An evening at the SOM X Manhattan Loft Corporation event


Last week, I had the opportunity to attend the Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) X Manhattan Loft Corporation event as part of the London Festival of Architecture initiative. This was clearly very exciting since I could actually hear the visionaries behind the project share fascinating insights that, perhaps, would not be obvious to the everyday visitor.

The luxury 42-storey structure, comprised of apartments and The Stratford Hotel, is a striking addition to the growing Stratford cluster and is the latest in a slew of luxury residential developments sweeping the London residential market. After a quick champagne reception on the 25th floor of the cantilevered tower, we were taken down to the 10th floor where Manhattan Loft Corporation CEO, Harry Handelsman, and SOM Design Partner, Kent Jackson, discussed the project in more detail (pictured below).

An evening at the SOM X Manhattan Loft Corporation event
Kent Jackson (SOM Design Partner), Harry Handelsman (Manhattan Loft Corporation CEO)

These were my three key takeaways from the event:

1. From a property developer’s point of view, Handelsman initially didn’t believe in the potential of Stratford as a site for Manhattan Loft Gardens. This was back in 2008 when the idea of a luxury tower was discussed. However, the positive reception post-Olympics was a big part of the go-ahead with the project. Having witnessed the regeneration scheme of the Westfield project, Handelsman was not only impressed with its design, but also the sense of community created within the area. He has no further desire to build more high-rises in London but, instead, hopes that the success of the Manhattan Loft prototype creates a ‘rippled effect’ to influence more brilliant structures.

2. From a design point of view, Jackson knew that the building’s overall form had to mean something. He mentions how there is actually no open space within the masterplan. Therefore, the subtracted form that forms the overall silhouette of the structure is deliberately created to add character and some breathing space for its occupants. The 10th floor (and a few other floors, I can’t recall) is not occupiable. Known as a platform floor, it helps to strengthen the core of the building so the cantilevered structure can function. Jackson did mention that it was a true collaboration between the architect, engineer and the client.

3. Handelsman’s desire to consolidate community through biophilic design is the single most important feature and reasoning behind Manhattan Loft Gardens. For him, balconies are not used enough in the UK like the way they are in the rest of the world. He wanted a real synergy between the tower and its occupants as opposed to people simply going in and out of a lift straight to their apartments. Spatial quality within the building and creating a high-rise structure that would be interesting was of the utmost importance to him. His whole methodology was for people to talk to each other and this is evident in the three gardens that bring humans up close with nature: A 7th floor public garden, a 25th floor cedar garden decorated with perennial shrubs and a 36th floor Japanese ornamental garden (pictured below) complete with bonsai and Japanese maple. There is even a bee community up there where bees can rest.

Japanese Garden at Manhattan Loft Gardens

36th-floor viewing deck

After the panel discussion, we were taken up to the 36th floor Japanese garden where, despite a heavy downpour, we were able to take in breath-taking views of London. The images below showcase the scale of development happening right now in Stratford.

Stratford village apartments
Stratford station developments

A tower like Manhattan Loft Gardens in Stratford is unprecedented and will change the locality forever. Handelsman’s endorsement of the area will only fuel further developments and give businesses the confidence to set up their operations in the area.

As the building looks to dominate the growing Stratford skyline, I am eagerly anticipating the next oncoming project.

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