Strata Tower was built on the former council-owned site of ‘Castle House’, a mixed-use building leased to Southbank University with active frontages including a chinese restaurant, an acquatics store, an italian pizzeria (Castello’s) and a Snooker Hall (which later became a Latin American bar/restaurant). Castle House was built in the sixties at the same time as the neighbouring 25-storey Draper House.
The council sold Castle House in January 2005 to a shell company based in the Isle of Man for £8m. The shell company was set up by Oakmayne properties, a subsidiary of the controversial Delancey DV4 real estate fund, which is also developing the Tribeca Square, Eileen House and E&C shopping centre sites. The development has since changed hands and the freehold of the building is currently owned by the Aviva real estate investment fund.
The Strata Tower is 148-metres (486 ft) tall, it has 43-storeys comprising 408 flats and was designed by Architects BFLS (formerly Hamiltons).
The Strata was built with the help of shared-ownership Grant Funding from the GLA (25% of the flats are shared ownership). The developer argued (with the help of a viability assessment) that the scheme could not afford to provide the requisite 35% minimum affordable housing or any social rented housing, despite policy requiring that the 35% is split equally between intermediate and social rented. Instead the developer made a £1.3m payment in-lieu of the shortfall and any social rented provision.
Despite providing zero social housing, Southwark granted planning permission on the grounds that its wind turbines would “create a dramatic and highly recognisable building form that achieves one of the council’s plan objectives, which is to create landmark buildings as signifiers of the Elephant & Castle on the London skyline.” The planning officer’s report goes on to explain that “The turbines are of course not merely decorative but have a function which is directly related to the Elephant’s status as an Energy Action Area” (para. 45):
However, the GLA wrote to Southwark Council shortly after the application had been submitted, expressing concerns about the wind turbines’ noise and vibration impacts on upper level appartments. It ordered Southwark to ensure that appropriate conditions were imposed on the planning application.
Contribution to the public realm?
The GLA also expressed concerns about the design of the building and its failure to respond appropriately to its context, particularly at ground floor level.
The council ultimately granted permission without any design modifications and failed to impose effective conditions on the wind turbines. The severe noise experienced by residents on the upper floors from the vibration impacts of the turbines after they moved in, resulted in the turbines being permanently de-actived.
As part of its s106 contributions designed to contribute to the public realm around the building, Strata agreed to install £100,000 worth of public art around the base of the building. The developers came under criticism when it emerged that this had paid for just four prints displayed on windows at the base of the tower.
Shun thy neighbours
The building behind that Strata turns its back on is the Castle Day Centre, which used to be a mental health day centre until it was demolished to make way for construction of the new Crossway church. The new church is being built at the Council’s expense (not Lend Lease’s), to replace the church’s current premises on the footprint of the Heygate estate.
Instead of interfacing with surrounding buildings, Strata’s 5 storey ‘Pavilion’ building shields the tower from its neighbour, the 25-storey council-owned Draper House and acts as a barricade severing the public realm at street level.
In August 2010, Strata Tower was awarded the Carbuncle Cup a yearly award recognising “the ugliest building in the United Kingdom” .
In April 2012, the Strata appeared in a list of the world’s 21 ugliest buildings in the Daily Telegraph.
Paragraph 93 of the officer’s report for the planning consent said that there would be a subsidised affordable retail unit on the ground floor of the development, set aside for the relocation of shopping centre traders displaced by its redevelopment. The Section 106 agreement between the Council and the developer reinforces this condition agreed by the planning committee:
However, this condition of the planning consent has been breached and the retail unit is now being fitted out as an estate agent.