This page is a slow work in progress that can only offer a snapshot of all the recent development in The Borough area over the last ten years. For us, even though we don’t have the time or shoe leather to include every site of changes and developments, it provides a fascinating snapshot of what has been going on recently in North Southwark. At the end of the 1960’s the area was full of industry and the local wharves at The Thames and small local communities and community facilities like pubs and shops. One example would be the little community around the shops at Flat Iron Square (where The Island Cafe is today). Throughout the 1970’s, the whole stretch of Borough High St and local streets were subject to a massive office building programme and investment / speculation cycle. A lot of the local shops and amenities were forced out at this time. You only have to walk down Boro High St now to see the legacy of that time – soulless 70’s office buildings. We’ve already written about this in the ‘Jam Tomorrow!‘ history of North Southwark from 1900 – 1987:
‘The Borough, beneath London Bridge, saw the local community destroyed in a five year period as the local shops and homes along Borough High Street were systematically turned into office developments (5). In September 1975, 30 office buildings had been recently completed or were underway. Fairfield Property Group, via a dozen subsidairy companies all with the same four directors, built 12 or so office developments alone in The Borough in the early 70’s’.
The old and the new – Borough High St: Shops and houses turn into 1970’s office blocks.
The corner of Borough High St and Great Suffolk St with the new apartments in the process of being built August 2000 and completed by 2001. Opposite at December 2012 is the same junction with Trinity St. The old and somewhat amusing Mayfair Carpets is now (post-arty pop up gallery South Tower Social RIP) ready for regeneration into One Trinity St.
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.
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.
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.
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!
OTHER LOCAL DEVELOPMENTS
Large site development site junction of Webber St and Southwark Bridge Rd. Here you can see a pretty plan of what we call ‘their dream, our nightmare’. The plan features zero cars and very few people but lots of pastel shades and classy glass construction. The other development is called ‘The Wireworks’ and is on Great Suffolk St, next door to the first pictured site. It’s another development by our friends Oakmayne Properties. The penthouses on the top cost half a million. Not bad for a grungy street in backwaters Elephant. The famous sign in the middle has obviously stopped working.
122-144 SOUTHWARK BRIDGE ROAD, 124-132 WEBBER STREET, SE1
This is the big new fancy development on Webber Street and Southwark Bridge Rd from the last year (2009). It features some creative studios beneath plus an estate agent, new large restaurant (El Vergel) and…a Costcutter. 164 flats. Two bedroom flat sold in November 2009 for £472,500.
GORDON RAMSAY OPENING UNION ST CAFE in UNION ST next year:
Pitched, as they say, ‘at the upper end of the middle market’, so not the likes of you and me, the two floor restaurant will be at Harling House on the corner of Union St and Great Suffolk St, SE1.