This weekend was London Open House, which is when you get a chance to sniff around some of the city’s buildings, and see for yourself what makes them special. I have gone past Adelaide Wharf on Queensbridge Road numerous times, sometimes in the company of two architects who never fail to comment on it – its bold use of colour, the balconies, the wood, the ‘lack of dual aspect flats’, the many prizes its won and its general stylishness compared to most residential developments currently going up in London.
So they were pretty damn excited when we managed to get onto a tour of it along with about thirty other architects, photographers and even an environmental health officer (‘we take the housing associations to court’ she told me). It’s part privately owned and partly rented through housing associations.
It’s built next to the canal and used to be a wharf, hence the name – the larch exterior cladding is also a reference to packing crates. The roof, which you can’t see, is a brown roof, scattered with rubble to refer to the East End’s many bomb sites, and then with wildflower seeds to create a haven for birds. The letterboxes are fabulous. The entrance, which is coated with bright red vitreous enamel, not only looks grand and open compared to your average housing block, but is also anti-graffiti. And the reception to the private housing flats, which we had a tour of, is painted in a wood pattern by an artist whose name I have in a notebook somewhere (Richard Woods) and will add soon. The balconies have been placed to one side of the windows to give more of a view, and are cantilevered out and and supported by rods that extend down from the roof – this is what gets my architects particularly excited when we drive past.
Having it all explained by the person who designed it makes you realise how much thought goes into a building by the designers, as opposed to how little some ‘just make it pretty’ developers care.
Like anything creative, there’s also a point at which you can go too far, and throw in every idea and theory you have, and the whole thing ends up a bloated mess – but when done well it’s brilliant. It also come down to luck – in this case the developers were under pressure to get it finished quickly so the money people had less opportunity to come in with their calculators and start cutting costs. And it’s been incredibly successful – apparently the apartments for keyworkers, which are sold on a part own-part rental basis, were sold before they were finished, with people literally camping outside to snap them up.