It's true that we are all in the gutter, yet some of us are looking at the stars. But for some the stars are definitely much closer. The vogue for apartment life has a big hold on British cities and with industrial buildings, schools and stations rapidly undergoing transformation into living spaces, the gutter is looking quite lonely these days. So why is living at altitude alluring?
Dieter Rolph fell in love with his Barbican flat at first sight despite the fact that he and partner Stephen Baldwin were looking for a suburban house with a garden at the time.
Their 29th floor flat in the heart of the city is surely as far away from suburbia as it is possible to get, yet its bucolic atmosphere appeals to Dieter: "It's a unique place to live, like living in a village community."
Does the hustle and bustle of city life ever intrude? "It's so quiet, particularly at weekends. On Fridays there's a queue coming out of the car park as people leave for their weekend retreats," says Dieter, who is surprised by the number of families he meets in the lift.
The high-flying home has other perks in addition to wonderful light and views. "Residents automatically become members of the Barbican association, with concessions to cinema and theatre tickets and there's even a good restaurant," says Dieter, who has adjusted to life in the clouds although friends can be nervous: "They come round and say they can't bear to stand by the window, but after 10 minutes they eventually venture outside."
Balconies line the flat's entire length, giving Dieter a chance to indulge his love of gardening, although it is a test seeing which plants survive the wind. The elements are keenly felt inside the flat too: "The block sways, making the walls creak and the lamps swing."
Dieter thinks they'll stay in the flat for a while longer but has his heart set on a traditional garden for the future: "We've an outside table but the wind is restrictive and opportunities for candlelit dinners are one in a million."
Pursuit of romance may not be the only incentive for moving, as yearly service charges increase from pounds 4,000 to pounds 7,000 within the next two years.
The Barbican flats were built in the 1970s. Originally a council estate, most of the flats are privately owned, with a few lower-level flats remaining in local authority ownership. Dieter and Stephen's flat reflects their love of modernism and their environment is suitably chic, proving that tower block and concrete is once again fashionable and Victoriana currently has the kudos of stone cladding.
Reading the blurb for apartment developments sprouting in every nook and cranny throughout the capital is enough to rouse the most dormant buyer. These are not mere homes. They are "living and working under one roof" environments designed for "discerning buyers with hectic lifestyles". Buy one and you too can live in "tomorrow's world today". If the adspeak is not exhausting enough, most developments offer extras which invariably include the misnomer, "leisure facilities". But do the computerised images echo reality? Who are these toned, industrious singles ascending wall- climbing lifts through tropical gardens to their atrium-set apartments?
After getting divorced and staying with friends for a spell, John Tempest was first to buy one of 32 flats at Westminster Bridge House, a former British Telecom office building in Waterloo, London. How does the bachelor pad compare with his former Wandsworth home? "I can get in early and work late, which is ideal if you're single," says John, who now walks to work in Covent Garden, where he is a recruitment consultant.
John bought his two-bedroom home for pounds 130,000 before the development was completed so had little idea, apart from computer images, of what it would eventually look like. Service charges at the Barratt development are around pounds 1,200 a year, but apart from underground car parking and security there are no extras. Was John tempted to choose a development with more amenities? "I didn't want porterage because, apart from the cost, it would feel like living in a hotel. I belong to a health club so I don't need those facilities," he adds.
Some developments offer perks to those able to exchange quickly. At Metro Central in Elephant & Castle, London, fast-movers can choose from a range of extras which include free cable TV for three years or no service charges for a year.
Apartments are ideal for those with lives too hectic to include DIY. John's flat was fully finished, including tiles and carpeting, so he has had little to do apart from adding those essential accoutrements for the discerning single; dimmer switches.
High-fliers with aspirations for a penthouse, but dependant on a mortgage, should check lender policy. Many building societies impose restrictions and will not consider homes above a certain level. The Woolwich's policy is not to lend on flats above the seventh floor. "It's a grey area and we look at each property individually to assess its future saleability," says a spokesperson.
Living in the heart of the city brings easy access to work and entertainment but not everyone discovers village-like communities. John Tempest finds his location, down the road from the Imperial War Museum, handy for sight seeing when relatives come to stay, but has never met or even seen any neighbours. Perhaps it is not just the gutter which feels lonely.Reuse content