Aspire Point, a 26 storey tower in East London, was the winner of a Civic Trust Award earlier this month. The 445 room, MJP Architects designed building was completed last year. Now in their 61st year, the Civic Trust Awards recognise the best in the built environment, from architecture to planning, townscape to infrastructure along with the public realm in its wider context. MJP Architects have received 26 Civic Trust Awards and commendations since 1980.
“A carefully planned building where the layout has been worked hard to maximise every available space”
Aspire Point is on Stratford High Street, near Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, in an area which has been wholly redeveloped since the war with no apparent masterplan strategy. It is characterised by very tall buildings on the High Street with much smaller domestic scaled buildings in between and in the hinterland. A petrol filling station previously stood on the site. The new building has been designed by MJP Architects for Alumno Developments who specialise in student accommodation.
The tower contains student rooms, for Queen Mary University of London. The base expands to fill the site area, providing space for complementary uses with wider community benefits; two floors of artists’ studios, for Space Studios, and a café. There are separate entrances for each use.
Student Living Environment:
Ensuite student rooms are arranged in flats sharing kitchen/dining rooms. There are also studios, ‘micro-clusters’, and some flats with shared shower rooms. Artists’ studios are provided in a range of sizes with high ceilings and basic finishes.
“It was a very clever way of creating intimacy. It really removes it from feeling institutional”
The quality of student living environment was a key concern, to create a building with abundant amenities and social facilities, designed to promote social interaction and community living.
Common rooms are located throughout, on a mezzanine over the entrance, on the top floor, and extensive social study space. Their use is also encouraged by locating laundry rooms adjacent. Conviviality is further enhanced by simple moves such as glazed doors to the flats and kitchens, and external views from corridors through the kitchen doors to the windows beyond.
Loggia and Base:
The entrance loggia and the base of the tower are similar in scale to the lower buildings which sit behind. They also protect against potential adverse effects of the tower on the micro-climate, by creating an obstacle to ‘down-wash’; stopping wind which is deflected down the face of the tower before it reaches the ground.
“It’s a stunning landmark building for our students”
There are magnificent views over the Olympic Park from the upper floors but the design had to mitigate some hostile environmental conditions, including road noise and air pollution.
The usual expectation of towers is that they will appear as slim as possible. Over about fifty storeys, this can be happen automatically by virtue of extreme height but, due to minimum viable floorplate sizes, shorter towers require other elements in their composition to achieve this aspiration.
“The triangular plan works functionally and visually. It generates a slim profile and avoids the problem of rectangular towers which look broader when viewed obliquely”
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. It works neatly with the internal planning; with three seven room flats per floors sharing kitchen/ dining rooms on each corner.
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 result is a light-flooded landmark new residence for QMUL postgraduates, offering a harmony of contemporary design and relaxed enjoyable spaces”
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 storeys 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 neighbouring buildings and ‘fore-shortening’, caused by the perspective effect, visually compresses the upper floors. From a longer distance, the larger scale modules of the upper storeys increases the building’s legibility.
We exploited off-site construction techniques, more commonly associated with office buildings, to achieve fast, high quality construction. In particular the external wall was terracotta clad unitised curtain walling, made by Staticus in Lithuania and simply craned in.
The terracotta has a lustrous ‘engobe’ finish which, rather like an engineering brick, is dark in colour but light reflective and responsive to different lighting conditions.
Start on site; July 2016
Gross internal floor area 16,720sqm
Form of contract or procurement route; D+B
Architect; MJP Architects
Client; Alumno Developments
Structural engineer; Structa
M&E consultant; Cundalls
QS, PM, PD; RPS
Main contractor; HG Construction