Not so long ago, the City Road in London might have seemed an unlikely site for high-end flats, but that is what it has become. The wide, but never very attractive, street is turning into a canyon bordered by huge blocks with sprouting balconies and pointy prows, each desperately attempting to brand itself enough to compensate for the grim road. Canaletto is among the more striking additions. Named after the Venetian painter of riverscapes because the building is close to a canal, it has been designed by UN Studio, the Dutch architects. Its defining characteristic is that it is wrapped in a folded metal ribbon that looks like something between a 1930s car radiator and a stack of super-sized paper clips. This feature serves to separate levels and functions, and weaves a kind of unifying thread around the tower in an effort to stop it from looking too much like an office block.
The ribbon and the streamlined, curved corners give the flats and the shared spaces a particular aesthetic: a kind of aerodynamic styling that carries through to windows, panelling and even the veneered bookshelves in the residents’ club room. It also has a practical function. As it wraps itself around the façade, it creates a more elegant underside to the balconies, so that the outdoor space feels more like an integral part of the dwelling than a stuck-on projection. It is apparently engineered to deflect the airflow, which might otherwise cause downdraughts at street level. I visited on a windy day and the draught was blowing droplets from the water features all over the place, so I am not sure how well that works.
The landscaping around the building is careful and delicate, the layers and levels beginning to wrap around the base and kicking off that wraparound ribbon. The lobby is global hotelish. Rich veneers, built-in furniture and a very open feel make it seem like an almost public room. That idea is taken through to the swimming pool, gym and cinema, each given a striking — and strikingly different — ceiling treatment that defines the space.
The penthouse offers a rather different architecture. Interiors designed by London-based Waldo Works are lighter, sparser and more minimal than the enveloping architecture of the flats below. The black metal frames of the built-in furniture is quite delicate and very elegant indeed. At this level, the wraparound curves have more or less disappeared and it feels very much like what it is: a glass box perched on top of the building, something existing in another kind of space. So much of the area is terracing that the interior feels almost like an afterthought. The result is that the flat feels remarkably open to the sky and the city.
Architecturally, Canaletto is one of London’s more provocative residential towers, attempting to do something a little more adventurous with its form and succeeding in creating an aesthetic language that affects and defines the interiors. Yet, as is the case with so many contemporary towers, it is difficult to see whether there is much specific to its site here — what makes this a building that belongs in London rather than Hong Kong or Singapore, apart from the steely grey ribbon that perhaps reflects the city’s grey skies. Nevertheless, it is a striking and surprising solution and one that enriches the City Road’s rapidly changing profile.
Photographs: Ruy Teixeira and Waldo Works
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