Going Up: Would You Live In A High Rise?
In one sense high rises are very egalitarian. The resident in the 16th floor of a council tower block gets the same view as someone in an equivalent floor of the Shard – but JG Ballard’s novel ‘High Rise’ imagined a block divided by its Have and Have-Not residents until a full class war broke out. It’s finally making it to the big screen under flavour-du-jour director Ben Wheatley.
Would you live in one, though?
First you have to overcome any nervousness of lifts and ‘Towering Inferno’-style problems. More insidious is the lack of easy access to outside space. I’ve lived on the sixth floor for the past ten years and in that time London’s climate has changed violently. It’s now so windy that although I have terraces I get little use out of them. Those lovely photographs you see of couples sipping cocktails outside aren’t so great in real life when you’re trying to eat a salad that keeps blowing away.
I like my view, although in the time I’ve been living here it has been halved by tower blocks. But I can still see St Paul’s Cathedral from my bedroom, and that’s a touchstone for me. In Paris apartment prices rise and fall according to whether they keep or lose their view of the Eiffel Tower (there’s a very funny film about one such flat), but we still have three sightline corridors for St Paul’s, although how much longer they’ll last under our Mayor’s scams is anyone’s guess.
I’ve seen inside both the Candy brothers’ Hyde Park monstrosities and the Shard apartments, and they’re shonky beyond belief. The Candy photos were secretly snapped by a friend who attended a party in one – all gold taps, black marble (with gold flecks) and neon strip lighting. All they needed to complete the image of a 1990s coke-baron’s brothel were a couple of pole-dancers. Meanwhile the Shard has gone for a ‘units carved out of Stilton’ look that I associate with Pizza Express. It was a clever move putting the bonsai tree in the shot to make everything look bigger, though, but why the developers have to pretend that London is in the middle of the Mediterranean is anyone’s guess (that is the sea outside, isn’t it?)
Stylish high-rise living IS possible; Google ‘Walden 7’ (below) and read about the astonishing high-rise built in Spain in the 1970s. This cubist vision of utopian living is, unusually, a middle-class high rise that has summertime cinema in its courtyards and multiple-use communal areas, a miniature city of light and space with stunning interiors. It’s probably only possible to build something like this with blue skies above – we Londoners have the Barbican, which merely inspires feelings of confusion and mild annoyance, mainly because it’s finished in brutalist nobbled concrete – but even that looks passable on a sunny day.
Walden 7 was clad in terra cotta tiles that drawn out the area’s natural colours. London is serviced best by red brick, Portland stone, coloured tiles (the new green tiles at East Croydon station are terrific) and slates. Why? Because it has always been a city that looks its best in winter, plus half of the Shard is hidden in cloud then, to everyone’s benefit.