Big, bold riverside developments with penthouse flats selling for up to £5m apiece are jostling for every inch of space along the Thames.
As London's housing market booms again, the developments springing up on the banks of the Thames are setting a precedent for the capital. They're big and they're bold.

Whereas the last wave of riverside housing, which was concentrated in the Docklands areas, tended to be a cautious mix of yellow brick, steel balconies and pitched roofs verging on the banal, the latest developments are powerful architectural statements.

Part of this new-found confidence can be traced back to the previous government's Thames Strategic Guidance of 1996, which sought to promote the river as a national asset and encouraged mixed use to turn the riverside into a throbbing public space.

Add to this pressure from the government to use up brownfield land for housing and the fact that developers can add more than a third to the price if there is any chance of glimpsing water from a window, and it is little wonder that 1980s schemes such as Barratt's neoclassical sweep around Rotherhithe are beginning to look terribly old-fashioned.

Many of these developments are challenging planning guidance on height and density, successfully arguing for developments that are denser and taller than we usually warm to in this country. Stepped blocks cascading down to the river in fingers are a popular solution for breaking down the mass, letting light into sheltered courtyards and knitting bigger schemes with lower neighbours, while at the same time creating plenty of lucrative roof terraces with river views.

Mixed-use developments such as St George's £30m scheme in Vauxhall, 225 apartments at Charter Quay, Kingston, or Rialto's Gargoyle Wharf at Wandsworth offer microcosms of Lord Rogers' proposed urban renaissance. Shopping, restaurants, leisure facilities, doctors' surgeries, public walkways and affordable housing (fast becoming an almost mandatory component if a scheme is to woo council planners) sit alongside luxury apartments where a quarter of a million will barely get you two bedrooms, and penthouses that are strictly for multimillionaires.

Much of the development is on the south bank of the river, in areas such as Wandsworth, Battersea, Greenwich and Thamesmead. The north bank, with the exception of Docklands, was filled long ago. With the sun coming from behind the buildings, architects are realising the importance of the silhouette, resulting in some bold shapes and soaring roof forms such as the wing-topped towers of St George Wharf at Vauxhall and the soaring slopes at Trinity Wharf in Rotherhithe.

With the banks filling fast, and most sites from upstream Teddington Lock in the west to Thamesmead beyond the tidal Thames Barrier on the east now earmarked for development, an exciting new public space is being opened up along the river. Here, Building selects 10 of the Thames' new residential landmarks.

Montevetro, Battersea

developer Taylor Woodrow Capital architect Richard Rogers Partnership Montevetro -“glass mountain”– fills in the barren Battersea skyline with a 60 m high glazed wedge of 103 luxury apartments driven between the grade I- listed St Mary’s Church and a 1960s council estate. Under the zinc roof that slopes down from the 20-storey apex, £1m glass penthouses luxuriate in 9 m high spaces. Even the terracotta panels on the non-river side are interrupted by scenic glass lifts.

Gargoyle Wharf, Wandsworth

developer Rialto Homes architect Broadway Malyan The latest scheme for the controversial Guinness site beside Wandsworth Bridge positions five cascading blocks perpendicular to the river, capitalising on the morning and evening sun that hits the inner facades and creating plenty of penthouse terraces with river views. Behind, with less splendid views, are lower elliptical blocks of affordable and rentable housing, together with community facilities such as a doctors’ surgery, shops and a health club. Landscaping by Gustafson Porter will create exciting public spaces. The history of the site includes a much-publicised occupation by eco-pressure groups, and a Foster and Partners scheme that was withdrawn when the DETR called it in last year. If the £100m-plus Broadway Malyan scheme, which was submitted for planning in early October, is successful, work will start on site next year.

St George Wharf, Vauxhall

developer St George architect Broadway Malyan One of the few buildings with the chutzpah to compete with Terry Farrell’s MI6 building nearby, St George Wharf is an imposing addition to the skyline. Prow-fronted glass towers cascade down towards the river. A band of reconstituted sandstone cladding panels along the lower two storeys mark out riverside shops, restaurants and offices. The first phase is due for completion next summer. Future phases have been submitted for outline planning permission.

Benbow House, Bankside

developer Berkeley Homes with Chelsfield architect Renton Howard Wood Levin Partnership Enjoying a prime location at newly fashionable Bankside, Benbow House is designed to complement neighbours such as the Globe Theatre and the new Bankside Tate gallery. Its low-key 11 storeys feature brick and buff stone cladding interspersed with generous glazing and cantilevered balconies, set off with a distinctive curved metallic roof. As well as 71 apartments, it includes a restaurant, retail units and a landscaped courtyard at lower levels. Just started on site, it is due for completion next summer.

Canary Riverside, Isle of Dogs

developer Berkeley Homes architect Koetter Kim & Associates Anchoring the north-west corner of the Isle of Dogs, Canary Riverside serves Canary Wharf with its first residential accommodation. An Egyptian-style temple housing a Four Seasons hotel is flanked by four more conventional housing blocks of varying heights. The low glazed swimming pool and tomb-like health club lend simple, elegant geometries that scream exclusivity.

Ocean Wharf, Isle of Dogs

developer Furlong Homes architect Jestico Whiles and Associates An 11-storey elliptical tower and a low-lying block go for the clean, crisp look: white render on the tower, vibrant cobalt blue screens on the lower block, thin strip windows or neatly punched squares, all arranged in regular lines. Linking the two, an entrance lobby topped with a soaring green roof stresses the point for those that haven’t got it yet – this is designer living. These have been joined by another two, plainer blocks adding 79 apartments.

Trinity Wharf, Rotherhithe

developer Bellway Homes architect Barton Willmore Partnership Located in what Bellway calls “South Docklands” and the rest of us call Rotherhithe, Trinity Wharf is the antidote to the sweep of neoclassical low rises that hug the south bank at Limehouse Reach. Two seven-storey glass-fronted blocks impose themselves on the skyline, soaring ski-jump roofs maximising their impact. At night, the facades glow, their light reflected in the water.

Pierhead Lock, Isle of Dogs

developer Barratt architect Goddard Manton Partnership Named “best apartment building” in this year’s National Home Builder Design Awards, £20m Pierhead Lock is intended to capture the feel of a 1930s P&O liner cruising into the dock with crisp white facades and prominent balustrading. With the dome as its main view, circular forms predominate, starting in the semicircular apartment blocks and rounded tower that follow the line of an old graving dock, and carry through in balconies, spiral stairs and landscaping. Beginning with a 12-storey tower by the water, the development steps down as it curls round, taking it down to the height of a listed harbour-master’s building in the corner of the site.

Barrier Point, Silvertown

developer Barratt architect Goddard Manton Partnership Although it has only a narrow river frontage, £45m Barrier Point takes advantage of the Thames Barrier Park. Behind the 18-storey tower on the waterfront stretches a six-storey wall of apartments. On the park side, six stepped blocks look out over the landscape, echoing the park’s geometry. The first tranche of homes is occupied; the rest of the development is due to be completed in late 2000.

Millennium Harbour, Isle of Dogs

developer Ballymore architect CZWG Millennium Harbour is the latest in CZWG’s bid to dominate the westerly bank of the Isle of Dogs. Ten-storey towers faced in yellow brick are topped with copper-clad garrets that hark back to the old Docklands warehouses. Alone, they might have looked awkward; together, the three blocks create an undulating roofscape that frames views into inner courtyards. Steel balconies are deliberately severe and industrial, their exposed girders forming a parallel diagonal pattern up to the roof.