On the drawing board: Shoreditch Highgate Hotel tower by Gensler

In London, stack is back. Shoreditch High Street is the site for a 105m-high tower of stacked volumes, provisionally called the Shoreditch Highgate Hotel after the New York-based developer Highgate Hotels. The 29,600 sq m building will house a 200-room hotel, retail, events space and offices, some aimed at the tech startup sector. The base aims to bring Shoreditch streetlife into the building. Gensler’s principal and practice area leader for tall buildings Lukasz Platkowski and associate Valeria Segovia had a stack of answers about it for Herbert Wright.

What was the initial inspiration for the design?
Valerie Segovia: The area has a lot of similarities with what the client had in mind — the Meat Packing District in New York, poor and trendy. The site is super-interesting, shaped by infrastructure, so it has awkwardly shaped edges. It’s in an area of change. It’s really busy, it’s vibrant. Neither client nor planners were looking for a glassy building that looked commercial; they were looking for something that related to the look of Shoreditch.

High-rise ‘stack architecture’ is resurgent, for example in BIG’s WTC2 in New York. Is the Shoreditch tower just responding to a contemporary trend?
This is a new model for a mixed-use tall building. The form and style is driven by two important aspects. First, it is articulated to host different types of users, shaped in response to programmatic requirements. Secondly, the building is highly contextual, its height is driven by its pivotal point within the Shoreditch Triangle and its proximity to the City cluster. The stacked volumes are orchestrated following the scale, pace, rhythm and physicality of the surrounding Shoreditch buildings.

Valeria Segovia
Valeria Segovia

Lukasz Platkowski: It’s a transition from the sleek towers of the City to the very porous and fragmented Shoreditch. We were not trying to flex our muscles. Sometimes we call it a vertical high street. On the high street, you have different types of building. We turn them 90 degrees and put them one on top of another. Inside-out design means you think about the end user, not that you make a nice shape and try to fit and push people into this space.

What about the facades - why dark glass framed in black steel?
VS: It has the grittiness, rawness and solidity of Shoreditch. Articulated openings take you back to the idea of the factory.

LP: Young office-users see the office as an extension of the house. It needs to be authentic to attract the talent. That’s why the materials are very simple.

Above the base are different types of office and hotel, but what are the public components? And does the tower react to Shoreditch’s nightlife?

VS: The [three level] Market relates to the street, a very public and porous base, and it has no doors, no differentiated spaces. The Shed is where all the public-related programmes of the office will happen. It’s like the belly button of the building.

[Its] terrace level relates to the height of the Tea Building, which is just around the corner. At the top, the Sky Lounge is all about panorama and is open to the public. It’s a 24-hour building. LP: The Market basement can be acoustically separated. We don’t have a car park.

Lukasz Platkowski
Lukasz Platkowski

There are three floors aimed at tech start-ups. How did that inform design?
VS: We always call those floors the creative office. It’s [for] a very different type of user. It’s not about getting as much light as possible. Sometimes these people will need a wall to project on. They need gatherings, they need space for thinking. At level 7, you have the large flexible space, then steps that come down to really integrate the three levels.

LP: The worst place to put the core is in the centre. You want to have a void, an atrium. By putting the core on one side, you have a big open space, then you have space for small companies. We have large, extremely flexible [spaces] for tech sector, and small offices for small companies that just want to rent 20 sq m to 50 sq m.

Did you learn from the One Canada Square co-working project, Level 39?
LP: We had to provide very different spaces, but we had uniform planning depths. At Level 39 you can rent a table by the hour or for three months, or half the floor. We did the Merchandise Mart, Chicago [a co-working incubator floor for 400, called 1871], it works in the same way. Here, it’s about 300 workers in the co-worker space. It can work 24/7.

How the new building will stack up
How the new building will stack up

But what happens when the office market changes and tech start-ups aren’t so hot?
LP: In the future, [it] can be adapted to residential. VS: It’s built to BCO standards, so it could easily allow for the financial or legal sectors.

What do you say to those who say that development is destroying the soul of Shoreditch?
VS: Have you seen what is on the site now? It’s a site that’s not taking advantage of what it can provide to the area. It’s very undeveloped and this provides vibrancy. [The client is] talking about exhibitions in The Shed and maybe having a solid wall, providing access to local graffiti artists. In some of its New York hotels, such as The Quinn and The Knickerbocker, they curate the art.

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