It may have a futuristic-sounding name, and somewhat resembles the helmet of a Transformer, but Strata resides in the unlikely district of Elephant and Castle in the borough of Southwark, near The Coronet Theatre and the London College of Communication. Its bold design has inevitably brought forth a host of nicknames; The Electric Razor and The Lipstick seem to be the most kind out of a wide selection. Yet Strata has been marked as a world’s first, being the first tower of its kind to have its own wind turbines situated within the tower itself and not shunted off to the side somewhere, out of view. Indeed, Strata actively celebrates its eco-credentials, proudly showcasing its three turbines at the very top of the tower. Some love the idea of living in such a cutting-edge project; others have condemned it as an eyesore. Having been completed in 2010 and home to over 1,000 residents at full occupation, we can truly put this mini-revolution in skyscrapers to the test.
Strata – Photo courtesy of BFLS
Strata was conceived by the London-based firm BFLS (formerly Hamiltons), who have designed for a wide variety of clients including British Land, Land Securities and Imperial College, London. The brief for the architect was heavily weighted around sustainability and energy efficiency, meaning that the design had to incorporate both aesthetics and practicalities. The sleek slope to the front of the tower serves to improve the aerodynamics of the building, scooping the air up towards the turbines and increasing efficiency. In a similar fashion, the housing of the turbines not only serves to make an aesthetic feature out of them, but also increases their efficiency and energy production as well as reducing wind noise and vibration. This fusion of technology and practicality with the sharp edges and raw metal and glazing finishes to the structure harnesses the architectural school of futurism. This can especially be seen in the windows of the tower, running vertically full length down the tower, but with each storey slightly offset from its adjoining partners to create a kind of blocky zigzag effect that creates a feeling of motion and unease within the structure.
Turbines – courtesy of BFLS
First, and most obviously, Strata’s main feature is its sustainability, with its three nine-metre wind turbines residing at the very top of tower expected to produce 50MWh of electricity – enough to power the common areas of the tower, equating to approximately 8% of the building. Other features include its rainwater harvesting system, bespoke cladding that has a low air permeability leakage rate and the use of a combined heat and power system, meaning that Strata’s energy cost per flat is thought to be up to 40% less than the British housing average.
Photo courtesy of TheConstructionIndex
Strata, as a mixed use tower, has a sky lobby and a total of 8,000ft² commercial units on its premises, but primarily it functions as a residential tower. It has nine floors of affordable ‘Esprit’ apartments set aside, and a further nine flats in the adjacent ‘Pavilion’, seen on the right of the tower in the photo to the left, which have been sold by Family Mosaic Housing Association for shared ownership. The rest of the tower consists of 40 studio flats, 149 one-bedroom flats, 101 two-bedroom flats and 20 three-bedroom flats, along with a £2.5 million penthouse on the very top of the tower. These residents have access to the luxury features of the tower, including concierge, dedicated car parking in the basement level, 437 bicycle storage points and even the tower’s own intranet site, ‘inhabit’. From this, residents can order services such as laundry, ironing, cleaning and handymen, as well as receive news and travel updates for the local area, check promotions for local businesses and receive building announcements.
Strata has had an extremely mixed reception to say the least. Being the first tower of its kind in Elephant and Castle has produced strong reactions, particularly as Strata is currently the tallest residential tower in Britain. In November 2010 the prestigious Concrete Society Award, which shortlisted The Hepworth in Wakefield and the Chips Building in Manchester, praised its ‘innovative column structure’ and said that Strata was ‘striking architecturally, a considerable feat of construction’. However, in the August of 2010, Strata won the Carbuncle Cup for Britain’s ugliest new building and was described as ‘quite simply the worst tall building ever constructed in London’ for ‘services to urban impropriety and breakfast-extracting ugliness’. Despite this, there are plans for two more towers to be constructed on sites adjacent to Strata, and Strata itself has been hailed as a sign of the coming regeneration of Elephant and Castle, with all but four of its flats pre-sold before completion.