London is facing a wave of over 200 applications for tall buildings but the planning system is ill-prepared to deal with them and public are largely unaware of what this ‘radical change’ to the capital might mean.
That was the view of Nigel Barker from English Heritage this morning, speaking at a press conference to mark the build-up to ‘London’s Growing…Up!’ an exhibition at NLA on tall buildings this April.
Barker said he was not against tall buildings per se, and certainly did not want to keep London preserved in aspic. But he said there was a ‘fundamental change’ afoot with schemes ‘leaping the river’ from their traditional locations without anyone having a sense of what this might mean spatially for the city. In his view it could result in a ‘wall of development stretching from Vauxhall through to Southwark’, with perhaps a dip at the South Bank. And he warned that tall buildings were being used too much by their proposers as the ‘panacea’ or answer to a number of problems. Barker believes that guidance needs to be reviewed, in part because of the way the notion of the cluster is changing every month, in a ‘weakened planning framework’. 'We’re seeing applications for buildings of 40, 50, 60 storeys as the norm', he said.
Not all of the applications EH sees are as ‘thoughtful’, said Barker, as the Leadenhall Building currently being built by British Land and Oxford Properties, and designed by Rogers Stirk Harbour and Partners’ Graham Stirk. Stirk said that although working in a historic context was a challenge, ‘one of the things about constraints is that they are not necessarily restrictive.’ In a City environment composed of many diverse spaces the idea of being able to create public space in an area with very little was very important. So the building features a seven-storey void at its base rather than the usual podium to relate to the historic seven-storey buildings around and act as a ‘gift’ back to the public. ‘It’s a building we couldn’t have put anywhere else on earth’, he said. But it was a puzzle how greater densities in tall buildings had not brought with it greater affordability. ‘I can’t afford to live in any of the buildings I’m involved in’, he said.
Canary Wharf Group’s Stephen Andrews showed how the project at Wood Wharf – now reconfigured to major on residential provision rather than commercial, includes a 60-storey tower designed by Herzog and de Meuron which maximises the use of balconies. ‘London residential has become a currency that is traded globally, he added, but the important area, he said, is the space between buildings. Finally, KPF’s Brian Girard demonstrated how tall schemes abroad were more mixed in their nature: ‘The potential for tall buildings in London to evolve into mixed use buildings is very exciting’, he said.
David Taylor, New London Quarterly