Go HomeGot something to say????
Email -

You can almost hear Le Corbusier sigh with relief from here, the death of the Modernist Movement in architecture has been greatly exagerated.

Whilst it's true that the 70s and 80s saw great housing projects fall into disrepute as Thatcherite budget cuts ruthlessly attacked the funding and ultimately quality of council estates, the current property increases, which in some parts of the country show no sign of stopping, once more show the need for cheaper and more affordable housing. Given that housing like all commodities has it's price linked to supply and demand the only way to drive down property prices and create new areas of housing which are cheap and available to all is to build again.

The existence of the Barbican has showed that well managed and funded tall residential buildings can work and that the "tower-block experience" that led to the high-rise being so reviled was down to poor quality materials and lack of money for maintenance as well as ghettoising the building with poor residents. Times have changed and as the new century starts there is increased confidence in the residential highrise. Futuristic architects David Marks and Julia Barfield have come up with what they think is the solution to the housing crisis - Skyhouse.

An artists impression taking a look up from near the base of skyhouse.
A real world view of how Skyhouse could look on the edge of the Isle Of Dogs.

Like Le Corbusier's L'Unite d'Habitation and his grand plan for Paris Marks and Barfield intially envisaged Skyhouses with 50 floors of residential space laid out on the Greenwich peninsula surrounded by acres of parkland. In a new take on the Garden City movement they included designs for four levels of double floored gardens inside the tower, a novel idea at the time but one which is finding increasing popularity with other green architects now. Despite solving much of the housing problem of the area the project simply wasn't commercial enough and the redevelopment was passed on to more lucrative bidders.

When they returned they brought with them a brand new Skyhouse. With ten residential floors lopped off each wing it made a much more realistic proposition than the previous design which would have towered over pretty much everything in London and was perhaps too radical in height. Weighing in at just over 620ft/189m this design was much more realistic and thanks to it's reduced height would not look out of place in Canary Wharf which is exactly where they are looking now.

However since the failure of their plan to bring a dozen Skyhouses to Greenwich there has been the problem of a lack of a suitable site to build on. Unlike other architects who work to commission Marks and Barfield freelance coming up with an idea and then approaching many different companies to try and win backing, both financial and logistical. It was this approach that eventually saw the construction of the London Eye and it is one they are trying again with Skyhouse.

A close up of a sky garden and visiting residents at sunset.
Movie (2.83.mb).
A short visual tour of skyhouse. 45 secs. Requires the div-x codec to view.

The redesign of Skyhouse though has seen a media relaunch, and like all good ideas the media seem to be very interested in it. As the housing shortage reaches it's peak (or perhaps nadir would be more appropiate), the relaunch has attracted increased interest from potential backers. A number of sites have been identified all over the U.K, although outside London it remains to be seen whether it is feasible to construct such a large building and respect the surroundings. The Isle of Dogs which already has Canary Wharf there, is the main focus though for development and contains over a dozen potentially suitable sites.
With the architects confident that they will have a site, the only thing holding them back from construction is the lack of a developer however it's likely that once a site has been secured a number of developers will come forward with much interest.

Skyhouse Scale Elevation
The only catch is that Marks and Barfield imagine Skyhouse to be a place for ordinary people to live and work, with flats starting at a very reasonable for London £75,000. With this insistence to have a large amount of affordable housing within, there are much lower profits than normal to be made for a developer which is part of the reason things have taken so long to get off the ground. To further complicate things Tower Hamlets council believe that such projects are not suitable as council housing and prefer to move their tenants to Newcastle(!)

Architect David Marks remains confident though that not only will the first site be secured but also funding and that by the end of 2004 the first Skyhouse will have progressed through the planning system and construction will be underway. If the first building is a success, and there is no reason to doubt it won't be, we can expect anything up to half a dozen other Skyhouses to be built in suitable sites across London over the last half of the decade.

Given the scale of the housing problem no-one is under any illusions that Skyhouse is the only solution - to solve that problem will require much more radical ideas than just building some skyscrapers in London. It will at least provide thousands of much needed homes on brownfield sites and if positioned correctly, welcome additions to the London Skyline.