For sale: two-bed flat in high-rise building. pounds 500,000

Tower blocks are going up in the world.
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The Independent Online
Say "tower block" and people come up with an image of a vandalised Sixties dump, where the lifts are either broken or smelly and bacteria flourish in the heating systems. So how come the rich are now so keen to live in them?

Of course, they don't call them tower blocks. They call them modern apartments, rooms with a view, New York-style living. Whatever the name, they are becoming an acceptable city option.

In the Sixties, families were lured out of council houses into tower blocks by the promise of an inside lavatory, bathroom, central heating and sunlight coming through the windows. If you came from a gloomy back- to-back, it was an attractive offer. No one foresaw the down side. First, there were the structural problems caused by poor materials and low build quality. Then there were social consequences of moving families away from the streets. Children had nowhere to play, and teenage vandals and burglars used the lifts as getaway vehicles.

But private buyers and tenants have started to see tower blocks from a different perspective. Such residents are invariably childless - or their children live at their other home in the country. Their city lives are work-orientated rather than home-dominated, and they want a living space rather than a place with all the connotations of home.

Many have experience of high-rise living abroad, either in the States or the Far East. Part of London's attraction used to be that you could live centrally in a period property, but the new generation of 12-hour- a-day workers would rather come home to efficiency than to hassle, however prettily packaged.

What does it matter that you only meet your neighbours in the lift if you're at home for only a couple of waking hours a day? What matters is that the lift works and that a house manager controls the front door. More than anything, those moving into tower blocks today are impressed by security. If an estate agent can prove to them that no stranger can enter their communal space, let alone their private apartment, they are well on their way to a sale.

One of the most successful tower block developments in London is Buckingham Gate, an ugly glass box overlooking Buckingham Palace. Above the offices of Rolls-Royce, a new set of flats to rent has been created on the ninth to 14th floors.

The flats are mainly one- and two-bedroom, with modern kitchens and bathrooms, and are furnished in neutral creams and blues. Tenants pay between pounds 250 and pounds 600 a week, plus bills and water rates - something landlords are increasingly sneaking in.

Since going on the market a month ago, two-thirds have been taken up by single people. The factor that has impressed them most is not the view of the Palace, but the Sainsbury's across the road. Almost all of them work in the city, many for European companies. None has children. It is difficult to imagine anyone peeing in the lifts.

Across the Thames, Regalian has undertaken a similar project at Peninsular Heights on the Albert Embankment. Better known to taxi drivers as the place where Jeffrey Archer lives, the block has been stripped back, re- clad and turned into a modern apartment building with views of the Houses of Parliament and the Tate Gallery.

The sight of so many landmarks helps to disguise the fact that this is not one of London's premier locations. But it is close enough and sufficiently well-planned and priced to lure buyers across the river. Prices may hover around pounds 500,000 for two bedrooms and two bathrooms, but they are pounds 100- a-square-foot less than in Kensington - and there is parking space and a gym thrown in.

Estate agents are now selling tower blocks as they have always sold penthouses: never mind the trek up the lift, just look at the view. In two cases they are capitalising on a good location by adding an extra couple of penthouse floors to existing blocks.

In Chelsea, an unremarkable 1930s tower overlooking the King's Road is half-way through its metamorphosis from block of flats to chic apartment building. The communal parts of Whitelands House are being spruced up, and four petal-shaped apartments with large terraces are emerging from the roof. The three-reception, four-bedroom, three-bathroom apartments will go on the market next month with price tags of around pounds 1.4m.

Up the road and up the price range is Fountain House on Park Lane, one of the world's smartest addresses. The building has been topped out with four penthouses which look across Mayfair to the City beyond and over Hyde Park to Kensington. Each penthouse is a series of vast rooms linked by corridors and terraces. The price tag is a staggering pounds 1,000 per square foot.

In the poor tower blocks, the benefit of the views was swamped by the misery of crime, damp, noise and unneighbourliness. As the authors of a recent history of the tower block state, councils have made life more tolerable by improving security and maintenance. But the suspicion remains that only the rich can enjoy the high life.

Buckingham Gate: W A Ellis 0171-581 7654. Peninsular Heights: Beaney Pearce 0171-589 1333 and Cluttons London Residential 0171-824 8822. Whitelands House: De Groot Collis 0171-235 8090. Fountains House: W A Ellis and Wetherell 0171-493 6935.

`Tower Block' by Miles Glendinning and Stefan Muthesius, Yale (pounds 40).