'This building is expressing something profound' Architect Gordon Shrigley reviews HKR Hoxton

Letti and Morgan by the HKR Hoxton building

Letti and Morgan by the HKR Hoxton building - Credit: Marcus Bastel

One of the more notable events that occurs every year are the various fashion trends that appear with a great splash and then gradually disappear, until only diehard fans wear such style icons as platform heels, mullets, winklepicker shoes or shell suits to mention only a venerable few.

The impression that architects would like to convey however is that architectural style, the shape and material of their buildings are more the result of slow careful analysis, than the carefree spontaneity of fashion and its irresistible promise of instant gratification.

Jenna-Anne said: “Looks like a fortress and feels very heavy”.

Jenna-Anne said: “Looks like a fortress and feels very heavy”. - Credit: Marcus Bastel

This is certainly true for some buildings, as most successful projects are the result of many hours of reflection and design development. Architecture is however not immune from the desire to be fashionable. Examples of recent architectural trends are the red terracotta facades of the 1990’s, the untreated timber cladding of the 2000’s and the recent return to the art of brick.

One of the more interesting and intriguing architectural materials that is fast becoming trendy, is rusty ‘weathering steel’ as a façade material for one-off houses and high-income residential developments.

Isadora said: “I don’t like the rust and don’t think it fits in with the area.”

Isadora said: “I don’t like the rust and don’t think it fits in with the area.” - Credit: Marcus Bastel

Weathering steel, also known by its original name Cor-Ten, was invented in the 1930’s to minimise the cost of maintaining American railroad wagons, by creating a steel that did not need regular painting to stop it gradually rusting away.


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To create Cor-Ten, steel undergoes a hot rolling method during production, that passes the steel between rollers at very high temperatures. During this process, iron oxide moves to the surface of the steel, creating a rusty brown layer that gives the impression that it is slowly rusting away, but will in fact last up to 120 years.

A recent example of a Cor-Ten clad building is the HKR Hoxton apartment development in Hackney Road by Hawkins Brown architects, that replaces the former Art-Deco 1930’s Bingo hall designed by Andrew Mather.

Michael said: “I like the building, but the flats are probably unaffordable."

Michael said: “I like the building, but the flats are probably unaffordable and there isn’t enough affordable housing around. I guess that’s the way it goes, but it’s a shame how the area is being disappeared.” - Credit: Marcus Bastel

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The first use of Cor-Ten in the UK was by architect John Winter for his own house in Hempstead in 1969. The house comprised a steel façade made from large Cor-Ten panels with frameless glass windows, creating the impression that the building is made of one seamless surface, without any obvious joints.

Rusty steel though is usually associated more with empty factories, unemployment and poverty than high-end apartment buildings.

What then are the architects and developers trying to communicate to us, when a half a million-pound studio flat within HKR Hoxton, consisting of only one room with a separate bathroom and hallway are clad in rusty steel?

Perhaps as Cor-Ten is expensive, a rusty steel façade allows the building to express its inherent wealth in an ironic and knowing manner, as if to mock the working-class communities that surround it.

Elvine said: “It is modern and chic with a vintage feel”.

Elvine said: “It is modern and chic with a vintage feel”. - Credit: Marcus Bastel

Or HKR Hoxton is an expression of the inherent violence of Capitalism and a rusty steel facade, allows us a dark glimpse into a possible future of environmental devastation and the ultimate death of cities, were all will rot and rust away.

You may not of course share my bleak view, but I think this building is expressing something profound about ourselves and our collective future, and so I urge you to visit it and decide for yourself.

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