The Empire SQUARE Strikes Back

What can we say about Berkeley Homes’ Empire Sq (formerly Tabard Sq in the development brochure). We’ve heard that Empire Square is seen as some sort of yardstick by which to measure the success of any further regeneration of The Elephant and Castle based on it’s mix of residential, shopping and services and open spaces. If this is the case then shoot us now.

Before: The Globe on Long Lane and Sterry St warehouses circa 1999 from our collection!

During….when it was still called Tabard Sq…

Empire Square gets our vote as the worst new development in North Southwark by a long shot.

Basically what you get at The Empire Square is a massive series of housing blocks that surround a totally bland and useless ‘public’ square. This square features some of the most dullest and uninviting features yet to be dreamt up by architects and landscape planners. A series of grassy enclosures with some trees straight out of an architects drawing seem to add up to the kind of landscape more akin to a model railway than a dynamic urban place of living. Entrances to the Square are guarded by large and overly ornate artistic metal gates which are closed at night to keep any night people out or to maintain what is described as ‘a secure environment‘. If, as they say, Architecture is Frozen Music, Empire Sq is Oven Chips.

And after: Empire Square!

The surrounding units are made up of an estate agent (of course!),  Soho Gym (of course again!) , Bright Horizons private nursery for kids and a Tesco’s (of course).  The nursery is part of a large US-based childcare business chain and is very expensive. The large retail unit next to Tesco’s is still empty, finding no takers since the Sq was completed a couple of years ago.

Prominent in the Square is a large supposedly funky building called The Pavillion that has failed to find any use as either offices, a restaurant or as a business rental. It was designed to provide a restaurant but clients looking to rent it found it entirely unsuitable. Described thus ‘dramatically sculptural, free standing building located off centre, whose curved rendered block walls, sweeping roof and low corner tower are reminiscent of Le Corbusier’s Ronchamp chapel, will accommodate a bar and restaurant‘ – CABE, ‘Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment’, Case Study of Empire Sq.

Not that CABE are in anyway critical of the Empire Sq development despite their name. Described in Private Eye as “one of New Labour’s pernicious legacies’. Set up in 1999 to ‘act as more of a champion for architecture and good quality in design’” it runs more as a “increasingly expensive, empire building Quango and little more than a mutual-admiration society for architects and developers“. (Private Eye No. 1269, 20th Aug 2010). You can read their love-in for the new Peckham Library here. Something along these lines – “The building “punches above its weight” according to the client, while the architects refer to it “doing more than it was supposed to do“. Not something the librarians, council staff and users particularly feel about the building it being so cramped and gloomy on the inside but colourful on the outside.

Any road up, you can see The Pavillion above. We found a picture of the Ronchamp chapel for you too. Last we heard The Pav was on the market for a million quid. Wanna buy a pavillion?

All this is supposed to add up to what Berkeley Homes promised would become ‘the hub of the community‘ but really it’s only another gated community set around a privatised space that is made up mainly of homes for highflyers. Even the architects drawing for the social space, the heart of the Square, fails to make it very social – looks like two people having an argument and a stressed office worker in a rush.
The development also contains the Marlin Apartments, consisting of over 200 luxury serviced apartments for corporate short term rentals.

By the way, since you weren’t asking, a 2 bedroom flat up for sale in Empire Square West (Feb 2010) – asking price £645,000. Another 2 bedroom flat (presumably higher up!) is up for £ 1,400,000!