sam thomson

The Ecstatic Home

The Ecstatic Home is a photo-essay examining the prevailing importance of plants and private gardens in luxury architecture.

Tropical Islands, Berlin, Photograph, 2019.

In 1938, the Nazi Party of Germany started construction on a spectacular metal dome that would protect the airships of the Luftwaffe from wind, rain and sun.  Even now, this superlative edifice stands 50 miles from Berlin, and remains one of the largest buildings in the world.

But today, it is owned by Tanjong, a Malaysian power and real-estate conglomerate, who derive their claim from the customs and governance of the Federal Republic of Germany, the Government of Malaysia, the European Union, the World Trade Organisation, and various supporting institutions whose mutual recognition underscores and legitimates the bulk of global trade.

Inside, a tiny red and white hot-air balloon floats above the world’s largest indoor waterpark, themed on a heavily-forested pastiche of tropical locations from around the world.  The air is heated to 26°C, there is sand, there are cocktails and flamingos, plaster replicas of desecrated administration centres, acres of hotel space, ice cream, buffets, spas and saunas, only the visitors themselves were not brought to this place to entice, to titillate, to soothe.

Tropical Islands, Berlin, Photograph, 2019.
Tropical Islands, Berlin.
Tropical Islands, Berlin, Photograph, 2019.

The presence of tropical plants in Europe has much to owe to the invention of a portable glass house called the Wardian Case, developed by botanists to protect specimens from wind, rain, and sun on the journey back from Europe’s colonies, the organic bounty of Empire.

A tribute to this naval history has recently been offered in the development of two residential towers currently under construction in the London Docklands.  Jointly led by the Irish property developer, Ballymore Group, and the Malaysian investor, Eco World, Wardian London is set to contain over 100 tropical plant species, colonnading a series of sky gardens and bordering the private swimming pools of this capital slab.

It isn’t the only Docklands project to memorialise the history of shipping in London.  Nearby is another Ballymore Site, named Goodluck Hope, and within it is Container City, constructed from redundant shipping containers to create stylish and high quality accommodation.  But the presence of old containers in London is an anachronism.

The development of containerised shipping as the backbone of global trade required the adoption of deep-water docks, which the ancient Port of London was unable to provide. The subsequent decline of the shipping industry resulted in the destruction of the local community, and the cut-price sale of the old London Docklands to private investors.

GoodLuck Hope Marketing Suite, Photograph, 2019.
GoodLuck Hope Marketing Suite, Photograph, 2019.
GoodLuck Hope Marketing Suite, Photograph, 2019.

Close to Container City, palm trees tower above  an old boat shed, saluting the arrival of Wardian’s first residents from across the Thames, like the first glimpse of land after months at sea.  This is the showroom for Ballymore Group, although the majority of apartments still for sale are located in comparatively modest neighbourhoods on this side of the water, at Trinity Buoy Wharf.

One thing that can be said about luxury is that it offers the experience of total comfort, and it is this lust for comfort Khalil Gibran describes as “that stealthy thing that enters the house a guest, and then becomes a host, and then a master”.

To serve luxury is to help bring that state of ultimate bliss to completion, it is to always offer consolation, always forgiveness, to shield the luxured from the concerns of the world, never to antagonise, never to remind, never to bother, never to complicate, but to encase behind a mirror that reflects the known upon the knower, and contentment upon the contented.

Wardian Architectural Visualisation.
Wardian Architectural Visualisation.
Wardian Architectural Visualisation.