Falconer Chester Hall looked to Manhattan for inspiration for The Lexington, a built-to-rent tower for Moda Living in Liverpool’s northern docks, designed to attract millennials with a transatlantic high-rise community lifestyle vibe, writes Fran Williams
13 December 2021 By Fran Williams. Photography Infinite 3D
‘Liverpool was a landing stage to the world,’ says Adam Hall, managing director at Falconer Chester Hall (FCH). The city’s strong maritime and trading heritage was a formative influence in the practice’s design for The Lexington, a high-rise residential tower on the waterfront, overlooking Prince’s Dock. This is one of the most southerly of the city’s northern docks, a vast system of quays and wharves which famously serviced the British Empire’s domination of global trade in the early 1800s.
The project takes its name from New York’s Lexington Avenue. Estimated to have cost £90 million, the tower is one of the first completed projects on the controversial £5.5 billion Liverpool Waters regeneration masterplan by Peel Group, which has been working for years on turning the derelict northern docks into a 2 million m2 mixed-use quarter split into five neighbourhoods.
Upon completion two months ago The Lexington became the third-tallest building in Liverpool. At 112.5m high, it is one of the first realised examples of the masterplan’s proposed high-rises, which so offended Unesco it stripped the city’s famous waterfront of its World Heritage status in July this year. Though this part of the waterfront still feels quite bare, a collection of towers by other practices will rise here under the masterplan. Last year FCH also got planning for another tower on Prince’s Dock plot A06, which will be sandwiched between the 22-storey Liverpool City Lofts by AFL Architects and the Hodder + Partners-designed Plaza 1821, which was completed in 2020.
The Lexington’s plot was taken over by PRS specialist Moda Living in 2015 and it’s in the vein of Moda’s first completed development, Angel Gardens, in Manchester. Like that scheme, it features a ‘sky lounge’, gym, cinema room, community kitchen and rooftop garden in addition to its 325 rental apartments. Part of the mid-way ‘waistband’ of the building at Level 17 is for communal use and the residential units are a mix of studios, one-bed, two-bed, and three-bed apartments wrapped around a central core. A car park topped by a roof terrace abuts the main tower to the south.
‘We try and tell a story with everything we do,’ says Moda Living design director Peter Sproule. Here the inspiration was transatlantic ties between Liverpool and New York City. FCH adopted architectural precedents in both cities in shaping the form and extrusion of the tower, tipping a hat to the elevations of NYC’s Empire State Building and Rockefeller Center and Liverpool’s Liver Building. Hall says the strong vertical lines of The Lexington’s façade have been accentuated to create an ‘essence of elegance’ and ‘slenderness’ in a reference to the early skyscrapers of New York City, while the protrusions arising from the middle and top of the main body of each elevation are intended to echo them too. ‘We think the elegance of the New York skyline is derived from the simplicity of its towers’ forms,’ adds Hall. The iconic link between the two cities – the Cunard Cruise Liner, is invoked in The Lexington’s deco styling and also with an image of RMS Aquitania engraved into the façade of the car park.
The strong vertical lines of The Lexington’s façade have been accentuated in a reference to the early skyscrapers of New York City
The tower’s massing rises from a simple rectangular footprint to form two side wings with a central indented section – essentially a slimline version of the Empire State Building’s torso. Upon arrival at the building, the water-facing main entrance has a clear and deliberate hotel-like feel, accentuated by a vehicle drop-off point. To the rear is an historic dock wall, which runs right through the site, and beyond that the A5052 forms a partial barrier to pedestrian visitors to the waterfront. The scheme has endeavoured to break through this, creating key routes at either side to the water’s edge.
‘We try and build communities,’ says Sproule, adding: ‘We’re a lifestyle, not a landlord.’ The double-height ground-floor lobby is styled in the manner of a living room, complete with miniature sofa for a dog. With an unapologetic emphasis on marketing to millennials, Moda has created a ‘My Moda Living’ app for residents. This can be used to chat with Moda’s on-site team and to securely create social groups within this vertical ‘community’. In its first two months The Lexington has hosted events including rooftop yoga, drinks receptions on level 34 and a ‘Barry’s Bootcamp’ workout session. Moda Living’s lifestyle branding boast is conveyed to tenants via the app , making them accustomed to the way their building works. The idea is that, much as you might become familiar with and prefer a certain hotel brand, you might choose Moda Living for any city you move to.
The business model of high-rise communal living, with tenants renting on a long-term basis, recalls utopian antecedents of the 1960s, such as Goldfinger’s Balfron Tower in Poplar, east London, which was always intended to have a linked tower for communal uses. This way of living is fairly new to Liverpool, however, observes Hall. He says: ‘We had never worked on a residential project that required so much communal space. What was really important was that the journey should start as residents arrive at the building. Not when they put their keys in their apartment door.’
The interior design of all amenity spaces has been completed by communal living specialist and TV presenter Naomi Cleaver. Encouraged to think in terms of materials inspired by the 1920s, she has incorporated a lot of gold and Art Deco shapes, continuing to channel the New York heyday storyline.
The ground-floor corridor is one of the most successful parts of the decorative scheme. Its arched ceiling, finished in a dark grey contrasting with the brassy lighting, gives it a decadent Art Deco vibe. It brings a hint of Big Apple glamour to the scheme that is not so evident on the outside.
In terms of sustainability, the scheme has less to shout about. When asked, Hall says: ‘We didn’t have to do anything,’ adding: ‘Liverpool still to this day doesn’t have a sustainable policy within their planning framework.’ A symptom, no doubt, of an aim to reduce barriers to commercial developers with slim margins, the city’s focus here was, disappointingly, directed elsewhere. Effort was, however, put into making the prefabricated façade as efficient as possible, down to the design of a lozenge-shaped motif for mechanical ventilation. Due to the exposed location of the site and prevailing high winds, vent covers had to be carefully designed and thoroughly tested to prevent whistling. Their design language has been carried through at various scales, from the minute to large natural ventilation vents in the car park’s external perforated skin.
For the time being the building stands the tallest in its locale, making it feel slightly like an island on the city’s edge. On a clear day there are splendid views towards Everton’s new stadium being built at Bramley-Moore Dock, across the Irish Sea and towards Birkenhead on the other side of the River Mersey. As a high-rise on a tight plot, it’s clear that this scheme is about numbers as much as fulfilling the Moda Living community lifestyle brief. Asked what lessons had been learnt on the scheme, Hall responds: ‘Very efficient space planning.’
Any reference to the Transatlantic slave trade on which Liverpool’s prosperity was built has somehow been elided amid all the lifestyle aspiration and celebration of Liverpool’s historic maritime links to the States and there is something that feels slightly ‘off ’ about this.
That aside, the attempt to learn from the architectural ‘greats’ can be commended. What FCH has failed to take forward is the great effort put into the intricate fenestration of the earlier buildings it models itself on – on Louis Sullivan’s Bayard-Condict Building in New York, for instance, or Liverpool’s own Royal Liver Building, one of the city’s Three Graces. The Lexington’s simple façade is arguably a little too simple, with a bland flatness to it when viewed from afar, despite its decisive verticality. In many ways this feels like a building that has been overthought and underdetailed.
The team was mindful throughout the design process of the maritime location, its extraordinary history of relationships with foreign lands, especially New York, and the Anglo-American relationship that had already influenced historic buildings in Liverpool. The design pays homage to the slim, stylish skyscrapers of New York, especially pioneering modernist masterpieces.
Several consultations were undertaken, including the formal pre-application consultation. Prior to this, the team participated in a series of developer forums, instigated by Peel Holdings, which brought together all parties that had an emerging interest in the Prince’s Dock neighbourhood.
The third stage involved engagement with the wider community. This took the form of an exhibition over two days in April 2016. Feedback was assimilated into the Statement of Community Involvement. The final stage was a meeting with Places Matter, an independent design review panel hosted by the RIBA to provide impartial advice.
Due to the maritime environment, the building is largely unsheltered and the windiness along the Liverpool waterfront is well known. Wind tunnel studies were conducted at a facility in Milton Keynes to investigate the effects generated by current and likely future surrounding buildings. This informed the design and the materials used in the project.
We worked closely with Moda on the design of the building, with considerations including providing a commercially viable and cost-efficient building: not an inch of the building hasn’t been considered. The building is naturally ventilated throughout with opening windows and perforated panels. Adam Hall, managing director, Falconer Chester Hall
Moda Living, a leading vertically integrated developer and operator of build-to-rent communities, designed The Lexington with a view to being long-term custodians of the site. The project was created with a focus on adaptability and flexibility, which ensured a sustainable design from the outset, while adhering to Moda’s core brand priorities of outstanding environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) performance, leading technology and best-in-class health, wellbeing and service offerings.
Due to the constrained site, the structural design is efficient, with a centralised core. This optimises the structural frame and column sizes, improving the scheme’s embodied carbon credentials by using less concrete within the frame. The Lexington’s central core also optimises daylight and solar gain, while maximising views across the city and waterfront and achieving dual-aspect apartments on all four corners of the building.
Moda is committed to delivering exemplar sustainable residential neighbourhoods and puts environmental performance, health and wellbeing at the forefront of everything it does across its portfolio. The Lexington achieved a 2-star FitWel rating, which guarantees the neighbourhood improves the overall health of its occupants, from encouraging exercise, to outstanding outdoor spaces and internal environmental control, acoustics and daylighting. Internally, the apartments benefit from mechanical ventilation and heat recovery (MVHR), openable windows and dim-out curtains which help reduce solar gain in summer months on south-facing façades.
The Lexington’s performance is made even more efficient through Moda Living’s work with technology provider Utopi to build a complete digital infrastructure and optimise smart building technology across the Moda portfolio. Utopi’s platform uses IoT for automated building management to reduce energy usage, and sensors throughout the buildings to monitor the internal environment and provide a wellness score for each community. Peter Sproule, design director, Moda Living
An historic dock wall dating back to the 1800s, part of the original Liverpool docklands, dissects the centre of The Lexington tower site. This had to be kept intact, so the foundation design needed to respect this historic and listed underground structure. In view of the small site, constrained by large sandstone boulders and other relic foundations, a piled raft system was chosen.
We undertook computer fluid dynamics modelling to predict the structural wind behaviour and maximum accelerations for occupancy comfort. This alternative method was used to save cost and time compared with the traditional laboratory wind testing regime.
Traditionally, floor plates in this kind of scheme are formed from reinforced concrete alone and, in order to have achieved the spans necessary in The Lexington, would have meant thick, heavy floor slabs, which would have been a costly approach and one that resulted in a heavier foundation requirement. Using post tensioning, EDGE was able to reduce the weight of concrete and in turn reduce the amount of carbon embodied within the building. The thin post-tensioned floor slabs, fully designed and detailed by EDGE, adhered to tight deflection constraints for the unitised façade. We worked closely with FCH, BCEGI and façade manufacturer Staticus to predict and tweak deflections to suit their requirements.
EDGE provided full civils and structural services for the tower and car park, including all post-tensioned design and reinforcement detailing. This meant we were able to co-ordinate with FCH, Briggs & Forrester and subcontractors to provide a seamless design for Moda. Joey Jones, UK director, EDGE Consulting Engineers
The design intent was to deliver a commercially viable tall building that told a story of the relationships between the Liverpool and New York skylines and international trade. The Lexington was named after Lexington Avenue in New York and references liners that crossed the Atlantic.
The 17th floor of the building is dedicated to communal spaces and has a higher ceiling height to create a ‘waistband’ to the elevation externally as well as differentiating this internal space. Moda had a clear focus of providing outstanding communal facilities to allow the residents to create a Moda Living community, which at the time of the design concept was not a common feature. In addition to the 17th floor, the second floor includes an outside terrace with seating and landscaped areas, including outdoor cooking facilities and a gym.
The upper roof level includes viewing platforms providing unrivalled 360° views of the city and river.
The project used MEVA’s automatic climbing jump formwork and screen system for the construction of the reinforced concrete core. While the system had been used before the construction of The Lexington, it is comparatively new. The MEVA system was selected due to the exposed location of the site and the prevalence of high winds. The self-raising nature of the system negates the need for crane ‘hook time’, thus reducing the probability of progress being affected because of the crane being ‘winded off’. The enclosed self-rising screens provided safer working conditions for the construction team and improved the quality of the core through shielding the team and works from the worst of the inclement weather. Michael Haselgrove, design manager, BCEGI Construction (UK) and Adam Hall, managing director, Falconer Chester Hall
Start on site: July 2018 Completion: August 2021 Gross internal floor area: 27,270m2 Construction cost: £64 million Construction cost per m2: £2,346 Architect: Falconer Chester Hall Client: Moda Living Structural engineer: Edge Consulting M&E consultant: Briggs & Forrester Quantity surveyor: Arcadis Project manager: Ridge and Partners, Spring & Co Principal designer: Curtins Approved building inspector: Ball and Berry Main contractor: BCEG Construction (UK) Access consultant: Access Advisors Fire engineer: BB7 CDM adviser/Health and safety consultant: David M Eagle Wind and energy CFD modelling: SLR Consulting Landscape architect: Planit-IE Acoustic consultant: Fisher Acoustics Façade engineer: Staticus Interior designer: Naomi Cleaver Interior fit-out: Charles Evans CAD software used: Revit
Percentage of floor area with daylight factor >2%: Not supplied Percentage of floor area with daylight factor >5%: Not supplied On-site energy generation: Nil Heating and hot water load: 1,098,731 kWh/m2/yr (estimated from as-built EPC) Total energy load: 1,098,731 kWh/m2/yr (estimated from as-built EPC) Carbon emissions (all): 10,435 kgCO2/m2 (estimated from as designed SAP) Annual mains water consumption: 0.125 m3/occupant Airtightness at 50Pa: 3 m3/hr/m2 Overall thermal bridging heat transfer coefficient (Y-value): 0 W/m2K Overall area-weighted U-value Total heat transfer co-efficient: 1.07 W/m2K Window heat transfer co-efficient: 1.48 W/m2K Wall heat transfer co-efficient: 0.55 W/m2K Annual CO2 emissions: 10,435 kgCO2/m2 Embodied/whole-life carbon: Not supplied Predicted design life: Varies
Tags Build to rent Falconer Chester Hall Liverpool Tower
Yes but it’s not New York is it
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