The Faerie Queene
Even by late Eighties’ standards, the hard copy brochure of Tower Walk is impressive in looks and substance. Under the watercolour decorated cover, between patterned lining paper a millennium history of St Katharine Docks (somewhere along the way the saint lost her apostrophe and final S) is followed by interior photographs and axonometric floor plans. One of the later sections of the history entitled “A New Lease of Life” succinctly explains,
“After the dock closed in 1968, it was sold to the Greater London Council who put out a tender for its redevelopment. Taylor Woodrow’s successful scheme comprised a World Trade Centre, a hotel and offices and residential units around a busy yacht haven. The scheme was formally adopted on St Katharine’s Day 1969 and work began on the Tower Hotel. Two decades ago, when the first bricks of this first building was laid, St Katharine’s was a drab, derelict and forbidding site. It took great vision to see the potential of what stands here today.”
Tower Walk is a gently curved terrace of five almost identical planned terraced houses (two storey over basement under setback) flanked by matching irregular shaped end houses rising above integral garages. It is an island (or at very least a peninsula) site location encircled by tourism: to the north floats Gloriana, The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Barge; to the east is The Dickens Inn; to the south, the River Thames.
The brochure grandly continues: “Tower Walk, a new crescent of seven luxury residences, has been built to commemorate the departure of the Royal Foundation of St Katharine to Regent’s Park in 1826. In the style of Nash and overlooking the haven with its many yachts, motor cruisers and historic Thames sailing barges, it offers unique, very spacious and classical living space in this fascinating corner of the City.”
John Nash on steroids maybe. Architects Watkins Gray International’s design is a funky hunky chunky postmodern take on neoclassicism and a strangely successful one at that. Tower Walk is bursting with brio from its bulky columns to more Juliet balconies than Verona. It has an incredible depth of form and massing. A freestanding centrally placed porthole pierced pediment on each of the principal fronts presides over the monumental cornice. The stucco is a throwback to domestic Regency; those columns are a nod to warehouse heritage. This was a stylistic departure not to be repeated by Watkins Gray International. Their World Trade Centre Building and Commodity Quay, both on St Katharine Dock, are more typical of the practice’s output: commercial modernism.