The building boom on the City of London's borders
The City of London was once our silent financial centre: abandoned by night, a haven of solitude at weekends. Yet in only a decade all that changed. Today the City is revitalised — the height of fashion — and many would love to live there among the new bars, bistros and retail arcades. Alas, most must be disappointed because there are nowhere near enough homes to meet the demand.
Hence the building boom on the City’s borders. Developers turned away by the finance-focused City Corporation are unlocking tracts of land and creating new “urban quarters” outside the City’s ancient walls.
Next week sees the launch of the biggest City-fringe development since the Sixties, with walk-to-work homes for financial sector employees.
Seven-acre Goodman’s Fields in E1 lies in Tower Hamlets borough but is only a 10-minute walk from Bank Tube station and even closer to Tower Hill. In the 16th century the land was a farm, supplying the City’s food. Before the banking collapse in 2008, it was a dreary business estate occupied by Royal Bank of Scotland. Berkeley, the new owner, is opening up the site and building 920 homes plus a hotel, boutique shops and restaurants, a public park, squares and lusciously landscaped courtyards.
Sleek and slender glass-clad towers integrate with low-rise buildings — a design which architect Lifschutz Davidson says, somewhat indulgently, is inspired by San Gimignano, the glorious walled hill town near Siena, Italy.
Certainly the scheme brings a fresh dimension and scale to City-fringe living. Residents will have 24-hour concierge services and access to a luxury health club with gym, pool and private cinema. Flats have projecting glass-walled winter gardens and characteristically tasteful interiors by architect Johnson Naylor, while concealed storage makes for space-efficiency.
Silk House, the first phase, comprises 182 apartments and is due for completion in September 2015. Prices start at £435,000. Call 020 3217 1000.
All change at Aldgate
When Docklands was born in the Eighties, the money men leapfrogged from the City to Canary Wharf, which left historic Aldgate bereft. A few small businesses and back offices kept a flame burning and two decades later the area is re-emerging from the shadows, buoyed by the retail renaissance in the Square Mile.
New developments in the area include Altitude, in Alie Street, a 27-storey tower with 235 flats for sale off-plan. Completion is due in 2014. Prices from £432,000. Call Barratt on 0844 8114334.
One Commercial Street, a 21-storey tower with 137 apartments, is being built above Aldgate East station. Flats at the top of the tower have been launched, priced from £465,000. Others will be released for sale later. Completion is due in spring 2014. Call DTZ on 020 3296 4043.
Temple of boom
The City’s western boundary, which extends past Smithfield to Temple (EC4), is another development hotspot. A few ugly office blocks from the Sixties and Seventies mean there are windswept corners where the environment is less inviting. Most of the best new homes are tucked away down narrow lanes and passageways, or are butting up against heritage buildings. Nearing completion are 14 apartments at Red Lion Court, close to the Royal Courts of Justice. Prices from £775,000. Call Galliard 020 7620 1500.
Fetter Lane runs from Fleet Street to Holborn Circus. This pocket has acquired a fresh identity since the newspaper industry moved out in the Eighties. The world’s biggest courts complex, with 29 courtrooms and other judicial accommodation, has been built at 110 Fetter Lane — evidence of the area’s resurgent legal sector. The nearby Inner and Middle Temples, with their barristers’ chambers, are London’s oldest live-work estates. Here, too, is majestic Bush House, former BBC World Service headquarters.
Marconi House occupies a prominent wedge of land at Aldwych, WC2, right alongside the Australian and Indian high commissions. The site has historical significance, being the place where pioneering wireless company Marconi and the BBC broadcast the world’s first television service.
The building last saw life as offices for Citibank and has been redeveloped by Galliard Homes and Frogmore into homes and a hotel. A “premier collection” of apartments has been launched. Prices from £1.5 million. Call 020 7620 1500.
Square Mile pads
An unswerving City Corporation policy promotes commercial development above residential, to ensure the Square Mile retains its number one spot as a financial centre. However, local planners envisage about 2,000 more new homes in the longer term. These extra homes are likely to come via redevelopments and conversions outside the core banking area, especially around Barbican, an established residential address and world-famous cultural venue.
The Heron, in Silk Street, adds to this mix. This new 36-storey black glass and stainless steel skyscraper with 284 apartments will incorporate a 608-seat concert hall and rehearsal rooms for Guildhall School of Music and Drama, one of Europe’s leading conservatoires, when complete in summer next year. It will also have a roof garden and private club for residents. Prices from £525,000. Call 0845 533 8000.
Roman House is another Barbican-area (and era) development — an office- to-residential conversion alongside the City’s old Roman wall. The listed modernist building is being split into 90 flats. Prices from £499,995. Call 020 7920 9920.
Scarcity makes City homes undeniably sound investments
“Demographic shifts are driving the housing market,” says Raul Cimesa, partner at Knight Frank. Previously, local housing choice often boiled down to a modest crashpad or a love-it-or-loathe it Barbican apartment.
“Today there are more options, with developments like Goodman’s Fields providing a complete package. More buyers are looking for a wow-factor main home rather than a weekday pied-à-terre,” adds Cimesa.
Families are thin on the ground but more are moving into Barbican, which was listed in 2001 and is adored by its fiercely proud residents. The estate covers 40 acres and was designed as a small walled town, echoing the old Roman city. Almost half the City’s residential population lives there.
Kate Hills, 43, set up the BarbicanMums.com website and estimates about 250 families live at and around Barbican. “It’s a great place for families,” she says. “The estate has a very low crime rate and there’s no antisocial behaviour. Everyone looks out for each other, and the gardens are private and locked, and safe for kids.”
Ninety per cent of all journeys in the City are made on foot, hence the importance of a high-quality, pedestrian-friendly public realm.
Remarkably, the area has 150 parks and gardens, while a sense of neighbourhood is returning with the wider mix of stores and independent shops serving locals’ needs, as in the area’s Georgian heyday. For the first time since the Great Fire of London, residents can buy bread in Bread Street.