A 26-Story Mixed-Use Tower Offers Student Housing in London
London, United Kingdom 11 March 2019
Aspire Point, the mixed-use tower by MJP Architects, contains 445 rooms for Queen Mary University of London students. The scheme for Alumno Developments is sited on Stratford High Street, near the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. At its lower levels, there are two floors of artists’ studios and a café.
Ensuite student rooms are arranged in flats with shared kitchen/dining rooms. There are also studios, “micro-clusters” and some flats with shared shower rooms. Common rooms are located throughout, with communal laundry rooms adjacent to encourage further student interaction. The artists’ studios are provided in a range of sizes with high ceilings and basic finishes.
The usual expectation of towers is that they will appear as slim as possible. Over about 50 stories, this can happen automatically by virtue of extreme height but, due to minimum viable floor plate sizes, shorter towers require other elements in their composition to achieve this aspiration.
Aspire Point has a triangular plan. This creates a distinctive landmark on the island site and, by virtue of its acute corners, the shape generates a slim profile. It avoids the problem of rectangular towers, which look broader when viewed obliquely, due to the hypotenuse being greater than the width of the sides. The shape also reduces overlooking of the hotels on each side and is responsive to the angled grid of the housing behind.
While the external form is triangular, the internal planning of the rooms is orthogonal. This has been acknowledged externally by showing it to be an assembly of rectangular elements separated by recesses. This helps the proportions and the recesses accentuate the tower’s verticality, like fluting on a classical column.
The towers are unusual in the way they are seen. They are, of course, visible from a much longer distance than lower buildings and, when viewed close up, the viewing angle to the upper stories is unusually steep. The composition of the fenestration, therefore, transforms from a finer “grain” at the lower floors to much larger scaled modules at the top. When viewed from close distance, the scale of the lower floors is similar to some shorter neighboring buildings and “foreshortening,” caused by the perspective effect, visually compresses the upper floors. From a longer distance, the larger-scale modules of the upper stories increase the building’s legibility.
Off-site construction techniques, more commonly associated with office buildings, were employed to achieve fast, high-quality construction. In particular, the external wall was terra-cotta-clad unitized curtain walling, made in Lithuania and simply craned in. The terracotta has a lustrous “engobe” finish which, rather like an engineering brick, is dark in color but light-reflective and responsive to different lighting conditions.
For more on this story, go to The Architects’ Journal.