The Battle for the Skies Over London

Courtesy of CPAT / Hayes Davidson / Jason Hawkes

In response to the recent study by New London Architecture, which found that there are currently over 230 tall buildings either planned or under construction in London, an argument is brewing over the capital’s sudden, seemingly uncontrolled, growth.

The most vocal reaction to all of this has come from Rowan Moore, architecture critic for The Observer, who has teamed up with the Architects’ Journal to launch a campaign calling for more rigorous planning and public consultation when it comes to tall buildings. The campaign has support from 80 signatories, a list that reads like a ‘who’s who’ of British architecture, including architects, planners, politicians, developers and artists as well as a range of civic societies.

Read on for more reaction to ’s tall building boom.

London’s Impending Tall Building Boom

Central as it will look when all current projects are completed.. Image Courtesy of CPAT / Hayes Davidson / Jason Hawkes

In a study of all development plans in London, the think tank New London Architecture has found that at least 236 buildings over 20 stories are currently either under construction, approved or awaiting approval in the capital – with over 80% of these projects yet to break ground.

The study, created to support an exhibition by NLA called “London’s Growing… Up!,” found that 80% of the new towers will be residential, and that the areas of greatest activity were in Central and Eastern areas of London, with 77% of these tall buildings in the City of London or the Boroughs of Tower Hamlets, Lambeth, Greenwich, Newham and Southwark.

Read on for more results of, and reactions to, the study…

Tall Tinder: Are Wooden Skyscrapers Really Fire Safe?

IZM - Illwerke Zentrum Montafon / Architekten Hermann Kaufmann ZT GmbH. Image © Norman A. Müller

While interest in tall timber buildings continues to grow, there still remains one obvious concern: combustibility. So how safe are timber structures really? Arup Connect spoke with Robert Gerard, a fire engineer in Arup’s San Francisco office, to find out how high-rise wood buildings take into account.

AD Classics: PPG Place / John Burgee Architects with Philip Johnson

via Wikipedia Commons

The design of PPG Place, by Philip Johnson and John Burgee, melds the notion of the modern corporate tower with a neo-gothic monument. Clad in almost a million square feet of glass manufactured by the anchor tenant PPG industries, the architects ingeniously rethought accepted practices in curtain wall design to create “the crown jewel in Pittsburgh’s skyline.” (1)  The 1.57 million square foot complex was one in a series of high profile corporate projects completed during Johnson’s controversial foray into postmodernism.

Skyscrapers Shedding Ice in NYC

One World Trade Center as seen from the Hudson River. Image © Joe Mabel via Wikipedia

As begins to thaw after record breaking winter conditions, city dwellers are forced to be on high alert for falling ice. Streets surrounding the 1,776-foot One World Trade Center have been closed following reports of ice shearing from its surface. Some blame the more energy efficient buildings for the deadly occurrence, believing that because the newer structures are able to hold in more heat their exteriors remain colder which aids the formation of ice. Materials and building form can help prevent this phenomena. You can learn more here.

VIDEO: What We Can Learn From Tall Buildings

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What do you think the North American, Asian and Western European tall building communities most need to learn from each other? This is precisely what the Center on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH) sat down to ask five leading architects, whose responses formed an eclectic and meaningful overview on the state of tall building worldwide. As Rem Koolhaas noted, each region has their own journey that is worth understanding, such as the Arab world’s transition from “extravagance to rationality” or ’s hyper-focus on project realization. However, as James Goettsch points out, “not every building has to be something remarkable.” It’s alright for some buildings to be nothing more than “good citizens.”

Watch all five responses in the short video above.

Frank Gehry Chosen to Design Berlin’s Tallest Tower

© , Courtesy of Hines

Gehry Partners has been selected over David Chipperfield, Adjaye Associates and seven other practices in an invited competition for a 300-unit residential tower in . The winning proposal, deemed “the most compelling” by jury for its rotating stacks of sculptural, stone-clad cubes that rise up to 150 meters, is expected to be ’s tallest skyscraper and Germany’s tallest residential tower.

“Gehry’s design is strong in visual expression and introduces an unusually eccentric, new pattern for this location. Nevertheless, the façade radiates agreeable tranquility. In addition, the design blends well with the neighborhood and conveys all aspects of metropolitan living,” commented Regula Lüscher, Senate Building Director.

Gehry’s Grand Avenue Project Wins LA County Supervisors’ Approval

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After being rejected for appearing too “boxy” and not appealing enough to pedestrians, Related Companies’ revamped Grand Avenue vision has finally won unanimous approval from county supervisors. The $750-million plan, which was abruptly halted back in September when Gensler’s toned-down version was deemed greatly “disappointing” by the city, will now move forward with a more playful (and pricey) design by the project’s original architect, Frank Gehry.

World’s Tallest Buildings of 2013 Dominated by Asia

Courtesy of Council of Tall Buildings and Urban Habitats

According to the latest Tall Report, 73 buildings in excess of 200 meters were completed in 2013 worldwide, the second highest total only behind 2011 with 81 completions. The increase of completions from 2012 to 2013 continues a significant upward trend that, since 2000, has seen an astounding 318 percent increase in tall buildings. 

Renzo Piano-Designed Residential Tower Planned to Neighbor the Shard

View of from Millennium Bridge (June 2012). Image © Michel Denancé

Sellar Property Group has announced plans to commission yet another -designed tower in London at the base of The Shard. Replacing the current Fielden House, a 1970s office building located on London Bridge Street, the new 27-story residential tower plans to provide 150 apartments, retail space and roof garden. As part of the area’s regeneration plan, the project will be the third Piano-designed building on the block.

Should NYC Be Curbing Its Tall Buildings?

111 West 57th Street by SHoP Architects. Image Courtesy of SHoP Architects

New York Times architecture critic Michael Kimmelman puts forward his opinion on what should be done about the new breed of supertall residential buildings threatening to place Central Park ”inside the world’s biggest chessboard”. While he accepts that they may be an important factor in bringing wealth (and tax revenue) to New York, he offers some simple changes in legislation that could protect the city’s famous skyline from abuse by high-power development firms. Read the full article here.

The Gherkin: How London’s Famous Tower Leveraged Risk and Became an Icon (Part 4)

Courtesy Jonathan Massey & Andrew Weigand

This four part series (originally published on Aggregate’s website) examines the Gherkin, the London office tower designed by Foster + Partners, showing how the urban icon engaged and leveraged perceptions of risk. In part one, author Jonathan Massey introduced the concept of “risk design” to describe how the Gherkin’s design managed the risks posed by , terrorism, and globalization. In parts two and three, Massey examined the building’s treatment of risks associated with and terrorism. In this final installment, Massey concludes by addressing the building’s engagement with risks posed to the City of London by globalization. 

Unlike New York and other in which zoning codes entitle landowners to some kinds of development “as of right,” the City of London regulates property development through case-by-case review by planning officers, who judge how well the proposed construction conforms to City-wide plans and guidelines regarding factors such as building height, development density, access to transit, and impact on views and the visual character of the area. In order to develop the Gherkin, the property owners and Swiss Re had to secure planning consent from the City Corporation through its chief planning officer, Peter Wynne Rees. The review and permitting process that culminated in the granting of planning consent in August 2000 spanned the planning office as well as the market, the courts, and the press. Rees brokered a multilateral negotiation so intensive that we could almost say the building was designed by bureaucracy. Part of that negotiation entailed imagining and staging risk: climate risk, terrorism risk, and, especially, the financial risks associated with globalization.

The Gherkin: How London’s Famous Tower Leveraged Risk and Became an Icon (Part 3)

Courtesy of Jonathan Massey & Andrew Weigand

This four part series (originally published on Aggregate’s website) examines , the London office tower designed by Foster + Partners, showing how the urban icon engaged and leveraged perceptions of risk. In part one, author Jonathan Massey introduced the concept of “risk design” to describe how the Gherkin’s design managed the risks posed by , terrorism, and globalization. In part two, Massey examined the building’s treatment of climate risk. In part three, below, he explains how the Gherkin redesigned the risk imaginary associated with terrorism.

Mornings the Zamboni scrubs the plaza. Moving across the pavement in parallel lines connected by tight turns, the sweeper cleans the stone of cigarette butts and spilled food and beer left the night before by the underwriters and bankers who patronize the bar and shops in the building’s perimeter arcade as well as the adjacent restaurant that in fair weather sets up outdoor tables and chairs.

By pulling away from its irregular property lines, the tower achieves almost perfect formal autonomy from its context. The gap between the circular tower base and trapezoidal site boundaries forms a privately owned public space, a civic and commercial amenity in this densely built part of the City. 

The Gherkin: How London’s Famous Tower Leveraged Risk and Became an Icon (Part 2)

Courtesy Jonathan Massey & Andrew Weigand

This four part series (originally published on Aggregate’s website) examines The Gherkin, the office tower designed by Foster + Partners, showing how the urban icon engaged and leveraged perceptions of risk. In part one, author Jonathan Massey introduced the concept of “risk design” to describe how the Gherkin’s design managed the risks posed by climate change, terrorism, and globalization. In part two, below, Massey examines the Gherkin’s enclosure and ventilation systems in detail to explain how the building negotiated climate risk.

In a poster promoting London’s bid to host the Olympic Games, the Gherkin supported gymnast Ben Brown as he vaulted over the building’s conical peak. The image associated British athleticism and architecture as complementary manifestations of daring and skill, enlisting the Gherkin as evidence that London possessed the expertise and panache to handle the risk involved in hosting an Olympic Games.

But a poster created three years later offered a very different image. Created by activists from the Camp for Climate Action to publicize a mass protest at Heathrow Airport against the environmental degradation caused by air travel, this poster shows the Gherkin affording only precarious footing to a giant polar bear that swats at passing jets as its claws grasp at the slight relief offered by spiraling mullions and fins.

The Gherkin: How London’s Famous Tower Leveraged Risk and Became an Icon

How does design change the nature and distribution of risk? In this, the first of four installments examining the Gherkin, the London office tower and urban icon designed by Foster + Partners, author introduces the concept of “risk design.” The series, originally published on Aggregate’s website, explains how the Gherkin leveraged perceptions of risk to generate profits, promote economic growth, and raise the currency of design expertise.

Designing Risk

Back the Bid. Leap for London. Make Britain Proud. Emblazoned across photomontages of oversized athletes jumping over, diving off, and shooting for architectural landmarks old and new, these slogans appeared in 2004 on posters encouraging Londoners to support the city’s bid to host the 2012 Olympic Games. Featured twice in the series of six posters—along with Buckingham Palace, Nelson’s Column, the Tower Bridge, the London Eye, and the Thames Barrier—was 30 St Mary Axe, the office tower known colloquially as the Gherkin for its resemblance to a pickle, or as the Swiss Re building, after the Zurich-based reinsurance company that commissioned the building and remains its major tenant.

“A Short History of the Highrise”

Oscar Niemeyer – Brasília, 1958. Image © Marcel Gautherot/IMS

The Times has published “A Short History of the Highrise” – an interactive documentary that explores the 2,500-year global history of vertical living and issues of social equality in an increasingly urbanized world. Organized in four short films – “Mud,” “,” “Glass,” and “Home” – viewers are given the option to “dig deeper” into each subject and explore additional archival material while viewing the film. Check out the film here.

If Skyscrapers Predict Crises, What Do “Donuts” Tell Us?

HQ (USA). Image © Foster + Partners, ARUP, Kier + Wright,

In a recent article for the Financial Times, Edwin Heathcote explores the ‘Skyscraper Index’, an informal term that suggests a correlation between the construction of a big company’s ambitious headquarters and subsequent financial crisis: “Think of the Empire State Building opening into the Wall Street crash of 1929, the Twin Towers being completed as was flirting with bankruptcy or the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur taking the mantle of the world’s tallest building and presaging the Asian financial crisis.” Heathcote goes on to describe the latest generation of headquarters being constructed for our current, tech-oriented goliaths – like Apple‘s monolithic “donut”, by Foster + Partners, and Facebook‘s Gehry-designed Menlo Park campus - and wonders: “if skyscrapers can tell us something about the temperature of an overheating economy, what do these groundscraping new HQs say?” Read the full article here.

SOM Gets Behind Wooden Skyscraper Design

Courtesy of ArchDaily

Although known for their iconic skyscrapers of glass and steel, SOM has begun to redefine our idea of the high-rise by pushing for wood as an alternative material for tall buildings. Not only could it help solve the worldwide problem of housing for those who are or will live in , but wooden skyscrapers could also address climate change by reducing a building’s carbon footprint. Click here to read about the structural system that has come up with and don’t check out our previous coverage on the equally fascinating Timber Tower Research Project!