the 239m tall proposed Columbus Tower looking sure to get approval
by Tower Hamlets council we take a closer look at the building that
will bring some high-rise variety to the Isle of Dogs, and for a
short time possibly be the U.Ks tallest building.
The early 80s saw the decline of the docks in and around the Isle
of Dogs. By the middle of the decade they were miles of industrial
wasteland and something had to be done, the Docklands Development
Corporation was born and the initial buildings went up in the area.
One of these was the low-rise Hertsmere House, used by Barclays
as an office. Next to Canary Wharf and the DLR it was one of the
sites supposed to bring prosperity to the area.
By the early 90s the boom had fallen out of the Thatcher years and
the initial Canary Wharf plans were put on hold with the estate
half complete. When things hotted up again in the late 90s a new
plan was born with even more towers and the area finally reached
critical mass after years of being percieved as a white elephant.
With the latest phase of the estate almost finished other developers
have looked on enviously eyeing up neighbouring plots. To the east
of Canary Wharf will lie Wood Wharf, to the south Discovery Dock,
whilst the West is seeing Columbus Tower on the site of Hertsmere
House, which at 239m tall is the first real biggie not developed
by the Canary Wharf Group.
The developer SKMC has little by the way of a reputation in the
U.K, infact this is it's first ever major development. What is known
is that the company is backed by a large amount of money invested
by oil rich arabs and has benefitted hugely from the withdrawl of
funds by middle-eastern investors since Sept 11th into European
investments from former American assets.
The architect DMWR have never designed a tower before either but
have built a solid portfolio of lower-rise projects such as the
Waitrose in Surbiton and the residential development, Sutton Park
in Sutton which sets them apart from the usual suspects of architects
who seem to design the lions share of tall buildings in the capital.
It's perhaps this freshness that has lead it to be recieved as a
radically original design.
The developer SKMC wanted a mixed-use high-rise building for a prime
site at the western end of West India Quay. It should be a landmark
building with the latest up to date design in a concious contrast
to the West India Quay preservation area whilst at the same time
respecting its surroundings. A covered amenity space and proper
access approaches for pedestrians and cyclists were also required.
The Greater London Authority set four objectives for the site if
it was to get the support of the GLA. These were the facilitation
of a future Crossrail, contribute to the urban design of the area,
an environmentally sustainable building, the tallest structure possible
to help cement the Isle of Dogs as a center in London.
The initial massing
concept for the planned Columbus Tower was one that would mirror
the size and height of the likes of One Canada Square reaching the
maximum allowable heights of the CAA at 245m.
It soon became clear to the developers
that despite this being the most efficient design in terms of maximising
floorplates the tower was completely out of proportion for its location
dominating the west-end of East India Quay.
The project was then revised to reduce the bulk of the top half
of the tower and creating a u-shape that was orientated more towards
the dock to take into account the water setting. Despite providing
efficient floorplates the design had a series of draw-backs that
included the entire site being filled by the footprint of the tower
and an excessively domineering position with the other buildings
on the dock.
To deal with these problems design number three had a podium that
filled the footprint of the tower whilst the main shaft of it was
set back from this by 6 meters. This reduction though made office
floorplates too inefficient and were unsuitable for hotel use too
whilst it was still too bulky in comparison to the surrounding warehouses.
Option number four featured a double point tower over a double story
podium which again filled the footprint of the site. This doublepoint
with a possible atrium inbetween although aesthetically fitting
the dock was also uneconomical.
The architects then expanded on the idea of a double tower over
a podium by taking taking two stepped slabs instead of points and
orientating them from east to west with the cores inbetween the
towers. The east to west axis provided a fresh slant on how to successfully
place the tower in relation to the end of the dock however the thiness
of the slabs to allow an atrium meant that it was not a design that
optimised floorplates. The stepped towers did however fit in more
effectively with the scale of the surrounding buildings.
The stepped towers evolved further as attempts were made to increase
the floorplates further whilst retaining the previous advantages
of the design. An L-shaped design was considered but this time the
stepping led to a more effective fit with the townscape whilst providing
more internal space than a U. The narrow-side of the L was facing
the neighbouring conservation area but the groundspace of the tower
was still completely dominated by the podium and unsuitable.
Option 8 had led the designers to realise that a tall facing of
the tower should not be adjacent the northern side of the site and
so the tower had to be set exclusively east to west. The width of
the slab could be varied to allow a mixture of uses whilst providing
an economical amount of office or hotel space. The shape of the
tower as box still failed to fit in properly with surrounding buildings
whilst the low-rise portion of the tower remained inadequately large
in relation to its surroundings.
Option nine took things to the next level by completely removing
the podium and moving the tower to the southside of the site, creating
a public plaza on the northern portion. The design also started
to be trimmed to create a more aerodynamic appearance finishing
in narrower ends and growing in the center where a core stood. It
solved many of the problems of the other options but a podium meant
that there was still little scale in relation to other dockside
Design number ten turned out to be perfect ten. A podium was reintroduced
but in the form of a covered plaza which in turn allowed the width
of the tower to be increased more. To make up for the increased
width the building was tapered to point creating a wing-like design.
Aesthetics and Architecture.
Faced with a working massing model for the site, DMWR then had to
take into account the actual aesthetic qualities of the building.
They plumped for a look that can only be described as 'Thames Gateway'.
The similarities between the 11 storey crown of the tower and the
Thames Flood Barrier are entirely intentional however it has been
trimmed to fit in more with the east west flow of the site.
Looking up at the tower from the ground is supposed resemble a bow
of a ship referencing the nautical history of the area to create
a highly sculptural building that is a complete contrast to the
surrounding functional Canary Wharf towers. It's clean simplicity
and glass walls are to contrast purposefully with the podium whilst
allowing a stacking of uses on top of each other.
The base of the tower
is designed to allow the whole project to fit in at street level.
A highly complex base, it will predominantly be a frameless structure
of glazing with industrial touches of steel and cabling to remind
the public of the nearby dock cranes.
The great majority of the skyscraper will be clad in reflective
glass tinted slightly green.
Materials used in the public realm of the tower are designed to
reflect the industrial heritage of the site and focus on more traditional
building materials, namely granite, steel and timber all set in
industrial portions to reflect the size of the development.
Building a tower is never easy, the higher you get the windier it
gets and the more stresses are put on the superstructure that supports
a slender tall building like Columbus Tower the most effective way
to provide it with the support it needs it by building a concrete
core surrounded by a simple metal frame which can provide floor
by floor support. A central core is particularly useful when a building
is arranged around its center as most traditional skyscrapers are.
This building has a core 9 meters wide and 36 meters long split
into five separate sections to provide additional strength.
A special substructure has been designed to allow the proposed Crossrail
to travel under the tower without excessive weight placed on the
tunnel. In tipping a wink to this the columns of the tower which
sit directly over the eastbound tunnel are designed to articulate
what is underneath.
Having been approved work is expected to start on the site almost
immediately. The mixture of office and hotel space combined with
the wealth of the investment company involved who seem determing
to build speculatively guarantees an early start whilst its height
should have hotel groups queuing up for the tallest rooms in London.
Barclays are set to vacate the site in the summer and demolition
of such a small building will not take long. By the end of the year
the core should have started to rise above the ground creating a
new and exciting addition to the Canary Wharf skyline.