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 UK 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 London's tall building boom.
In its official statement, the campaign notes: "London, one of the great cities of the world, deserves better. We are not opposed to building high, but believe that the most visible buildings in the city require the greatest care in their siting, individual design and aggregate impact. The communities secretary and his ministers, the mayor and the boroughs must wake up to the risk of irreversible harm that London is facing, and take effective action."
As reported by the Architects' Journal, David Chipperfield has said: "everybody should support this campaign. It’s simply saying that there should be a more co-ordinated planning system in London. Backing it is like voting for good weather. I don’t think anybody, including developers, enjoys the current conditions."
This sentiment reflects the conclusions of Terry Farrell's review into UK architecture, which argued for a switch to a more proactive planning system. Moore welcomes this proposal, adding that the current system is "made worse by the fact that local authorities are under-resourced, and undermined by central government's push towards development at all costs."
Another debate was sparked by NLA's findings over the program of these new buildings: although the study found that 80% of the new buildings were residential, a follow-up survey by NLA found that most Londoners like skyscrapers - but would not want to live in them.
In the Atlantic Cities, Feargus O'Sullivan explains why there is so much high-rise residential building when there is little local demand for it: "The bittersweet, sad answer is that the majority of Londoners won’t have a chance in hell of ever living in one of these towers anyway. Most are priced above standard market rates, located in areas where the majority of buyers for new builds are already overseas investors who are often absent."
This idea is embraced by the campaign by Moore and the Architects' Journal, which states that "most of the proposed towers are not vital to London's prosperity and financial wellbeing. The majority are residential, but they are neither essential to meeting housing needs, nor the best way to achieve greater densities... They have the potential to cause permanent damage to the city's urban fabric and to its global image and reputation."
In response to the threat of poorly planned/designed tall buildings, the campaign supports the proposal by Peter Murray of New London Architecture to begin a mayoral 'skyline commission' to evaluate the impact of the development explosion. However the initial response from the Mayor has been lukewarm, with the Architects' Journal quoting a spokesperson as saying:
"The Mayor is looking at the idea of a skyline commission but he’d urge those behind this new group to first study the London Plan and its alterations, and then to engage with the Mayor’s Design Advisory Group which already brings together some of the most distinguished names in this field."