VNEB Architecture

Local residents and commentators seem united in their disgust for the awful architecture of the apartments being built along Nine Elms Lane and around the Battersea Power Station. Unlike the high rise buildings around Vauxhall Cross and along the Albert Embankment, there seems to have been no attempt to make the Nine Elms buildings resemble anything other than boring boxes, crammed in as densely as possible. It is a catastrophic failure to cherish a large, central riverside location.

This was the first that we saw of the developer's vision for the dense residential blocks that would soon lie east of Nine Elms Lane.

The apartments were to be marketed mainly in the Far East and mainly as investments - never to be lived in. It has been reported (as of 2020) that around half of central London upmarket properties are sold to overseas buyers, and half of all new sales of such properties remain empty.  Vauxhall's cylindrical St George Wharf Tower was found to have only 14 of its 214 apartments on the electoral register. 

So who cares what the new developments look like?

As they are near the new US Embassy, maybe they were designed to be sold to Americans who might have fond memories of New York tenements, such as these ... ?

Alternatively, maybe the developers had fond memories of Malvina Reynolds' song?  Click on this rectangle to hear it.

Or maybe the developers took their inspiration from UK post-war 'new brutalist' planners and architects who had won prizes for high density public housing - in which they themselves would of course never choose to live? One prominent example - 'an icon of its time' - was Park Hill in Sheffield:

Another source of inspiration - quite nearby in London - may have been the Aylesbury Estate.

Nearer to Nine Elms, here was recently completed Chelsea Bridge Wharf, just beyond Battersea Power Station and the railway line to Victoria (on the left).

Whatever the inspiration, similar dark and dense housing was accordingly soon to be found springing up all along Nine Elms Lane. Here is the Riverlight development under construction, followed by Embassy Gardens shortly after completion in 2016.

It appears that the planners, developers and architects were happy to have created an environment quite unlike anything in which they themselves would choose to live.

The developers' vision (first image above) turned out, sadly, to be all too accurate. Here are some photos taken in late 2016 from the railway between Clapham Junction and Vauxhall.

By November 2016 there were occasional signs of human life in the otherwise bleak Embassy Gardens environment, although as yet no obvious signs of gardens.

The 'linear garden' had featured prominently in Embassy Gardens promotion, although care was taken to avoid showing that it was only a few metres wide:

Here is the real thing with the US Embassy in the distance. Central Park it is not!

2018 opened on two downbeat notes.

First, President Trump refused to visit Nine Elms to open the new US Embassy. He claimed that this was because he disapproved of the decision to sell the lease on the embassy in Grosvenor Square and to build the new mission in an "off location".

Second, the high end property market was reported to be having problems. The Guardian, reporting property data experts Molior London, said that

'More than half of the 1,900 ultra-luxury apartments built in London last year failed to sell, raising fears that the capital will be left with dozens of "posh ghost towers". The swanky flats, complete with private gyms, swimming pools and cinema rooms, are lying empty ... The total number of unsold luxury new-build homes, which are rarely advertised at less than £1m, has now hit a record high of 3,000 units, as the rich overseas investors they were built for turn their backs on the UK due to Brexit uncertainty and the hike in stamp duty on second homes. ...

Henry Pryor, a property buying agent, says the London luxury new-build market is "already overstuffed but we're just building more of them. We're going to have loads of empty and part-built posh ghost towers," he says. "They were built as gambling chips for rich overseas investors, but they are no longer interested in the London casino and have moved on. ...

Steven Herd, founder and chief executive of MyLondonHome, an agency that specialises in new-build homes for investment, says his firm is struggling under the weight of overseas investors who bought in the last couple of years and are desperate to sell. He says hundreds of Asian investors who had bought London developments off-plan in 2015-16 in the hope of making a quick profit by selling apartments on closer to completion have instead lost hundreds of thousands of pounds. “They intended to flip [buy and sell on] the apartments and make big profits, but it hasn’t worked out like that, and now they are trying to get out at the smallest possible loss.” ... Herd says the Nine Elms development, near the new US embassy in south London, was one of the best redevelopment schemes in Europe but consisted of “the wrong properties that Londoners don’t need”.

Two years on, in early 2020, the view from the railway hadn't improved, nor was there much sign of anything other than thousands of apartments served by a scattering of restaurants, a supermarket and very little else.  Click here to download a 30 second video.

Martin Stanley