The cylinder is not the first form that comes to mind when building a modern high-rise. A circular plan introduces too many problems: everything from the furniture not fitting around curved walls to the inevitable wedge-of-pie plans that distort every room. But what Herzog & de Meuron, the Swiss architects, have done at One Park Drive, their first UK residential tower, is a fascinating hybrid of round and angular, inscribing squares on to a circle to produce a complex, grainy plan and an elevation packed with interest that belies the seeming simplicity of the tube.
One Park Drive is Canary Wharf’s starchitect salvo in an attempt to establish itself as a mixed development. What was originally conceived as a modern, deregulated business district and an alternative to the constricted City of London is now being repackaged as a piece of more authentic city with accommodation for at least some of the 120,000 workers who commute there every day. The new development stretches across Wood Wharf towards the O2 arena over the river. One Park Drive, at the apex of the development, will be its signpost.
The use of the cylinder is very deliberate. It is an attempt to differentiate the building from the surrounding commercial blocks, and its language is one of domesticity rather than business. But the cylinder is a self-contained form, seemingly exclusive rather than carefully integrated. This is, I suppose, partly intentional. This is a luxury tower aimed at the top end of the market and its language suggests that difference. But in fragmenting the texture and in articulating each apartment on the facade rather than shoehorning them smoothly into a pre-determined form, something interesting emerges. The elevations are a complex jigsaw of balconies, bays and ceramic-piped surfaces. Apartments interlock spatially in such a way that each outside space is double height and each flat is encased and framed in something more solid than the usual smooth curtain walls that are the de facto language here.
The tower is divided into three distinct elements, looking a little like a camshaft. It begins with a lower tier of loft-like apartments that meets the ground in a pair of slipped disks reminiscent of the same architects’ recent Blavatnik School of Government at the University of Oxford, and accommodating stores, gyms and a more public base. Above this is a fatter and more densely packed band of apartments. On top is a more slender tube capped by the penthouses, where the dense complexity becomes a little looser as it fades into the sky.
There are comparisons here with what Herzog & de Meuron have done at their striking 56 Leonard development in New York. Although that building slots more conventionally into the Manhattan grid, it too fragments to give the individual apartments more weight in the composition. It has proved to be less complex (particularly at lower levels) than its renderings suggested.
Jacques Herzog describes One Park Drive as like a “beehive”, deliberately emphasising the granular nature of the exterior.
The architects have done everything they can to articulate and animate the form of the high-rise. The question is whether One Park Drive can help propel the edges of this fascinating and fast-changing experimental private corporate enclave into something resembling a genuinely public piece of city.
Photographs: Herzog & de Meuron
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