a studio. Call 0845 177 1711 or visit centralsquarelondon.com.