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Old Posted Feb 20, 2014, 6:44 PM
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London's skyline is a growing mess (Commentary)

The ascent of the city


Feb 15th 2014

Read More: http://www.economist.com/news/britai...nt_of_the_city

Quote:
.....

Tall buildings are sprouting not just in the City and Canary Wharf, London’s two financial districts, but also in places that had never seen a skyscraper, such as around Battersea Power Station and Elephant and Castle. Of the 41 buildings in the city taller than 100m, 24 have been completed since 2000. Another seven are under construction, many more in the pipeline. In short order, the capital’s skyline is being transformed.

- Today’s boom is much bigger. It is stoked by soaring demand for office space from expanding businesses and even greater pressure for housing, driven by gentrification and population growth. A shortage of land in a city constrained by a tight green belt makes it profitable to build upwards. Foreign money—whether from Arab sovereign-wealth funds or wealthy Malaysian investors who buy flats before they are built—means there is plenty of finance for risky projects. And the authorities, for reasons both idealistic and pragmatic, are minded to allow construction.

- In theory, the London Plan, laid out by the mayor’s office, determines the city’s shape. Tall buildings are encouraged in a few “opportunity areas”, especially if they are architecturally striking, explains Sir Edward Lister, the capital’s head of planning. The plan also protects views of St Paul’s Cathedral and the Palace of Westminster, as seen from London’s larger parks. You must, for example, be able to see both buildings from a specific oak tree on Hampstead Heath. Erecting tall buildings behind them is discouraged, too.

- These protected views help to explain why tall buildings are rising in such a dispersed pattern. The Shard will not get neighbours anytime soon, as it is wedged between two viewing corridors. In the City, towers are scattered instead of crowding around transport hubs, as economic theory might predict. Their odd designs—described by nicknames such as the Gherkin, the Walkie Talkie and the Cheesegrater—are in some cases a means of avoiding imposing on St Paul’s. Only at Canary Wharf, which is too far east to spoil many views, do cuboid skyscrapers rub together in the way they do in other big cities.

- The other reason London’s tall buildings are so oddly spread is local democracy. In the conservative borough of Westminster, the council resists almost all new tall buildings; despite soaring rents, no new skyscrapers have been built there since the 1960s. In the corporatist City, expensive architecture is prized. Almost anything goes in poor Labour-run authorities such as Lambeth, Southwark and Tower Hamlets.

- The rapid, chaotic rising of London upsets some. Sir Simon Jenkins, head of the National Trust (and formerly with this newspaper), says that all new tall buildings should be stopped. Both English Heritage, a public conservationist body, and Westminster Council object to Lambeth council’s plans to allow new office blocks on the South Bank near Waterloo station—where, it is said, they will spoil the view of Parliament. Last November Westminster won a judicial review of Lambeth’s decision: an unhappy escalation of decades of inter-borough warfare over planning.

- Oddly, businessmen are not much happier with the way things work. Thanks to the panoply of different authorities in London, getting planning permission is expensive and takes a long time, says Ian Simpson, an architect. A new tower he has designed near Blackfriars Bridge will have taken 14 years to plan and build when it is finished. Protected viewing corridors prevent many projects which would be useful. And the entire system adds enormously to the cost of construction. According to a study by Paul Cheshire and Gerard Dericks of the LSE, firms hire well-known architects as a way to ensure they win planning permission: a popular architect, on average, can get 19 storeys more. The buildings they design, while pretty, are often costly and impractical.

- London needs a better, stronger plan. The mayor should provide it. A single authority could reduce the cost and uncertainty of the current system for developers. It would allow planning to be more clearly linked up with transport— ideally, projects such as Crossrail would lead to more construction near stations such as Tottenham Court Road. It might even help conservationists: since the mayor would be directly accountable, he might pause before allowing an ugly building. London’s skyline is changing faster than ever. It is time the system that regulates it changed too.

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  #2  
Old Posted Feb 20, 2014, 8:39 PM
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I'll be labeled a heretic for saying it, but I think London's skyline is ghastly. Too many "look-at-me!" buildings shouting each other out with no coherence and too much gimmickry.
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Old Posted Feb 25, 2014, 2:45 PM
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Originally Posted by hauntedheadnc View Post
I'll be labeled a heretic for saying it, but I think London's skyline is ghastly. Too many "look-at-me!" buildings shouting each other out with no coherence and too much gimmickry.
Yeah, the first word that comes to mind is 'awkward'.
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Old Posted Mar 18, 2014, 5:36 PM
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Originally Posted by hauntedheadnc View Post
I'll be labeled a heretic for saying it, but I think London's skyline is ghastly. Too many "look-at-me!" buildings shouting each other out with no coherence and too much gimmickry.
+1.

One skyscraper with a bizarre or out-of-the-ordinary shape to mark your skyline is good (think the Grande Arche at La Défense for example), but a skyline only made up of towers with bizarre shapes is ugly in my opinion. It looks like a cabinet of curiosities. That's especially true for the City of London, less true for Canary Wharf.
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Old Posted Mar 18, 2014, 10:17 PM
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Originally Posted by New Brisavoine View Post
One skyscraper with a bizarre or out-of-the-ordinary shape to mark your skyline is good (think the Grande Arche at La Défense for example), but a skyline only made up of towers with bizarre shapes is ugly in my opinion. It looks like a cabinet of curiosities. That's especially true for the City of London, less true for Canary Wharf.
Agreed on all points.
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Old Posted Feb 20, 2014, 8:51 PM
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Awesome for London. The more high rises, the better!

I'm probably one of the few people who hold this opinion, but I actually am fond of non-clustered skylines sort of like Tokyo or Bangkok's. Random high rises scattered about everywhere just makes those cities feel even more bigger and dynamic...if that makes sense.


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Old Posted Feb 20, 2014, 8:56 PM
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Generally, highrises in London are signs saying "don't bother visiting or hanging out in this neighborhood."
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Old Posted Feb 20, 2014, 9:03 PM
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Boris Johnson, the major of London, is the equivalent of Bloomberg. Also, I do agree that spread out skylines do make a city seem a lot larger. I noticed cities outside of the U.S. tend to have multiple concentrations of skyscrapers, where American cities all have them clustered in a compact downtown. Tokyo, and Shanghai for example, have skyscrapers scattered within the urban area. Skyscrapers that are not only residential, but commercial.
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Old Posted Feb 20, 2014, 9:11 PM
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Originally Posted by chris08876 View Post
Boris Johnson, the major of London, is the equivalent of Bloomberg. Also, I do agree that spread out skylines do make a city seem a lot larger. I noticed cities outside of the U.S. tend to have multiple concentrations of skyscrapers, where American cities all have them clustered in a compact downtown. Tokyo, and Shanghai for example, have skyscrapers scattered within the urban area. Skyscrapers that are not only residential, but commercial.
You're right, but it can also be frustrating, with canary wharf growing like it is, and nine elms, we are now getting a bigger 'conventional' skyline, as well as the scattered clusters and towers, and this will help give the skyline more of an organised look
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Old Posted Feb 20, 2014, 9:04 PM
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Originally Posted by mhays View Post
Generally, highrises in London are signs saying "don't bother visiting or hanging out in this neighborhood."
How so?
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Old Posted Feb 20, 2014, 11:10 PM
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Originally Posted by chris08876 View Post
How so?
In London, larger highrises tend to be business dominated districts, or dots of 1960s dysfunction in the cityscape. As a moderately-frequent visitor, I'm there mostly for enjoyment, not business.

Shorter highrises are typically public housing of the towers-in-park variety, which also have no particular draw for me.

I don't particularly care for Canary Wharf, which is pretty sterile. The City is more interesting but even more business-dominated. The area around Tower Bridge / Shard is overly dominated by superblocks and elevated rail, and isn't very interesting either though I've had some good walks there. I've walked through or alongside countless council flats and found little of interest except their nearby high streets in some cases.
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Old Posted Feb 20, 2014, 9:23 PM
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Originally Posted by destroycreate View Post
Awesome for London. The more high rises, the better!
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Originally Posted by mhays View Post
Generally, highrises in London are signs saying "don't bother visiting or hanging out in this neighborhood."
Posts like these are good examples of why I tend to avoid threads on SSP that actually pertain to skyscrapers these days.

On the first point, of course more isn't always better. London is building skyscrapers because of demand for office space, but it'll never be a high rise city on par with NYC or Chicago or an increasing number of cities in Asia. If it's not going to be the vertical city that those places are, it should at least protect the aspects of its built environment that are its strengths.

There are plenty of places in London where highrises make sense, but they're not going to form a contiguous skyline. The City is surrounded by some very old, walkable neighborhoods that are worth protecting. There are other places that have disused industrial land, or ugly 1950s structures thrown up on the site of a Blitz bomb after the war, where one can build skyscrapers without sacrificing anything worth saving. Battersea, and specifically Nine Elms, which has a bunch of vacant former industrial land and a new transit line coming (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norther...n_to_Battersea), is probably an ideal place for some residential and/or commercial highrises. London is also a very de-centralized city in general, so it stands to reason that the skyscrapers are going to be scattered all over the place (at major transport junctions, etc).

There's also a benefit in that if they're going to be standing alone, there's more pressure for great design than in cities like NY or Chicago where most buildings are just "filler".

As for mhays comment... meh. Lots of people go to the City every day, but it's a financial district. So is Canary Wharf (and much like La Defense in Paris, which isn't a tourist mecca either). The Shard's neighborhood is actually a big attraction, for its observation deck and restaurants and for nearby Borough Market (which is one of my favorite things in London). I guess Tottenham Court Rd / Euston does suck, but I'm pretty sure it was also heavily bombed. And it creates a nice buffer between Marylebone and Camden that keeps them feeling like different planets.
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Old Posted Feb 20, 2014, 9:02 PM
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The state of journalism is shocking, even in a serious magazine like the economist. There are way more than seven towers under construction in London, just the canary wharf cluster alone has more than that lol
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Old Posted Feb 20, 2014, 9:05 PM
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The views would always be protected but not on the ground. More highrises could mean more vantage points to see the protected views.
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Old Posted Feb 20, 2014, 9:26 PM
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The views would always be protected but not on the ground. More highrises could mean more vantage points to see the protected views.
Exactly, we shouldn't worry too much about views. I've never understood the idea that having a skyscraper near a historical building somehow harms the historic building, I think it enhances it. Towers that nimbys complain about now will be loved landmarks in a couple of decades.
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Old Posted Feb 20, 2014, 11:35 PM
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I've never understood the idea that having a skyscraper near a historical building somehow harms the historic building.
It's perfectly okay to not agree with the idea, but it´s very easy to understand it.
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Old Posted Feb 21, 2014, 7:32 AM
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Originally Posted by hughesnick312 View Post
Exactly, we shouldn't worry too much about views. I've never understood the idea that having a skyscraper near a historical building somehow harms the historic building, I think it enhances it. Towers that nimbys complain about now will be loved landmarks in a couple of decades.
Agree.
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Old Posted Feb 20, 2014, 9:13 PM
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Who cares? It's a city, shouldn't it be building skyscrapers? Plus London is hardly a skyscraper city anyway for one of its size, it's probably a similar caliber to say Minneapolis or Calgary.
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Old Posted Feb 21, 2014, 7:28 AM
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London is dealing with the same issues as practically every other large growing city.
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Old Posted Feb 21, 2014, 7:59 AM
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London is dealing with the same issues as practically every other large growing city.
The tube is one of them. Overcrowding as they say. Also, a big issue in London that I hear on LBC radio station (Was LBC 97.3 until they went nationally; now its LBC) is immigration. They are not to fond of immigrants for some reason, especially from Eastern Europe. These immigrants are flocking into London.
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