The Seager Distillery Tower

At the recent Hilly Fields Summer Fayre, BrocSoc asked visitors to their stall to vote for their favourite (and least favourite) local buildings. It was part of an exercise designed to provoke debate about the kinds of architecture that local people want to see more of. We visited in late afternoon, by which time a large number of votes had been cast. The 'likes' were fairly evenly spread, but the 'dislikes' clustered around a handful of buildings. Of these, the Seager Distillery Tower was a super soaraway leader.

So we anticipate that this will not be a popular posting, but we're going to go on record as saying that we like it. The cladding is a little plasticy and the design doesn't make our heart flutter, but as we think this photo shows, it's a perfectly decent addition to the local landscape. Building upwards means that the massing of the rest of the building is pretty modest and the developers have been able to include a decent amount of public space. We feared the worst for the curved wall on Brookmill Road, but the removal of the scaffolding has revealed a block that it quite attractive and considerably less overbearing than the brick beast opposite.

With an elevated DLR line next door and a bulky Lewisham College building (our vote for the area's worst building) opposite, this low-lying site is well-suited to a tall building and this one has been reasonably well executed. Unfortunately, by acting as a magnet for local ire, it (we) allows far worse (but shorter) buildings to get waved through in the borough without protest.

Thanks to SE9 for the photo.

65 comments:

qbf said...

I didn't know the name of this building until now - strange choice; is it named after something that used to be on that site?

I don't have a strong opinion on the building, but might well do if I had to see it every day. It doesn't have a lot to recommend it, that's for sure.

Now and Then said...

Nick, you,re not entirely happy with the design but yet you like it! With respect, how do you seperate its visual impact from its function given this is the most important aspect for anyone not actually living in Distillery Towers. -1.

Brockley Nick said...

@Now and Then - I'm not entirely happy with St Paul's Cathedral, but I like it. Overall, I think this building is quite visually pleasing, but it's not perfect.

I think the most important aspect for anyone not actually living in it is the impact it will have on the area, not on what it looks like. To that extent, I hope the public and commercial space will be good.

Welcome to 2011 said...

@qbf - is it named after something that used to be at that site? Yes. Have a guess what! ;)

Now and Then said...

@ Nick, If the criterion is the impact it will have on the area, then Lewisham college's building across is a positive and this one is at best, yet unproven.

Brockley Nick said...

@NAT - fine, let me rephrase - that Lewisham College building is my vote for the area's ugliest.

Now and Then said...

@ Nick, Well I suppose it's no oil painting either, but its relatively small scale makes that less noticeable in its surroundings. The Seagrams resembles a 1970s Knightsbridge office block and seems to have no relationship with its surroundings as the photo of it looming up behind The Cranbrook pub bears out

Brockley Nick said...

@NAT - when you say "relationship" with the surrounding area, do you mean that it must look the same as the buildings around it? If so, which ones? The DLR station? The College? The SE8 apartments? The high street?

I think the contrast in the photo above is beautiful. That's a great relationship. The open space will act as an extension of the small park next door. That's a good relationship. This stretch of road should feel less lifeless and monolithic as a result of the new life this will bring to this spot. That's a positive relationship. The concentration of new build next to a DLR station to minimise the need for residents to have cars is a sensible relationship.

London isn't Bath. A five minute walk in any part of the city will expose you to a huge range of styles. That's one of the things that makes it great.

Anonymous said...

Go ahead, blame the victim, Brockley Nick. How can it be the fault of people opposed to this monstrosity that others get built?
I rather like the Lewisham College building. It's both modern and sympathetic to the existing architecture in the area, unlike the 'slum to come' across the road. Deptford Dame has great coverage of the controversy surrounding its construction, including the plans having to be redrafted because the living provision was judged to be too small. Also Owen Hatherley has written a wonderful book about buildings of this ilk: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2010/oct/23/ruins-britain-owen-hatherley-review

Mr Foster to you. said...

It's all subjective so arguing about these things is pointless. I personally dislike the tower, I don't find it's particularly sympathetic to it's surroundings. There is no precedent for this either - just because something similar works elsewhere doesn't mean it will in this instance. Each case has to be taken on it's own merit. But that's architecture - it provokes debate. If i was the architect I'd have done it this way - you have done it that way. We're both right.

Brockley Nick said...

@Anon1605 - not blaming anyone, just pointing out that fixating on tall buildings often means that people ignore other bad buildings.

We'll see if it's a slum to come, but I'll wager it ain't. I've followed the debate over this building since the beginning. It's not great, but it's not too bad and as the wrapping's come off, I've been pleasantly surprised, that is all.

Haven't read that book, but if this excerpt from the review is anything to go by then he sounds like a huffing ideological bore who plays fast and loose with the facts (Greenwich Peninsula = gated communities? Malls? Carbon-spewing roads? (does he mean the approach to the Blackwall tunnel that has been there for decades? Because the rest of the peninsula has absolutely been designed with public transport in mind, with very quiet roads, served by buses). Ignores the river bank walk, the public transport interchange, the major park, the nature reserve and the largely pedestrianised urban areas. The only thing close to a mall (other than the O2, which has no shops to speak of) is the commercial stuff near Sainsbury's that predates the O2.

Makes you wonder whether he's ever been to 'America' or Greenwich:

"Near the end of this angry, melancholy book, he visits the former Dome, now the music venue the O2, and the surrounding Greenwich peninsula. Once, he writes, "this place was a Blairite tabula rasa . . . an area the size of a small town, freshly decontaminated and waiting to have all manner of ideas laid down upon it." But now, instead of the green, inclusive, continental-style new city quarter Labour supporters might have hoped for, he finds "a transplant of America at its worst – gated communities, entertainment hangars and malls criss-crossed by carbon-spewing roads; a vision of a [British] future alienated, blankly consumerist, class-ridden."

Mb said...

"Lewisham College building. It's both modern and sympathetic to the existing architecture in the area"

eh? it looks like a ministry building is some despotic state. A windowless monolith that you disapear into for a few months of hospitality by the local security service. Sypathetic to the existing architecture? in what way? it was there long before One SE8, the DLR or the Segar Tower.

If you think that kind of modernism is great then you can hardly object to the tower. Personally I find One SE8 far mart offensive, it seems to stick two fingers up at Deptford.

John said...

"The cladding is a little plasticy and the design doesn't make our heart flutter, but as we think this photo shows, it's a perfectly decent addition to the local landscape."

That sounds somewhat contradictory.

Brockley Nick said...

Contradictory? I suppose if you only want to deal in absolutes.

'On the one hand... on the other hand... but overall...'

Anonymous said...

A point is that there are very few modern buildings that are 'architecture' - many of them haven't been anywhere near an architect for years - even the 'shard' which some people might classify as architecture isn't, it's a shaped building, and my definition of a shaped building is one that is built with no concern for the activity going on within it - the Shard fits this definition perfectly well.

By the way, I'm not against tall buildings, so please don't trot out your (or other peoples) usual arguments . . .

Brockley Nick said...

When you say that the Shard hasn't been near an architect for years, what do you mean?

Do you mean that the large team of architects that have been working on it for years and will continue to supervise and tweak it right up until the moment of completion aren't actually architects?

Anonymous said...

@Nick 14:56 Maybe the reviewer hasn't been to Greenwich or America, but Hatherley has. His book is actually meticulously researched. I would like to emend the tried and true wisdom of "Never judge a book by its cover" by adding "Never judge a book by its cover, inclusive of the promotional sound bites printed on the back."

Brockley Nick said...

@Anon - this is a direct quote from the book, not from the article:

"a transplant of America at its worst – gated communities, entertainment hangars and malls criss-crossed by carbon-spewing roads; a vision of a [British] future alienated, blankly consumerist, class-ridden."

And it's bollocks from start to finish.

Anonymous said...

It's an edited quote, as you know. Again, such a strong opinion from someone that hasn't read the book. How very armchair expert of you. Hatherley is a highly regarded scholar and his work is incredibly instructive for us to get a grip on the rampant and often badly designed and shoddily constructed developments going up left and right in the area, a cause you sometimes seem sympathetic to (even in your original post). A perfect case in point is that hideous sprawl across the creek from the new tower. Shabby, high-density housing that does not respond to the needs of the community.

Diss me but don't diss the book you haven't read.

Lou Baker said...

The tower is fine - not earth shatteringly beautiful, not earth shatteringly offensive.

My vote for worst build is Brockley station. When you arrive somewhere for the first time the station is what you see. Plenty of tiny little places have fairly grand stations. Brockley has a crappy, badly designed hut, painted a putrid green - with some orange add for impact overlooking an absurd staircase and a row of half dilapidated shops which are surrounded by loads of rubbishy parked cars and vans. It's even worse if you arrive from the south and have to negotiate the weird bridge maze.

As for the other points, clearly the man who wrote about the Greenwich peninsula is an idiot. And the comments about The Shard .... A fabulous piece of architecture and the new symbol of London. To say otherwise is frankly dumb.

Brockley Nick said...

"It's an edited quote, as you know."

Slightly edited but I'm sure it doesn't distort his meaning. As an owner of the book, please feel to give us the whole quote.

"Again, such a strong opinion from someone that hasn't read the book. How very armchair expert of you."

I'm not an expert, just someone who's been to Greenwich peninsula on many occasions and can see with my own eyes that none of the things he attributes to the area in that quote is true.

"Hatherley is a highly regarded scholar"

He's a journalist, rather than a scholar. I have read quite a few of his articles in the Guardian and he's basically the left's answer to Quentin Letts - moaning that modern British life is rubbish, from a Marxist perspective.

His arguments amount to the idea that it's all very well reversing the rot that had set in to Britain's great cities in the 70s and 80s, but you can keep your 'shops' and your 'museums' because pop music was so much better back then. Not that he was around in the 70s or 80s to know what he is talking about.

"and his work is incredibly instructive for us to get a grip on the rampant and often badly designed and shoddily constructed developments going up left and right in the area,"

Maybe. But he was against the demolition of the Heygate Estate, so he seems to like badly designed and shoddily constructed developments when they suit him. Because that was a socialist experiment. It's capitalist experiments he doesn't like. The actual architecture seems like a secondary consideration.

"a cause you sometimes seem sympathetic to (even in your original post). A perfect case in point is that hideous sprawl across the creek from the new tower. Shabby, high-density housing that does not respond to the needs of the community."

Not sure what buildings you're referring to. I don't want bad buildings, that is true. But we have to define terms - what is a bad building? Heatherley seems like a poor guide. As for responding to the needs of the community - creating new housing is the most pressing need and high-density allows us to preserve our central green spaces while averting the outward expansion of our cities. High-density can create fantastic communities.

Anonymous said...

Oh yeah, I forgot you don't like pinkos.

Soul less landscsape said...

To be fair Greenwich peninsula does remind me of LA. But more shit.

Brockley Nick said...

Anon2032, yes, that's exactly what I said.

Anonymous said...

The Stephen Lawrence building is the ugliest.

Has the Seager building been finished yet?

Anonymous said...

what were the likes?

down the hill said...

I think it's great, perfect spot for it. I've also seen a long distance view where its silhouette looked the same as St Peters Church, Brockley, with St Peters remianing the highest being on the hill. (can't remeber where)

Hugh said...

I agree that the Stephen Lawrence centre is the worst building in the area. It takes high stupidity to respond to a racist murder by building an education centre that looks like a prison and screams 'KEEP OUT' at passers by.

For what it's worth, a developer told me the Lewisham College building opposite the new tower is to be razed.

TM said...

Keep up Hugh that project has been put on (permanent?) hold due to funding retrictions.

Paddy said...

Has anyone seen that new big gold building in the middle of Deptford? It looks bonkers and God knows what it actually is.

Another planning whinge I have is the new Greenwich Promenade on the riverfront in prime Greenwich which is going to block the view of the river from the magnificent Discover Greenwich building (Old Naval College). How that got through planning is beyond me. Its a ticket hall for the boats, yeah fine. But cleverly shoving in a poxy Nandos, crummy Zizzis and boring Byron is a travesty in that location as a giant chicken logo will effectively block the view of the river from Greenwich.

TM said...

Paddy

This is probably what you mean....

http://www.lewisham.gov.uk/Environment/Regeneration/DeptfordAndNewCross/DeptfordTownCentre/TidemillSchoolAndLounge.htm

Can never remember how to do a proper link

Headhunter said...

I'm a bit torn on the whole tall buildings debate. On the one hand I think it's important to retain open public spaces and green belt which surrounds London (and is increasingly under threat from developers). Tall buildings like this very efficiently use space and as Nick points out, allow open spaces at ground level.

Of course this has all been "done" in the 60s. The original architects of high rise social housing developments which replaced the bombed out Victorian slums believed that building up would allow large social communal spaces to become the norm, rather than narrow, congested, polluted streets.

However I do feel it's a shame to lose the sight lines to places like St Paul's which looks very majestic poking out of the City, increasingly threatened by tall buildings. However I do like tall building clustered together. I like in The Docklands.

This particular building certainly does use space very effectively although it's pretty unremarkable looking. I doubt it will become a "slum" anytime soon. The freeholders of buildings like this tend to employ expensive managing agents (who bill the occupants £1000, 1500+ per year in maintanence fees, I had a friend in the SE8 development next door who was paying a couple of thousand quid a year in maintanence fees) who will happily make sure major works are caried out regularly. This is not a social housing project left to the vagueries of local government funding.

At ground level, this area around it is hardly particularly fantastic. What do we have? A multi lane A road thronging with traffic, heavily polluted, the Lewisham College building - large red and slabby, the DLR rushing overhead and some run down Victorian shops. Hardly Hampstead Village and I'd wager that with that major road running through it, it'll never be much better.

darryl said...

" it (we) allows far worse (but shorter) buildings to get waved through in the borough without protest."

Bearing in mind Distillery Towers sits smack on the border with Greenwich, clearly on this side of the boundary we're okay to grumble... it's bloody ugly, anyway.

The border issue raises its ugly head further north in Deptford, mind.

The Laban centre (just inside LB Lewisham) looked great sat on its own looking out over the creek. But now it's overshadowed by the hideous Greenwich Creekside (sic) buildings across the road and across the border.

I think you've got a rose-tinted view of the Greenwich peninsula, btw, Nick - nobody who's ever been on a packed bus negotiating the traffic lights holding up journeys for very little reason would ever agree it's been a success for public transport users. Ditto North Greenwich bus station, poorly designed and facing in the wrong direction to give buses the priority they need up there. Owen Hatherley actually lives in east Greenwich, so knows what he's on about...

Brockley Nick said...

@Darryl - I'm not saying the Peninsula is great, it's still lonely and windswept, the housebuilding has been far too slow, there are not enough local shops and other businesses, the Blackwall Tunnel can't cope with the traffic and the cyclist-killing interchange near Sainsbury's is a horror.

None of that has anything to do with anything that Heatherley attacks it for. And maybe the buses are held up a little too often for no good reason, but that it nothing to do with creeping Americana - quite the opposite - those traffic lights are equally inconvenient for car drivers too.

If he knows what he's on about, it doesn't show in his writing.

Just quote me one accurate passage from what he says about it.

Deptford Dame said...

I've already said a lot about Seager Distillery, and indeed many of the other new developments that are ongoing in Deptford. To suggest that local residents have focussed too much attention on this development while others have 'been waved through' is a very glib comment and in fact rather insulting to those of us who are doing trying to ensure we get appropriate developments and try to
'As we think this photo shows, it's a perfectly decent addition to the local landscape'! It's an unusual photo but what does it really show in terms of landscape and scale? I can't help thinking of Father Ted's exasperated words: "Dougal, for the last time - these cows are small, those are far away!"
The other buildings on the site are not the same height as the main tower, it's true, but they will still range from 11 to five storeys, rising quite a height above the buildings on the corner site. The plans underwent several revisions to reduce the massing, but I'm still not convinced that they have got it right.
Finally the comment about public space is rather premature - in terms of square meterage it may be a 'decent amount' but what quality will it be? The size of the buildings around it will prevent much natural light, let alone sunlight, from reaching it. What will the quality of the landscaping be, will it include seating, will it be properly maintained? I suspect it will be a lot of hard landscaping with rubbish blowing around in it (caught in the wind gusts at the base of the tower created by the building's height) and will be rather dark.

Brockley Nick said...

@DD - yes, it does remain to be seen what the public space will be like, but so far, I have been pleasantly surprised by the quality of the stuff we have seen, which leaves me cautiously optimistic.

Deptford Dame said...

'... those of us who are doing trying to ensure we get appropriate developments and try to improve the quality of the architecture, finishes, public amenity and so on,' was what I meant to say!

Anonymous said...

is it me or is it leaning slightly???

Anonymous said...

In keeping with the local environment? That is really not very attractive, (Lewisham College really wins my award for ugliest building in the borough) The tower I feel raises the tone of the area and the general standard of local architecture, as well as the profile of a traditionally run down and rather neglected corner. Of course the conservative lobby will moan on about local people (most of whom haven't been there for more than a couple of years themselves). The main undercurrent of most moans seems to be "Tall is bad". Go live in a twee little village designed by Prince Charles, I say. This is a city, and a vibrant world one at that. Get over it.

Matt-Z said...

@ Anon 13:58 - visible proof that the area's going downhill

kolp said...

Given a choice few would want that building there. It's just the pressing need for housing and lack of land in London.

Anonymous said...

I see a building site at the top of Jerningham Road; Telegraph Hill end. Victoria Town Houses.

auntykate said...

My problem with the tower is that it replaces the former view. From the crossroads of Wickham Rd/Friendly St/Lewisham Way the view was of the 3 masts of the Cutty Sark. The new tower will dominate now.

Don't blame Lewisham College for the ugliness of their building. This was built by the government in the 70's as a Department of Employment Skillcentre.

mintness said...

I just think it looks a bit grey and uninspiring, like an office block rather than somewhere you'd actually live. Obviously it's far from the worst/only architectural crime around, but that shouldn't make it immune from a bit of criticism.

TM said...

You used to be able to see the Cutty Sark's masts from the top of St John's Vale but One SE8 blocked the view a number of years ago.

And those blocks are not that tall.

Anonymous said...

jenga building - lowest denominator rubbish - only a philistine would think otherwise

Anonymous said...

@13.48

Jenga comment more like, but even then I can't be bothered to knock it over. Snobbery the last resort of the luddite.

Paolo said...

Brockley Nick, I think the "hideous sprawl across the creek from the new tower" that anon 19:40 is referring to, is the SE8 development

Now, given that I live there, I know its not exactly a building of architectural splendour to rival the finest Queen Anne house. However, it is not hideous and certainly doesn't sprawl.

The scheme is well laid out and includes a nice green area with trees in the middle, opposite a cafe for the residents.

The building quality can occasionally leave a bit to be desired but aside from that, it provides relatively high density housing in a small space without resorting to filling it with high rises - something that is essential for london

It hardly ruins the quality of the area either, if you consider some of the estates down towards Elverson Rd and the derelict corner of Greenwich High Rd and the A2

I confess I don't like the tower. It feels massively inconsistent and to me it looks ugly. Towers also don't make for much of a community. A development more similar to SE8 might have been a better idea

Anonymous said...

The boozer looks far more appealing.

Anonymous said...

Only Joking! It's a brilliant new development, ok it's modern and that means gates, but at least people are moving back into Depford for the first time in generations.

Anonymous said...

whatever you think of it, it is good that people will be moving back to the area. People with spending power. People who will spend money in local shops, pubs and restaurants.

Bored and tired said...

I am not anti tall buildings per se - love The Shard - but I think this tower is awful. It looks ridiculously too tall standing on its own like that with nothing else even remotely close in size. I do think it's pretty hideous from the outside but when I see buildings like that I think not so much about how they look but what they would be like to live in, and I can't see really how this is any different from a high-rise council block and yet people are paying £250k or whatever for the privilege of living in it. The floor-to-ceiling windows let us see from the outside how low the ceilings are, and also, how little insulation there must be between floors. A typical example of greedy developers who have crammed in as many flats as possible to make as much money as they can. If they had just taken a floor or two out and given each 'layer' a few extra inches of ceiling space, it would be a less unpleasant place to live. Yes, it will bring people to Deptford - it is a brilliant location, no doubt - but mainly 20-somethings working at Canary Wharf who will use it purely as a dormitory. Disappointing.

Anonymous said...

compare the tower to the lamp post...it IS leaning!!!

spincat said...

For those who feel it looks odd on its own, never fear, it will be joined by a large number of high rise developments across Lewisham over the next few years.

Tyrwhitt Michael said...

Anyone know why "The Cranbrook" lost its name when it was last redecorated?

Have we lost the art of signwriting?

NAT said...

@ MB. I tend to strongly agree with all that you post, with many a hearty chuckle along the way, but One SE8 sticking two fingers up at Deptford?

Do you not think that the sort of higgledy piggledy post modernism sits well with the broadway and the high street?

Mb said...

It's only a sperficial impression to be honest, but it seems to have it's back to deptford rather than being part of it. I'm prepared to be proven wrong though.

Danja said...

compare the tower to the lamp post...it IS leaning!!!

I assume you mean the lamp post? The building the other side of the lamp post really is leaning (as it has every right to do at its age).

Anonymous said...

Would have preferred something like this....much nicer

http://www.rightmove.co.uk/property-for-sale/new-homes/property-34027325.html

Danja said...

They are truly vile. Debased mock rubbish - might as well stick a few tudor beams on it.

If you are going to do mock, then the one they are doing at the bottom of Pepys Road is a better model. I have a grudging respect for the detail with which they are reproducing it (especially compared to that dumb St James development), although I still think it is utterly stupid to pretend that we are Victorian.

Anonymous said...

I think the Tower will look alot more interesting once people are living in it and lights will be in at different levels etc

Anonymous said...

It's time to set some modern classics. Just cos they fucked it up post war doesn't mean it couldn't be done properly.

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Anonymous said...

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TM again said...

Paphos?

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