Does London’s clutch of new housing on the South Bank really ‘suit anyone’?
As a journalist living in London and in my twenties, flying the nest any time soon looks unlikely. I did once, for a couple of years, and lived in a cupboard in a former brothel where clients who hadn’t got the memo hammered at the door through the night. Whispers could be heard through the walls; it was always freezing cold; there was no shower; and I loved it.
Now I’m back in the nest, with all my fellow hatchlings (also in their twenties). Mother bakes bread and no-one’s flapping their wings particularly hard. But there’s always that slightly niggling thought that, one day, we’ll have to shape up and ship out.
Painfully aware of this inevitability, I attended the press unveiling of the Southbank Marketing Suite. It’s a car showroom-like space promoting apartments in Squire & Partners’ One York Square, tallest of the eight buildings in the Shell Centre development. The project is a collaboration between Qatari Diar, Canary Wharf Group, Squire & Partners, interior designers of the actual flats Johnson Naylor and interior designers of the marketing suite Goddard Littlefair. I think that’s it … the PR swarm was humming.
Orange juice in hand, I was escorted around the suite and given a glimpse into the grown-up life it’s supposed I should aspire to. The suite ‘experience’ is about the journey, I was told, and from the first few tentative steps to signing on the dotted line, the marketing team/clairvoyants anticipate ‘the touchpoints of the future client’, which include polychromatic rock salt in the kitchen.
The first stop on the journey was a room filled with models, plans and CGIs showing the exterior of One York Square. I thought I recognised some kindred spirits in the CGI’d young professionals: kicking back in the lobby, discussing weekend plans, and just generally being the future client. That could be me, I thought. It conjured up a vision of drinking artisan gin on my Juliette balcony with one of these CGI Romeos.
The reverie was interrupted when the architect from Squire & Partners took the floor. He kept referring to the tower by its site name, ‘4A’. Each time a pantomime PR chorus chanted back: ‘One York Square!’
In the prototype of the studio apartment, the journey continued. This time it was from the entrance to the kitchen, which was a short journey, though the space in the studio apartments is described as ‘very generous’. Glancing around the space provided more material for my vision. In my future-client avatar, I will have back-up supplies of Aesop hand cream. I will rub my feet at the end of a hard day with pumice stones artfully arranged by the bath. I will read nothing, but will flick through glossy coffee table books on interior design and Kate Moss. I will whip up a white asparagus tart, seasoned with aforementioned rock salt.
I didn’t warm to the cold and cumbersome marble worktops, the clinical white cupboards and furniture and the dark timber floors. Yet I was assured that the design is ‘unimposing’, ‘subtle’ and ‘suits anyone’.
Anyone? I asked one of the PRs. Well not quite anyone: ‘It’s about this small word “taste”.’
I left the marketing suite with a clearer idea of the self I must become, and a ‘brochure’ the size of a glossy coffee table book for further study.
Though it’s very clear what kind of taste you need to develop to become the future client, it doesn’t come cheap. At £540,000 for a studio apartment, or £14,700 per square metre, I as the future client will have to be earning 22 times the median London income. So unless it works out with the CGI Romeo, I think it’s back to the nest, or the brothel, for me.