Upper Riverside is a new development of five, gleaming tower blocks on Greenwich Peninsula. As home to London’s ‘Design District’, it’s an area that’s becoming synonymous with contemporary creativity. In fact, you’re immersed in it, as architecture and design intersect everywhere across the topography. Skidmore, Owings & Merrill are the architects behind the development, and a host of heavyweight interior designers were given one of the five buildings to transform – No.2 fell to Tom Dixon, whilst No.3 was entrusted to Studio Ashby.
Dara Huang and her team at DH Liberty are the team behind No.5 Upper Riverside, with free reign to bring their vision to life across the communal areas and penthouses. Inspired by the distinctive curve of the river as it bends around the peninsula on three sides, the results are a considered conglomeration of nature’s inspiration and luxury materials. We caught up with Dara herself, to find out a little more about the project, and why she feels Upper Riverside is one of the most unique places to live in London right now.
Greenwich Peninsula is a new and upcoming territory with a lot of potential. It’s just east of Canary Wharf and has all this cultural activity; yet our goal is to really build community. It’s a really interesting place, with an ecology park that offers an incredible amount of biodiversity. If you look at the edge of the river, the reeds are left to grow super tall, as they wanted to create a community that wove into the area’s biodiversity, and so encouraged a lot of natural habitats for wildlife.
The story was to give people a new way to live, an offering that weaves people and nature together, creating community. There’s no existing precedent there, apart from the O2, so we were able to mould a new canvas for them. The whole team was very focused on the arts and creativity; you don’t really get that opportunity anywhere else in London, as planning consent often means one brick building has to look like another. Whereas with this, it acts almost like a showcase of what can be done with creative freedom.
The lobby, for example, uses clay earth walls, and it’s all curved, mimicking the Thames and how it undulates. We got a lot of the geometry from using the curve of the Thames. The buildings’ architects – Skidmore, Owings & Merrill – wanted to create a very geometric, unique shape for the buildings, so that every slice of window got a beautiful view. In complement, we reintroduced fluid curves and clay earth finishes to bring back natural, organic lines and materials. And, the riverbanks inspired a lot of the colour scheme – the low tide reveals these deep earthy colours beneath the reeds.
A lot of the design uses beautiful natural materials but there’s also an industrial element to the Greenwich Peninsula. The O2 has been there forever and you’ve got a synergy between nature and the industrial history of the place – a history of shipping and industry. So, it was about blending those two materialities together. For example, in the penthouses, we used a sateen – brushed – stainless steel in the bathrooms that contrasts with the fluted marble tiles, bringing nature together with a nod to the history via the stainless steel. But in a very luxurious finish, of course.
Compared to a single-built home, when you build on a really large scale you have to use details that can be replicated in multitudes. The details in the penthouses came out beautifully. We have floating skirting, full-height doors, and we curved all the walls, which is super unusual for London architecture. Every penthouse is unique, and the curved walls mean that you automatically enter into a well-lit space, so you get this ‘wow’ from the moment you walk in… No cupboards or dark spaces, or dreary corners, which took a lot of work to coordinate. The apartments make you feel very light, and you see the most amazing views through the rows of windows, just as Skidmore, Owings & Merrill intended.
We’re always very inspired by nature. We like organic forms, we like raw materials, we love home stone. If we can leave travertine unfilled on the walls we will… Our timber floors are beautiful and oiled. You never see anything that looks plastic or fake; for me luxury is real. It’s something that doesn’t look like it’s been overly manufactured; you can see that it’s not porcelain to look like stone, its actual stone, or marble.
Take the marble for Upper Riverside’s penthouses as an example; our team picked every single slab individually. We wouldn’t accept a piece of marble unless we looked at it first. Because of that, the kitchen islands in the penthouses are incredibly special. We bespoke designed them to look like functional pieces of art – they’re a sculpture that acts as a table, and has storage within them. Every single marble slab we took from the quarry had a beautiful pattern on it that blended the greens and the yellows and the greys perfectly.
What I love about working with Knight Dragon is the relative simplicity. It’s a small, controlled team so you don’t have to run decisions through layers of approval or hierarchy, which ultimately brings limitations. Instead, we were able to fully express ourselves, as Knight Dragon are creative and trusted us to lead with our vision. And, they would push the budget to make our ideas a reality.
I’m really proud of all of it, to be quite honest. I love the way the communal spaces came out, as we were able to explore different programmes, like the home theatre, the roof terraces, the reception with its cosy library nook – there are a lot of things happening at once. The space free flows into each area and works in a really organic way. It completes our portfolio in terms of having beautiful design in a range of different colours that relate but remain diverse, and individual.
It’s a pinnacle of a place – a new way we can live. Where else in London are you going to get an entire district dedicated to design and creativity. And that’s the way the team saw everything there; we’re creating a new typography that’s focused on the Arts. Creating something beautiful and sculptural that nods to the surrounding context in a meaningful way.
I already know people who live there! I think the type of person that would buy there would be interested in value, lifestyle and community. London needs to expand, and is always is expanding, so I think it’s definitely a good investment as the peninsula develops. In terms of whom it’s best suited to; people who want a home, a pied-à-terre, a young professional, a family… It’s actually great for families, as you’ve got parks and childcare activities there.
Because it’s in a new location the prices are pretty incredible, so it’s very accessible, and so attracts a broad remit of people. It’s a really versatile place, with beautiful views and incredible spaces. The pairing of lifestyles is really unique too; they’re not just places to live, but places to walk, places to have coffee, to jog, to read a book, or interact with your neighbours. The community blends together really seamlessly, and there’s something quite charming about that.