We sat down with world-renowned architect Sir Terry Farrell, the mind behind the design of Tower West and the surrounding Chelsea Waterfront development.
Sir Terry tells us about his unique inspiration for Tower West and its most impressive architectural features.
Why was this particular part of Chelsea chosen for Tower West?
This is one of the few actual riverbank sites on the north bank of the Thames and it is probably the only riverbank site in Chelsea, making it a prime location for luxury homes.
Where did the inspiration for the towers’ design come from?
There was discussion of landmark towers going here from the beginning of our plans. They relate to the chimneys [of the Lots Road Power Station] in that the top of one relates to the chimney height of the bottom of the other, so there’s a game played, a choreography. I like to think of them as a dancing pair, playing a game on the skyline.
From conception to completion, has the creation of Tower West met your expectations?
Absolutely – and it has surpassed my expectations in many respects.
We overcame some significant challenges in the architectural design phase. We had a public inquiry and there was some hostility towards the tower, which was a serious concern.
However, we received a very supportive letter from English Heritage at the inquiry, which said that the tower was unlike the Shard and other towers (which they singled out for comparison). They felt Tower West was well composed and well-adjusted and was just the right design for a tower.
English Heritage liked the fact that Tower West fits seamlessly into its surroundings. They weren’t against towers – this one was a very satisfactory design in their eyes. This letter was hugely important to us and really helped our case in the public inquiry and for that, we’re grateful to English Heritage for their support at the outset of our architectural plans.
How will the whole Chelsea Waterfront development interplay with the local area?
I think it will become not only a great place in itself, but it will make the whole area around it recognisable as a neighbourhood in a way that it just isn’t at the moment. It’s going to transform this bit of Chelsea and I think the two towers will become real landmarks. It will be a symbol of a completely new neighbourhood.
You’ll be able to walk across bridges through the restored Lots Road Power Station, through an atrium, through shops. The beneficiaries will not just be the people living here but all the people around it. It has this extraordinary vantage point, both ways. You see it from everywhere on the bend of the river. But of course, if you live there, you see everything from the building, which offers another very special outlook.
What is your favourite thing about Tower West?
I especially like Tower West’s silhouette – we aimed from the outset to create a pencil-thin tower that was highly elegant – the elegance and the thinness particularly favour the river views. It’s on a long stretch of the River Thames and we thought for a long time about how we could handle the views; do them justice and pay them respect. This is why Tower West takes a diamond shape in plan; it looks much slimmer from the river’s perspective in both directions. It’s extremely slim and elegant.
I’ve been visiting the development off and on throughout the entire build – at first, it was a hole in the ground and then it grew and grew – it’s been extraordinary to watch. On this stretch of the river, it feels particularly tall because it’s the highest residential building for a long way around, so it really stands out…Although it was always going to stand out!
What technical architectural features are you most impressed with?
You can’t simulate what the effect of your building will be on its surroundings, so I was particularly interested in how Tower West’s exterior facing was going to be implemented and what its effect would be. I was very pleased with the way the exterior treatment of the façade of the building was executed and how it worked out in practice.
We’ve used tinted glass for the windows that cover the majority of the tower’s exterior and the spandrel panels, which are the blank panels essential for insulation, have a zig-zag pattern of aluminium backing which we specially selected. The backing pattern cleverly mirrors the changing silvery light, reflecting the water and the sky beautifully. There are also vertical ‘fins’ on one side of the tower and horizontal fins on the other, which accentuate the thinness of the building and increases the dazzle effect.
That actually works out better than I ever would have hoped for. And the panoramic views that the glass offers are, unsurprisingly, astonishing.
Can you describe how you feel when looking out at the views from Tower West?
The River Thames bends a lot but Chelsea Waterfront benefits from looking out on over a mile of straightness, meaning you can see for a very long way without obstruction.
To maximise the impact of this remarkable vantage point, we aligned the thinnest point of the diamond-shaped footprint of Tower West with the eastern view path towards The City, along the straight stretch of the river.
We installed a balcony at every point of the diamond angles all the way up Tower West. When you go out to the glass-fronted balconies, all at the pinnacle of the major rooms that open onto them, you feel that you’re in the river…
Tower west is on the very edge of the riverbank, the Thames is all around you, and, as you can’t see the Tower’s footprint beneath, the river seems like it’s been laid out just for you. You take possession of it.