Columbus Tower

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Columbus Tower

Post by Mr007 on Fri Nov 05, 2010 2:05 pm

With the 237m tall proposed Columbus Tower looking sure to get approval by Tower Hamlets council we take a closer look at the building that will bring some high-rise variety to the Isle of Dogs, and for a short time possibly be the U.Ks tallest building.


The early 80s saw the decline of the docks in and around the Isle of Dogs. By the middle of the decade they were miles of industrial wasteland and something had to be done, the Docklands Development Corporation was born and the initial buildings went up in the area. One of these was the low-rise Hertsmere House, used by Barclays as an office. Next to Canary Wharf and the DLR it was one of the sites supposed to bring prosperity to the area.

By the early 90s the boom had fallen out of the Thatcher years and the initial Canary Wharf plans were put on hold with the estate half complete. When things hotted up again in the late 90s a new plan was born with even more towers and the area finally reached critical mass after years of being percieved as a white elephant.

With the latest phase of the estate almost finished other developers have looked on enviously eyeing up neighbouring plots. To the east of Canary Wharf will lie Wood Wharf, to the south Discovery Dock, whilst the West is seeing Columbus Tower on the site of Hertsmere House, which at 239m tall is the first real biggie not developed by the Canary Wharf Group.

The Developers.

The developer SKMC has little by the way of a reputation in the U.K, infact this is it's first ever major development. What is known is that the company is backed by a large amount of money invested by oil rich arabs and has benefitted hugely from the withdrawl of funds by middle-eastern investors since Sept 11th into European investments from former American assets.

The architect DMWR have never designed a tower before either but have built a solid portfolio of lower-rise projects such as the Waitrose in Surbiton and the residential development, Sutton Park in Sutton which sets them apart from the usual suspects of architects who seem to design the lions share of tall buildings in the capital. It's perhaps this freshness that has lead it to be recieved as a radically original design.

Primary Requirements.

The developer SKMC wanted a mixed-use high-rise building for a prime site at the western end of West India Quay. It should be a landmark building with the latest up to date design in a concious contrast to the West India Quay preservation area whilst at the same time respecting its surroundings. A covered amenity space and proper access approaches for pedestrians and cyclists were also required.

The Greater London Authority set four objectives for the site if it was to get the support of the GLA. These were the facilitation of a future Crossrail, contribute to the urban design of the area, an environmentally sustainable building, the tallest structure possible to help cement the Isle of Dogs as a center in London.


The initial massing concept for the planned Columbus Tower was one that would mirror the size and height of the likes of One Canada Square reaching the maximum allowable heights of the CAA at 245m.

It soon became clear to the developers that despite this being the most efficient design in terms of maximising floorplates the tower was completely out of proportion for its location dominating the west-end of East India Quay.

The project was then revised to reduce the bulk of the top half of the tower and creating a u-shape that was orientated more towards the dock to take into account the water setting. Despite providing efficient floorplates the design had a series of draw-backs that included the entire site being filled by the footprint of the tower and an excessively domineering position with the other buildings on the dock.

To deal with these problems design number three had a podium that filled the footprint of the tower whilst the main shaft of it was set back from this by 6 meters. This reduction though made office floorplates too inefficient and were unsuitable for hotel use too whilst it was still too bulky in comparison to the surrounding warehouses.

Option number four featured a double point tower over a double story podium which again filled the footprint of the site. This doublepoint with a possible atrium inbetween although aesthetically fitting the dock was also uneconomical.

The architects then expanded on the idea of a double tower over a podium by taking taking two stepped slabs instead of points and orientating them from east to west with the cores inbetween the towers. The east to west axis provided a fresh slant on how to successfully place the tower in relation to the end of the dock however the thiness of the slabs to allow an atrium meant that it was not a design that optimised floorplates. The stepped towers did however fit in more effectively with the scale of the surrounding buildings.

The stepped towers evolved further as attempts were made to increase the floorplates further whilst retaining the previous advantages of the design. An L-shaped design was considered but this time the stepping led to a more effective fit with the townscape whilst providing more internal space than a U. The narrow-side of the L was facing the neighbouring conservation area but the groundspace of the tower was still completely dominated by the podium and unsuitable.

Option 8 had led the designers to realise that a tall facing of the tower should not be adjacent the northern side of the site and so the tower had to be set exclusively east to west. The width of the slab could be varied to allow a mixture of uses whilst providing an economical amount of office or hotel space. The shape of the tower as box still failed to fit in properly with surrounding buildings whilst the low-rise portion of the tower remained inadequately large in relation to its surroundings.

Option nine took things to the next level by completely removing the podium and moving the tower to the southside of the site, creating a public plaza on the northern portion. The design also started to be trimmed to create a more aerodynamic appearance finishing in narrower ends and growing in the center where a core stood. It solved many of the problems of the other options but a podium meant that there was still little scale in relation to other dockside buildings.

Design number ten turned out to be perfect ten. A podium was reintroduced but in the form of a covered plaza which in turn allowed the width of the tower to be increased more. To make up for the increased width the building was tapered to point creating a wing-like design.

The Aesthetics and Architecture.

Faced with a working massing model for the site, DMWR then had to take into account the actual aesthetic qualities of the building. They plumped for a look that can only be described as 'Thames Gateway'. The similarities between the 11 storey crown of the tower and the Thames Flood Barrier are entirely intentional however it has been trimmed to fit in more with the east west flow of the site.

Looking up at the tower from the ground is supposed resemble a bow of a ship referencing the nautical history of the area to create a highly sculptural building that is a complete contrast to the surrounding functional Canary Wharf towers. It's clean simplicity and glass walls are to contrast purposefully with the podium whilst allowing a stacking of uses on top of each other.

The base of the tower is designed to allow the whole project to fit in at street level. A highly complex base, it will predominantly be a frameless structure of glazing with industrial touches of steel and cabling to remind the public of the nearby dock cranes.

The great majority of the skyscraper will be clad in reflective glass tinted slightly green.

Materials used in the public realm of the tower are designed to reflect the industrial heritage of the site and focus on more traditional building materials, namely granite, steel and timber all set in industrial portions to reflect the size of the development.

Engineering a Tower.

Building a tower is never easy, the higher you get the windier it gets and the more stresses are put on the superstructure that supports it. For a slender tall building like Columbus Tower the most effective way to provide it with the support it needs it by building a concrete core surrounded by a simple metal frame which can provide floor by floor support. A central core is particularly useful when a building is arranged around its center as most traditional skyscrapers are.

This building has a core 9 meters wide and 36 meters long split into five separate sections to provide additional strength.

A special substructure has been designed to allow the proposed Crossrail to travel under the tower without excessive weight placed on the tunnel. In tipping a wink to this the columns of the tower which sit directly over the eastbound tunnel are designed to articulate what is underneath.

Future Prospects.

Having been approved work is expected to start on the site almost immediately. The mixture of office and hotel space combined with the wealth of the investment company involved who seem determing to build speculatively guarantees an early start whilst its height should have hotel groups queuing up for the tallest rooms in London.

Barclays are set to vacate the site in the summer and demolition of such a small building will not take long. By the end of the year the core should have started to rise above the ground creating a new and exciting addition to the Canary Wharf skyline.

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