Another nominee for the Stirling Prize 2015. After the new School of Architecture in Greenwich I went to South Bank (one of my favourite London’s districts) to have a look at the NEO Bankside complex which is located right beside the Tate Modern art gallery on the southern edge of the Thames.
This is certainly not an easy area to deal with because of the presence of so many landmarks and outstanding buildings therefore I’m sure every architect would fell under pressure, in the need of designing something more, something that stands out among the sourrounding ones! I mean we are talking about the Tate Gallery…the National Theatre…the Globe Theatre…the Shard; these are big names!
But luckily the four apartment blocks are designed by the firm Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners and it’s pretty clear they are Rogers’ buildings if you know some of his previous works.
Let’s start from the towers’ facades that remind of the Parisian Centre Pompidou. Firstly because of their appearance, with an external bracing system that forms a steel geometrical grid across the windows, but I think even on the goal Rogers wanted to achieve which consists in exposing the infrastructure of the building but with a softer result than the French example.
This system, that looks like a skeleton, envelopes the building itself from the exterior and it has a proper function, which is not merely aesthetic, in fact it supports the weight of the structure so that it is possible to avoid the presence of load-bearing walls inside the building in order to maximize the interior space without interruptions which means more flexibility inside the apartments and the possibility of having higher ceilings that can provide a major amount of daylight.
So I wonder if that’s the reason why the RIBA Commission chose to nominate it as the possible “building that has made the greatest contribution to British architecture in the past year”, because I can’t find a satisfying reason why this project is on the Stirling Prize list and actually I think it leads towards what this video says about London architecture.
That’s what Rowan Moore wrote on “The Guardian” about it:
“Perhaps Neo Bankside is on the list out of deference to the achievements of its founder, Richard Rogers. Perhaps it was put there by a wish to variegate what might otherwise have been thought an excess of scrupulous, crafted, quietish works in brick and timber. This approach, whose leaders are sometimes called “whisperers” on account of their soft, earnest tones of voice, used to be marginalised by the Stirling prize, but it has done well in recent years. Indeed, through some inscrutable evolution of taste it has become the style of the moment. It doesn’t just get on shortlists, but it is also wielded by the jobbing throwers-up of speculative apartment blocks.”
So in this complex it is easy to notice, other than the expressive, engineered and external structure, even the use of different bright colours to distinguish the elements of the building as another feature related to Rogers’ works and….the huge amount of glass of course.
Obviously I couldn’t get inside but it would have been great to have a look at the apartments. However from the floor plan drawings they seem to be quite small and with odd cornered spaces (because of the particular hexagonal plan shape) which doesn’t seem to be fully usable or practical for square-based forniture.Plus, in my personal opinion, I don’t know if I would like to have a massive piece of steel placed across my window…especially if I pay at least more than 6 million pounds!
What really struk me, then, is the presence of a winter garden in each apartment that acts as an enclosed terrace but that even has heating saving purposes as it is designed to act as a solar greenhouse. I used the same strategy in one of my university projects so I was very pleased to know that this system is used even in these buildings.
Remarkable is the masterplan and the landscape design of the communal space at the ground floor where Gillespies studio has created very detailed and dynamic garden spaces around the apartment blocks which are accessible by everyone during the day. I really appreciated the attention they paid for details and materials.