White, red and blue high-rise buildings on river bank in London
© Photographer: Michael Molloy

Case Study

London City Island

Discover how this new residential development made its mark on the London city skyline with bold glazed bricks from Wienerberger.

Rising from a peninsula on the meandering River Lea, a branch of the Thames, the London City Island development is a former port that has been transformed into a sophisticated modern residential area. Designed by Glen Howells Architects (GHA), the East London development was inspired by iconic cities like Chicago and New York, where high-rise buildings meet the water’s edge.

The peninsula is now home to thirteen buildings, between 10 and 25 storeys high, designed to create a cohesive visual identity that changes as you move along the riverbank.

“The floor plans are parallelograms: rectangles are virtually absent,” explained David Henderson, studio director at the London branch of Glenn Howells Architects. “In this way residents also get a better view.”

Ballymore, the client for London City Island, wanted to build quickly after previously experiencing delays to the project. They wanted prefab solutions that would help streamline the construction process. The first building level for all buildings were created on site, with prefab elements manufactured  by Byldis, a Dutch construction company, in Veldhoven. The company supplied the elements ready-made, including window frames and glass.

“Developers in London are short on time and the traditional builders do not have enough capacity,” said Jacco van Dijk, the CEO of Byldis. “Our construction method enables these buildings to be completed in just over half the time a traditional building process takes. We deliver the elements complete: including frames, windows and an outer facade. This project has taught us a great deal: we have delivered on our promise and have never missed a single deadline. We collaborated intensively with Wienerberger from the outset and the supply of bricks has run perfectly. They understand our system and we have insight into their production process.”

“We regularly travelled to the Netherlands to view mock-ups and fine-tune the details,” added Henderson. “Obviously, you’re tied to moulds and a specific building system but there is definitely leeway with the depth of reveals and with patterns in the brickwork, such as at the lintels.  And then the whole also needs to comply with English regulations.  It was a fascinating process.”

Glazuursteen Blauw Standaard, Rood Standaard and Wit Standaard SP WF | New Construction Apartments | London City Island | Architect: Glenn Howells Architects | Client: London City Island | Photographer: Michael Molloy
© Photographer: Michael Molloy

"The peninsula is now home to thirteen buildings, between 10 and 25 storeys high,

designed to create a cohesive visual identity that changes as you move along the riverbank"

Brick was chosen for the facade of the new development, honouring the architectural heritage of the surrounding city. “London has a strong tradition of building with brick, in the inner city as well as in the industrial zones,” said Henderson. “London City Island was the site where brick industrial buildings stood – you can still see them in the surrounding docklands.”

“We wanted striking colours and the decision to use glazed bricks was a logical next step. The client certainly played a role in this. The buildings needed to appeal to an international audience. We reviewed all types of clay for the colour red – we couldn’t find clay that was red enough for the client,” laughed Henderson. “If you want real red, then glazed brick is the only option; the client also understood that. The result was red, as well as blue and purple-blue glaze. So whatever colour the sky is in London, the buildings continue to shine.”

The buildings are instantly distinguished by the striking colours of glazed bricks used on the facade, in white, blue and red, all manufactured in the Wienerberger factory in Panningen. Liaising with Wienerberger, the architects decided on a uniform colour and were meticulous in achieving a consistent look.

“We especially paid attention to the transition from the in situ brickwork in the plinth to the prefab towers.  It is vital that all bricks come from a single production run as you want a uniform colour,” explained Henderson. When designing the facade itself, the architects kept it simple without much ornamentation to maintain that effect. “When designing facades, architects tend to want to make a difference down to the smallest details. On the scale of London City Island, these small details are much less interesting: it’s about the buildings forming a whole.”


Project Summary

  • Location: East London
  • Client: Ballymore
  • Architects: Glen Howells Architects (GHA)
  • Contractor: Byldis
  • Photographer: Michael Molloy

Products Used

People sitting outside a cafe in sunshine on London City Island

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