A textured facade adds visual interest to student housing by Buckley Gray Yeoman


Tim Soar

Not so long ago, ‘student digs’ conjured up an image of rackety shared houses, with landlords like The Young Ones’ Mr Balowski operating below the radar of the commercial property industry. Then came the growth in student numbers, and loans to cover living costs. “Student housing has emerged as a mainstream global asset class worth an estimated $200bn”, declared Jones Lang LaSalle in 2012. In that year a record £3bn was invested in the sector in the UK; Savills forecasts £5.5bn this year. Bulky blocks of people-storage have mushroomed in cities from Plymouth to Dundee, but the flood of money has produced little of architectural quality. Stacks of uniform rooms give rise to a monotony compounded by bland facades.

A rare exception is found on the fringes of the City of London, where architect Buckley Gray Yeoman has completed a 19-storey block for Pure Student Living. It comprises 417 self-contained studio flats alongside shared recreation spaces, with weekly rents ranging from £280 to an eye-watering £453.

“We spent a lot of time developing the facades using high quality materials with a lot of geometric expression to provide a visually engaging building that contributes to the streetscape”, says project director Matt Yeoman. Consideration of how the massing is broken down played an important role in the early stages of the design process, and the block is set back several times as its height increases.

The impression of its bulk was further reduced by the development of an inter-weaving pattern of solid and void in the cladding. A system of light acid-etched precast concrete modules was arranged to give an angled geometry that lends depth and visual interest to the facade. Within that framework, full-height glazed panels are interspersed with panels of terracotta slats. A range of red colours provides a subtle variety across the facade, offset by white terracotta in specific areas to further break down the building’s apparent scale. Geometric ‘waves’ that run up and down and from side to side in the facade create a changing play of shadows throughout the day as the sun moves around the building.

The interior design is intended to reflect “the urban heritage and contemporary trends of East London”, says the architect. A variety of room sizes and layouts respond to the site constraints and cater to different budgets and living requirements – including different accessible layouts for residents with mobility impairments. Interior finishes include bespoke fixed furniture, enamel lampshades, wood-effect floors and exposed concrete ceilings. All bedrooms have their own bathroom and kitchen facilities.


A double-height entrance space at the corner of Commercial Road and Back Church Lane has a strong street presence and the continuously glazed ground floor with reception lounge and a dedicated study space is intended to give life to the street.The remaining street frontage is occupied by a separate retail unit.


Common areas on the ground and first floors are linked by an open steel staircase which overlooks a shared covered garden space to the south, and leads to the screening room, gym and break out areas with internet-cafe-style workstations. “With the common spaces the design intent was to provide the students with a subtle ‘adult’ palette of materials and colours rather than the bright primary colours often seen in student accommodation”, says the architect. The tower is topped off by a ‘skylounge’ – a shared space with a bar that is open to all residents – and an outdoor terrace with far-reaching views over the City.

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Buckley Gray Yeoman
Services engineer
Structural engineer
Facade consultant
Main contractor
Wates Construction
Pure Student Living

Precast concrete
Marble Mosaic Co
Terracotta cladding
James & Taylor
Bathroom pods
Walker Modular