Project DescriptionFROM RIBA:
NEO Bankside is seductive architecture. On a pocket of land between some single-storey alms houses and the multiplying monoliths that are Tate Modern, the developers have squeezed in a group of exquisite towers and some of the best new landscaping in London.
The site has history: there was to have been a single tower that was struggling to fulfil the dual role of social and private housing. The new architects designed for the social housing to be on—site but with the agreement of Southwark it has been redistributed around the borough and almost all of it has so far been delivered. A piece of land was given by the developers for public use to be managed by Tate as part of the planning agreement. The small footprint private towers sit in a public garden – till 8pm at least – with people invited in to use the shops and cafes or just sit and admire the luscious planting. Overall the scheme contributes to a debate about urban design and building form and is a well-mannered example of a structurally expressive architecture.
Project-directed by partner Graham Stirk, an architect with a watch-maker’s precision, this is a tour de force: in its achievement of density, in its use of economical pre-fabricated elements, in its intricate weaving of public and private space. The form and positioning of the blocks with their counter-intuitively chamfered corners mean there are very few pinch points and little overlooking, allowing 360 degree views out. Coupled with the exo-skeletal structure and the nearly detached lift-towers, the floor plates have been freed up making the scheme more market-responsive.
The articulation of the buildings, the expressed diagrid structure (argued for by the engineers, it was to have been hidden), the quality of the glazing systems and the external lifts make the scale feel almost cute. This is also due to the single-glazed large triangular winter gardens that dematerialise the ends of the blocks and the triple-height structural module which reduces their perceived height. The buildings retain a human scale at ground level due to their rich detailing and landscaped entrance gardens. This is high-quality housing you would be unlikely to see elsewhere in the world in the inner city – and it is ungated. Overall the scheme has a scale and a richness that is appropriate to the practice and to this important part of London.