Building Study: Blackfriars Circus, London, by Maccreanor Lavington

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It does everything a scheme centred on a 27-storey residential tower can do to engage with London’s architectural heritage

Of the host of social, economic, cultural and urban criticisms levelled against luxury high-rise towers in London, one of the most pressing is that tall buildings are not indigenous to London’s townscape composition, that they are somehow alien to the core character and identity of the city. Skyscrapers are central to New York’s metropolitan image in the way that canals are synonymous with Venice and gauche casinos are interchangeable with Las Vegas. But, despite high-profile and frequently controversial additions to London’s skyline in recent years, tall buildings – particularly residential ones – often seem to be out of kilter with the deep-rooted architectural themes and traditions woven into London’s historic identity. 

But what if a tall building actually sought to engage in the history, tradition and materials of London’s architecture and public realm? What if a tall building was less concerned with its status as a vertical object and was more interested in immersing itself into the horizontal sweep and rhythm of the capital’s streetscape? Essentially, what if the design of a tall building in the capital, for the very first time, attempted to be an organic product of London’s urban and architectural traditions rather than a superimposed threat to them?

This is the ambitious task set by Maccreanor Lavington’s latest project. Blackfriars Circus is a residential-led mixed-use scheme for housebuilder Barratt Homes on St George’s Circus in Southwark, south London. Although its keynote feature may indeed be a 27-storey residential tower (called Conquest tower), it also encompasses four other mid-rise buildings extending up to 10 storeys. The 1.02ha development provides 336 private and affordable flats as well as 3,000m² of workspaces for small to medium-sized business enterprises. 

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