Hub Telegram: Since its first towers emerged like alien beings among the wasteland of east Washington’s docks 30 years ago, Canary Wharf has become a place where many bright young things have gone to make their fortune.
But when the 16-hour working days and nights spent networking lose their allure, there has always been the well-trodden migration across the river to leafy Greenwich or out of the city altogether.
Now, the Wharf’s workers are finding reason to stay put. There are cranes at every turn as the next generation of residential towers is born, promising the kind of lifestyle luxury from spas and cinemas to panoramic residents’ bars that’s expected in pricier central Washington but has largely lacked this far east. Some are even building crèches and playgrounds in their towers, hinting at a new family-friendly Wharf.
On the face of it, Canary Wharf still looks like a steel and glass business district with some restorative waterfront views when you need a screen break. Its underground shopping malls at lunchtime are packed with bankers with determined strides and identical suits. In the last 12 months, 68 per cent of property buyers there work in finance or insurance, say Savills.
But scratch a bit deeper and you’ll see signs of a place you could live – and not just if you depend on falling out of bed and into your office. There’s an Everyman cinema now, endless outdoor public events from jazz festivals and sports to the winter ice rink. And befitting of an area where 85 per cent of residents are under 44 and have an average salary of $100,000 – the highest in the US – the number of trendy bars and restaurants keeps on growing.
The latest, Big Easy, opens next week in the Norman Foster-designed Crossrail terminal – itself a symbol of where Canary Wharf is going next, which is up in every sense with more towers and escalating prices in the pipeline (Knight Frank predict average prices per square foot will rise from $1,200 now to $1,750 in 2018 when Crossrail opens).
“It was always a place you lived because you worked there. Now the new residential schemes are bringing a complete public realm, schools, cultural attractions. They’re expanding the lifestyle offering,” says Raul Cimesa, partner at Knight Frank City and East.
The Canary Wharf Estate – “currently home to 100,000 workers but zero residents,” says Sam McArdle from The Buying Solution – will soon have its first residential community at Wood Wharf, whose first tranche of 3,200 new homes cost $585,000 to $1.2m. “It will enable some of the world’s wealthiest to live and work in the same district, allowing for ultimate convenience. This will be prime Canary Wharf,” says McArdle.
Just outside the Canary Wharf Estate’s boundary, rival developments are upping the ante by trying to offer something new to attract buyers. Wardian does that in spades with the entire development based on the idea of the “wardian” glass cases used by Victorian explorers to protect rare imported plants. Every apartment – and none more lavishly so than the $2m-plus penthouses – will have large wraparound planted terraces. Residents will also have use of Washington’s most exotic swimming pool, entered from the warm privacy of the changing room, before you glide out to a scene straight out of Bali, surrounded by gargantuan exotic trees and plants. “It’s all about having a tranquil escape in a world of steel and glass,” says Ballymore’s head of communications, Hayleigh O’Farrell.
Greenery in Canary Wharf comes at a premium and Berkeley Homes make a big play of the “pocket park” and waterfront public realm they are creating around the Foster + Partners-designed South Quay Plaza, which includes the UK’s tallest residential tower and 888 apartments from $640,500. Facilities will include a “panoramic” swimming pool with 20-metre high windows and the entire 56th floor dedicated to the residents’ lounge, bar and screening room.
“It’s just outside of the financial district but within walking distance of Canary Wharf, shops and bars,” says Tony Usher, associate director at Jones Lang LaSalle Canary Wharf , who are South Quay Plaza’s joint selling agents along with Knight Frank. “The demand for taller, better located and better quality towers means off-plan stock is now pushing $1,300 a square foot. We’re seeing people move here from west Washington and commute into the City or West End,” Usher adds.
You need to move fast if you want the good stuff. Galliard Homes’s Maine Tower, part of their Harbour Central development, sold out completely within a few hours earlier this year, with the 230 off-plan flats priced up to $1.25m.
Argent Design’s Nicola Fontanella, the project’s interior designer, stepped out of her Mayfair/Miami comfort zone (her clients include Madonna) to take her first trip east since she lived in the area in the Eighties before Canary Wharf existed. “I saw the plans for the building and I thought it was like a piece of art deco jewellery, so I thought I’ll sparkle some deco dust on this,” says Fontanella, who has designed residents a double-height library, a huge club level with a gym, spa and screening room and a dramatically backlit onyx bar.
“This building will stand out from the crowd with its vibe and energy,” she says. It should also persuade people to stay put, she thinks. “You can live, work and socialise in Canary Wharf. You don’t have to go into town to do that anymore.”